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Ask Kirstin: Keeping Green Vegetables Bright; Making Creamy Soups Without Dairy

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How do I cook my green vegetables like sugar snap peas and green beans so they keep their bright colors? — Kara

You want to shock them green! Throw the vegetables into a big pot of generously salted boiling water, a big pot because you want the water to stay boiling. You might need to cook your vegetables in several batches, because if you put too many in, the water will cool, and they will become sad, gray and dull. Do not put a lid on the pot. They won’t need to cook long, a minute or two for sugar snaps, a few more for beans. Just stand by them (the steam will give you a nice facial, a bonus) and pop one or two in your mouth. When you think they are perfectly cooked, fish them out and either cool them off quickly in an ice water bath, or serve them right away. And never add acid, like lemon juice or a vinaigrette, until the very last minute as it will make them sadly gray as well.

 

I am making your “Wheat Berry Salad” for a party, but I am using farro instead of wheat berries. The package says to soak for 8 hours, is that really necessary? — K. Swede

Farro, spelt, and wheat berries (also called red or white wheat), are all delicious, chewy and pop in your mouth grains. They can easily be exchanged for each other as you have done. Soaking grains softens their bran making them cook up a bit quicker and plumper, however you can skip this step, just be sure to use the cooking times on the packages as suggestions only. Italian farro has often been parboiled so it can be done in as little as 25 minutes, whereas wheat berries can take up to 90 minutes. So start by testing the grains long before you think they are done. And have a great party!

 

My family is trying to stay away from cream for cholesterol reasons, but I miss making creamy soups. Any suggestions? — Ruth

Sure! If you are making a pureed vegetable soup like broccoli or asparagus, cooking the vegetables with a tablespoon or two of white rice, or a potato cut up into cubes will add a velvety feel to your soup. I often add a bit of coconut milk to Asian soups like carrot ginger, or sugar snap pea soup. And a tablespoon or two of pureed almonds or cashews are great too. Either put a handful of hulled nuts into a blender with a bit of water and blend until very smooth, or stir a bit of store-bought almond/cashew butter into your soup, adding protein as well as that yummy creaminess.

 

I want to use brown rice more, but what is the difference between long and short rice? And is there a fool-proof way of cooking it? — Brian

We are lucky, there are so many types of rice in our stores today, brown, red and even the beautiful purple/black rices that look so beautiful on your plate. I recommend trying them all and getting to know the subtle differences in flavors. The quick difference between long and short is that long rice is light and fluffy and the short rice is plumper and moister or stickier. “Sweet brown rice” is not really sweet, but is the stickiest of all so it is often used in Asian dishes like rice bowls and sushi.

Here is a great brown rice cooking method adapted from Saveur magazine. First rinse your rice. Bring a big pot of lightly salted water to a boil, just like you would for pasta. Pour in the rice, and boil uncovered, for 30 minutes. Drain the rice. Then return it to the pot, off the heat. Cover the pot and set it aside and allow the rice to relax comfortably for 10 minutes. Done. Btw, I like to fold a bit of seasoned rice vinegar into my rice…just a little tasty trick.

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Cannellini Bean Tartine

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Fast, cheap and cheerful, this dish has all the makings of the perfect dinner for a college student. It requires just one pan and provides crunchy carbs and protein-rich tangy beans. Serve with greens on the side or on top. Make sure you get the bread good and crisp, that little bit of crunch makes a big difference.

As Shelly Peppel at Cookbooks365 wrote after making the dish for her family:

“The kitchen, the house, smelled like an Italian grandmother’s kitchen and magically made my husband put down his work and appear at my side. Kids started circling the stove. When’s dinner? What smells so good? This recipe, which combines five ingredients and good bread is comfort food at its finest. And I can tell you that every last speck of sauce and fleck of parsley was consumed by a pack of hungry teens and one adoring husband who all raved and ate simultaneously.”

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Kids Cook Monday: Sweet and Snappy Salad

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Who says you can’t make a salad without lettuce? Celery, Granny Smith apples and red grapes get equal play in this flavorful dish, tossed in a sophisticated Dijon vinaigrette. A great accompaniment to sandwiches, even toddlers can take part in creating the salad. This recipe comes to us from our friends at Veggiecation, a culinary-nutrition education program that introduces children to the wonderfully delicious and nutritious world of vegetables.

Visit The Kids Cook Monday for the full recipe for Sweet and Snappy Salad.

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Cook’s Tip: Using Jarred Tomato Sauce

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Confused when buying jarred tomato sauce? It starts in the store, put on your glasses and read the tiny words on the ingredient label.

Pick the one with the least ingredients, avoid the ones with sugar and corn syrup. Look for more tomato, less tomato paste. Stay away from the freckled dried herbs too. Just get plain and simple tomato sauce. Then stroll by the produce section and pick up some fresh garlic and basil.

Go home and get your sauce pan really hot and drizzle in a bit of olive oil, throw in the garlic and 20 seconds later, the moment the garlic is golden, add the tomato sauce. If you happen to have the rind of a Parmesan cheese, throw it in. If you have a chopped anchovy add it too, if you don’t, a splash of Asian fish sauce is a sneaky cook’s trick that adds “bass” to your sauce.

Let the sauce simmer while you boil your pasta water. If you care to, add a sprinkle of chopped capers and some red pepper flakes. Remove the Parmesan rind. Tear up your basil and fold it in. Taste your sauce…. it is yours now, give it a family name.

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