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Faux-Blanching Is the Cooking Technique We Didn’t Know We Needed

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It all started the first time I was lured by a tri-color bag of string beans at a farmers market—the purple, green, and yellow electric against each other.

I brought them home so pumped to make a salad. I cleaned each one, getting more and more excited as each color passed through my fingers. Then I blanched them and what had been neon purple turned to grey-green. I was pissed off in a way that is, admittedly, unreasonable.

So, next time, I tried another approach: Determined to make a salad with all three colors intact, I blanched the green and yellow beans as normal, which is to say, simmered in a pot of heavily salted water until they are bright in color but still a touch crunchy (about five minutes). But instead of adding the purple beans to the pot, I put them in the bottom of the colander and poured the boiling water and other beans on top. My hope was that this would take the beans out of their raw state, but keep their color.

Worked like a charm.

Now I put this technique toward any number of vegetables, even green green beans when I want them to stay crunchy, say like for a Niçoise salad. Other good candidates also include snap peas (whole), asparagus (whole or chopped), fennel (thinly sliced), even cauliflower or broccoli (cut into florets). In general, any vegetable that you would normally steam or poach should do pretty well faux-blanched. Remember that the smaller the cut of the vegetable, the more it will soften when the hot water is poured over.

Admittedly, I only do this if I’m already boiling something else—like baby potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, pasta, or grains. If you’re not already putting a pot on to boil, you can heat water in a kettle and pour that over the veg. Just add the salt later. I have only done this once, in a hotel room, when I was so tired of eating out that I bought vegetables at a beautiful market, then jimmy-rigged a meal out of what I could find in the room.

If I’m at home, in a less desperate state, I’ll use faux-blanching as an excuse to cook some extra grains, like bulgur or buckwheat, to eat later in the week. You can catch the grain with a sieve, to keep the grains and vegetables separate, or just mix them and make a very delicious salad—options galore.

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook something in it—vegetables, beans, grains, pasta, really whatever you want.
  2. When that ingredient is done boiling, lay the vegetable to be faux-blanched in the colander—doesn’t have to be in a single layer though the more densely packed, the less evenly they will cook. (See vegetable suggestions above.)
  3. Pour the boiling water over the vegetable and give it a second to drain away.
  4. Remove from the colander and taste. If it isn’t cooked enough you can bring additional water to a boil and repeat (but I have never done this).
  5. Use the vegetable as you would a true-blanched item—like in a grain-based, vegetable-filled salad or on a not-quite-raw crudite platter. (Once the vegetables are faux-blanched, they store well in the fridge for at least a few days. I usually let them dry a bit before putting them in the fridge just to keep free of excess moisture.)

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