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Zuma's avatar

Do you know the secrets of any vegetables?

Asked by Zuma (5908points) August 26th, 2009

My grandmother, who was a great French cook, taught me the secrets of the onion. She told me that if you cut off the end opposite the roots it is much easier to peel, the roots hold it together while you slice it, and if you are only going to use half of it, the roots will hold it together and keep it fresh. The way to chop an onion without tears is to peel it, then make a grid of cuts toward the roots from the top down, then cut them crosswise into little cubes.

She also taught me the secrets of garlic: If you cut off the end of a clove of garlic where it was attached to the rest, you can lay the side of your knife against the clove and smash it. The skin comes right off, and it can go right into the sauce. Also, if you have some meat that is getting ready to spoil, garlic can pull it back from the edge in a stew. Cutting garlic in quarters the long way makes it easier to insert them into a roast. Salt and lemon are the best way to get the smell of garlic off your fingers. Also, if you are getting a cold, swallowing a few cloves of garlic whole can help.

There are other secrets of the tomato, the avocado, and parsley. I was wondering if anyone knew any others.

Bonus question: What is the secret ingredient in French cooking?

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35 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

I didn’t think this was a secret until I read some other answers here. The secret is that you can eat or cook tomatoes without peeling or removing the seeds.

Zuma's avatar

Did you know that if you plunge tomatos into briskly boiling water for about 45 seconds, and then plunge them into cold water the skins come right off, and you can make a wonderful al-fresca sauce out of them by just squeezing them with your bare hands. If you can get heirloom tomatos or ones you grow yourself, not the cardboard tomatos you get in supermarkets, it is a wonderful summer time pasta dish, with a little extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil.

AstroChuck's avatar

A few of the green ones confide in me.

Zuma's avatar

@AstroChuck Come on, Chuckie, dish baby, dish!

augustlan's avatar

Brussels sprouts are icky when prepared in the usual way. However, they are quite tasty if you cut them in half and brown them with butter in a frying pan or in the oven! Avocados are best when slightly mushy to the touch, and easy to peel if you cut them in half longways and use a large spoon to scoop out the flesh. To get the large seed out, whack it with the sharp edge of a knife so it’s embedded in the seed, and twist.

I always thought the secret ingredient in French cooking was copious amounts of butter, but maybe you’re referring to the thing that’s celery, carrots and onions. I’ve forgotten what it’s called, but I know it’s similar to the ‘trinity’ used in Cajun cooking.

cyndyh's avatar

augustlan beat me to the avocado tricks. :^>

I thought the secret ingredient in French cooking was love or butter or love of butter. Hmmm.

unit's avatar

Vegetables are fantastic, why do so many people put grated cheese on them, that is my secret NO CHEESE

Zuma's avatar

Yes, the secret ingredient is butter; does anyone know where they learned this secret?

janbb's avatar

@augustlan The vegetable mix browned in the oven and use in many dishes is called “mirepoix.”

Did they learn that the secret ingredient is “butter” with their mother’s milk? (Eeuww – what an image!)

dynamicduo's avatar

@MontyZuma That boiling water-ice water trick works for a few other fruits too, like peaches.

I love all veggies. They are all special in their own way. Even lightly steamed Brussels sprouts are divine. One of my favorite things to eat are fiddleheads, which are the head of a fern. They are offered in our grocery stores a few days a year, and I know when and where I can hop into my canoe and head out to harvest my own. Raw, steamed, broiled, fried, seared, mashed, pureed, curried, or any combination of these and more techniques all let you enjoy the wonderful things veggies have to offer.

As for the secret to French cooking, my experience is that it is the mirepoix, butter, and attention to detail, which shows itself in many ways (proper measurements, attention to cooking, attention to cutting and mise en place, having a variety of cooking methods).

Harp's avatar

The region in France that uses butter most heavily is Normandy, so I’d guess that it’s a Nordic predilection. That would make sense since unclarified butter would have only been available in a cold-climate.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

@dynamicduo, lurve for fiddleheads!

