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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.

 

Want to “Ask Kirstin” for help in the kitchen? Send your questions to kirstin@thefamilydinnerbook.com. And check out the “Ask Kirstin” Archive.

 

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One Response

  1. Heather says:

    I can not eat dairy but when I want a creamy soup I add coconut milk.

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