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Blanching is a quick, two-step cooking technique in which vegetables are cooked briefly in a large pot of boiling water and then dunked into ice water to stop the cooking process. Vegetables intended to be part of an hors d'oeuvre platter will taste better if blanched, and green, orange, and white vegetables will have a brighter, more appetizing color. Blanching is also useful for long-cooking vegetables that are part of a stir-fry or a saute and need more than a few seconds in a hot wok or frying pan to be cooked through. If you want to grill large, dense vegetables, such as potatoes or artichokes, they'll cook faster if you blanch them first.
To blanch your vegetables quickly and evenly, you need a lot of water. Fill a pot with at least four times the vegetables' volume in water; i.e. use 2 quarts of water for 2 cups of vegetables. Bring the water to a rapid boil and add the vegetables. The water should come back to a boil within a minute. Leave the pot uncovered and test for doneness by skewering a sample and judging its "bite". Begin timing once the water returns to a boil. The vegetables are done when they're slightly tender but not soft. Small tender vegetables will only take a minute or so, while larger or tougher vegetables can take 4-5 minutes.
Scoop the cooked vegetables into a strainer and dunk them into a sink or a large bowl filled with ice and water. Once the vegetables have cooled to the touch, remove them from the ice bath or they'll start to absorb water.
If you're blanching several different vegetables, cook each one separately. You can save time, however, by reusing the water. Just be sure to move from mild to strong flavors so that your snow peas don't end up tasting like brussels sprouts. Also consider colors; white celery root should go before orange carrots. Some cooks use salted water, others don't. It depends on how the vegetables are going to be used.
Submitted By DIANE LAZARUS On 11-11-95