Zuma's avatar

Actually, it was Catherine de Medici who brought butter and garlic to France when she was married off to King Henry II in 1547. Before then French food was atrocious, somewhat like English food is now.

One of the secrets of the potato is that they keep best in a cool well-ventilated place. When I was in the merchant marines, we kept potatos and onions in loose-knit burlap sacks tied to a railing on the fantail, where they kept for months.

janbb's avatar

@MontyZuma Thanks for such an interesting question!

filmfann's avatar

Laura Bush told me her husband likes to wear women’s underwear.

ubersiren's avatar

Bend asparagus and where it snaps naturally is where the divide of the tender/tough part of the stalk is.

You can also use stainless steel to get garlic,onion, and fish (not a veggie) smell of your hands. Rub your hands on your stainless steel sink, or use a Rub-a-way bar.

To make pimento, char a red bell pepper with the burner on your stove top (or open flame if you have one). When it’s charred evenly all over, put it immediately in a plastic bag. Seal the bag and let it sit for a half hour or until the pepper is cool. You can then peel the skin from it and cut it into strips and stuff into olives or whatever…

The blooming onion thing from Outback is made by chopping off the non-root end and slicing it in two directions, leaving it attached at the root end. Then it’s shocked in ice water to open it up like a flower. Then battered and fried.

Leave the stems on things like tomatoes or grapes to give them longer life.

Cut grooves into cucumbers and carrots, longways. I have a tool that I use for this, I think it’s called a channeling tool or something. Then when you slice them, they look like pretty flowers.

Make carmelized onions by sauteing slivered sweet onions in a touch of brown sugar. Very good on pizza.

Potatoes are the food with the most vitamin C. Eat the skins. Baked in the oven is the healthiest way to eat them.

You can thinly slice a radish in a spiral to make a pretty little rose to garnish a salad.

Roast a whole bulb of garlic (cut open one end and wrap in olive oil coated foil and bake at 375 for about 20 min) and serve it on toast. It’ll be a mushy spread consistency when done. makes a nice sweet garlicky spread. You can mix it with a little salt and butter.

Try a purple carrot.

Tomato sauces slow or stop the cooking of veggies, so add it last to your homemade spaghetti sauce.

I’ll try to think of some more.

wundayatta's avatar

The secret to sweet corn is to find ears that have just the right size kernels. Most people think that the bigger the kernel, the better a deal you have. However, big kernels have already had more sugar turn to starch. The turning to starch starts as soon as the ear is picked, so the sooner it gets boiled, the sweeter it will be. I never buy corn in a supermarket. It’s way too old. I only get it from a farmer’s stall, and only after asking when it was picked.

Kernels should be not fully fleshed out so they are tight against each other. They should be well-rounded, but not too small so none of them are touching. There is a texture, perhaps like one of those flat knotted rugs that you are looking for. Those will be the sweetest.

When I was young, my father used to complain that Californians didn’t know from corn. They thought cow corn was eating corn. That was forty years ago. Have things improved since then?

Darbio16's avatar

Take a head of lettuce and bang it on the counter to strike the root. If done successfully it will come right out.

Harp's avatar

@MontyZuma I’m skeptical about all the claims made for Catherine’s transformation of French cuisine. Although this notion has taken root in the popular imagination, there really doesn’t seem to be much hard historical evidence for this. From what records we do have of court cooking in the decades immediately following Catherine, it seems to adhere pretty closely to the medieval model. The advent of the style that grew into classical French cuisine appears to be almost a century after Catherine, as codified by François Pierre La Varenne.

As for butter in particular, it seems to have been pretty well implanted in the French way of life before Catherine’s time. “Histoire de l’Europe” (Frédéric Delouche, Jacques Aldebert) says that during an economic crisis spanning the 1300s and 1400s, the Normandy butter production failed and had to be supplemented by importations of Danish butter.

teh_kvlt_liberal's avatar

They make you fart a lot. Personal experience…

rebbel's avatar

To avoid “crying” when slicing onions, let the watertap run.
I don’t have the faintest idea why, but it works.
Slice them quick of course, we don’t want to spoil (too much) fresh water.

