After all, some cooking techniques, are better for your health and your waistline than others (hint: say no to anything deep-fried!). The following light cooking techniques preserve both flavor and nutrients while adding very little (if any) fat to your meals.
• Best foods to steam? Foods that need moisture and foods that should be soft and silken rather than crunchy or caramelized. Almost all vegetables are good candidates (with a few exceptions, such as spongy vegetables like mushrooms and eggplant).
• Steaming requires a pan or a pot with a heavy, well-fitted lid and a rack to support the food over the liquid. Creating a good seal with the lid is crucial for holding in steam. If the lid doesn’t fit tightly, the pan can be covered with foil, and then topped with the lid. Many cookware sets come with steamer inserts, and another option is to just pick up a collapsible metal vegetable steamer.
• Add just enough liquid to produce a high volume of steam without having the water level intrude through the holes in the steamer. Don’t allow the water to touch the food or you’ll likely end up boiling and overcooking it. No matter how firmly you cover the pan, the liquid will eventually boil away, so check the liquid level occasionally. If needed, carefully add extra boiling water to the pot, not directly over the food.
• Steaming makes things extremely hot! Open the lid away from you so that the steam is released away from your face, and use baking mitts to pick up the steaming rack.
To sauté is to cook food in a minimal amount of fat over relatively high heat. The browning achieved by sautéing lends richness to the food — and because the food is cooked quickly, the integrity of the flavor and texture remains intact. Here’s how to successfully sauté while keeping things light:
• Because food spends only short time in the pan, the best foods to sauté are those that are naturally tender, like asparagus, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers.
• Use either a skillet or a sauté pan that has a large surface area, so food is less likely to become overcooked. Choose a pan with a dense bottom that evenly distributes heat.
• Size matters when you sauté. Making sure to cut food to a uniform thickness and size ensures that it will cook evenly. Also, have your ingredients prepared before heating the pan.
• Be sure to warm the pan over medium-high heat for a few minutes. It needs to be pretty hot in order to cook the food properly. If the heat is too low, the food will end up releasing liquid and steaming rather than sautéing.
• Once the pan is hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan (for low-fat cooking use cooking spray such as PAM). Heating the oil with the pan may cause food to stick, because the oil may not be hot enough. Heat the fat for 10 to 20 seconds and then add the food. If more liquid is needed to prevent burning, use a small amount of vegetable broth or low-fat chicken broth.
• Avoiding overcrowding, as it’s crucial that only one layer of food cooks in the pan at a time.
• Stir frequently (but not constantly) to promote even browning and cooking. Cubes of tofu, for example, should only be turned once or twice so they have enough time to form a nice crust (which also keeps the tofu from sticking to the pan).
To roast is to cook with dry heat, usually in an oven. Roasting causes caramelization of the surface of the food, which gives vegetables a richer, sweeter flavor. Follow these guidelines for roasting your favorite veggies:
• Particularly suited for roasting are root vegetables, asparagus, bell peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, summer squash, and zucchini.
• Preheat the oven to 400º F. In a bowl, toss the cut vegetables with extra-virgin olive oil to coat them evenly or spray with a cooking spray. Transfer the vegetables to a baking sheet or roasting pan and sprinkle with salt, herbs, and spices.
• Cutting food to a uniform thickness and size ensures even cooking when roasting.
• Use a roasting pan that is large enough but not crowded. Overcrowding steams vegetables and leaves them limp rather than tender.
• Vegetables have varied roasting times, depending on their density and size. If roasting different types together, cut the denser ones in smaller sizes so that all vegetables cook and become tender at the same time. Tomatoes, summer squash, and eggplant need a relatively short cooking time.
• Vegetables should turned occasionally, to prevent burning. In addition, vegetables that require a long roasting time should be basted occasionally while cooking, with vegetable broth or low-fat chicken broth, and stirred gently.
What your favorite light cooking techniques for vegetables? Share in the comments below.