Brussels sprouts are sooner done when you carve a little cross in the stem.

wundayatta's avatar

Are squash vegetables or fruit?

Zuma's avatar

@Harp Its hard to argue with someone who actually lives in France about these things, but here are a few (one two three) sources who seem remarkably consistent on the subject. I think the idea is that butter was not unknown in France, it just was not used extensively until Catherine de Medici introduced haute cuisine.

For best flavor, do not put tomatos in the refrigerator. Coldness causes them to lose their sweetness and their flavor to fall flat.

Tomato sauces can sometimes become bitter. A little bit of sugar and parsley take it away.

Bonus question (this one I don’t know the answer to): If you cut into an avocado (or any other fruit) does it continue to ripen?

benjaminlevi's avatar

The secret to jalapinos is to not put your fingers in your eyes while cooking. with them.

lloydbird's avatar

Cucumbers are quite shy really.

Harp's avatar

@MontyZuma Yeah, the “Medici culinary revolution” legend has been repeated so often that it’s now taken at face value. But as your third source says, there’s no documentation of this. Another piece of research I’ve read traces this legend back to a single conversation between Montaigne and the steward of a papal diplomat to France in which the steward expounded on certain subtleties of the culinary arts (Montaigne’s essay doesn’t actually describe these in any detail and doesn’t mention anything about ingredients, dishes or specific techniques). This one interchange snowballed into the idea that Catherine was the source of all refinement in French cuisine. Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1754) then enshrined this idea in print (still with no other evidence than this anecdote), and it’s been accepted as fact ever since.

Darbio16's avatar

Most vegetable we eat are secretly genetically modified.

Zuma's avatar

The secret to all peppers is that the hottest part is the seeds, so peppers like jalapinos, which are typically eaten whole are going to be chili dishes where the peppers are sliced up and the seeds removed.

And also, when confronted with a pepper that is too hot, eat bread instead of drinking milk or water.

Mushrooms have many secrets, like which ones are safe to eat, which ones will send you on a mind-expanding trip, and which ones will make you sick or kill you dead. It is false that poisonous mushrooms can be detected by turning silver black, curdling milk, turning parsley leaves yellow, or turning an onion brown or bluish when cooked with these things.

Kazz's avatar

A clove of garlic can be creamed by pouring salt on it and mashing it with the flat edge of a chef’s knife.

Zuma's avatar

The way to pick fruit is by smell, melons in particular. The more fragrant it is the better tasting it is going to be. The heavier ones will be juicer. The lighter ones will be “pulpy.”

Never wash raspberries or blackberries. It makes them mildew and rot.

Never put bananas in the fridge; it makes them turn black.

What causes fruits and vegetables to ripen is ethanol gas, from the fermented sugars of the fruiting body. So, if you put fruits in a paper bag, they will ripen more quickly. Whereas, if you have a piece of fruit that is already ripe but you are not ready to eat, keep it in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. There are ethanol control products you can buy that will keep things in your vegetable drawer fresh for weeks. Lettuce in particular.

You can keep fresh herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro pretty fresh by putting them in a glass of water in the fridge, with a plastic bag over them to keep them from getting dried out. Also change the water every couple of days.

augustlan's avatar

@ubersiren‘s tips reminded me. You can drag a fork down the length of a cucumber to get that ‘grooved’ look she is talking about. Also, to de-seed a cucumber easily, cut it in half lengthwise and drag the tip of a teaspoon down the center channels to scoop out all the seedy/watery bits.

Don’t cut up an avocado until just before you will be using it… they darken very quickly.

Baked sweet potatoes are very good for you and delicious, too. Top with butter and a brown sugar/cinnamon mixture. Almost like desert!

Zen's avatar

Elvis is alive and in Las Vegas. The cucumber told me.Sshhh. Pass it on.

Adagio's avatar

Nobody has mentioned that beetroot is delicious eaten raw too!

Simply Good Beetroot
Grate beetroot and mix with enough plain unsweetened yoghurt (Greek style is good) so that the beetroot is well coated. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Excellent stuff.

erniefernandez's avatar

Broccoli moonlights as hair for the Jolly Green Giant.

There. It’s out.

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