This section is from the book "Mrs. Allen's Cook Book", by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey Allen. See also: The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat.
It has been said that "The secret of cooking vegetables is the judicious production of flavor." If this statement is amended to read "the judicious production and retention of flavor," the secret of the whole, wide field of vegetable cookery is revealed. Unfortunately American housewives know only too little about the preparation of vegetables, their food value and utter deliciousness, and, whereas the vegetable is easily cooked, it generally appears in a state of watery tameness - and finds consequent disfavor. No matter how the vegetable is to be served, there are a few fundamental rules which underlie the cookery.
All boiled vegetables should be started in boiling salted water. This should be kept boiling rapidly for beans, onions, cabbage, turnips, carrots, etc., but should be kept at a gentle boil for cauliflower and asparagus - both of which are broken by too rapid boiling. Peas and asparagus contain a high percentage of sugar, so they should be cooked in as little water as possible, the liquor being the basis of a sauce to be served with them. Salted water (a teaspoonful to each two quarts) is used for all tender vegetables except potatoes, which should be salted after draining, and shaken gently over the heat to steam in the seasoning. Tough vegetables, like old beans or peas, are improved by the addition of a little baking soda. This makes them soft, but allows much of the green coloring matter to cook out into the water, resulting in a distasteful color.
All dried vegetables, like peas or lentils, should be soaked over night to re-absorb the water lost through evaporation, and this liquid should be discarded. Vegetables should always be cleaned before cooking, and, unless old, should never be pared. During the boiling process the cover should be tilted to allow a circulation of air, which insures' a better color and flavor. All strong-juiced vegetables, like cabbage, cauliflower and onions, should be cooked uncovered. This allows the vapors to be dissipated rather than condensed, the odor being largely dispelled, and, if a piece of wood charcoal is put into the kettle, the flavors will be absorbed and all disagreeable odors overcome. Occasionally vegetables are so strong in flavor that it is desirable to "blanch" them. To do this, start in cold water, bring to the boiling point, boil ten minutes, drain the water into the stock-pot, and proceed as usual with fresh boiling water.
Although it is customary to boil vegetables, they may be prepared in two other ways - by steaming or baking. To steam vegetables, scrub them well, cut out any soft spots, and place in a steamer, or in a colander fitted over a kettle and covered, and steam until tender. This takes a little longer than it will to boil them, but they will be of delicious flavor. This method can be used for onions, potatoes, cabbage, corn, cauliflower, carrots, squash, turnips, beets, etc. - or the vegetables which are of firm texture. Many of this same group can be baked in the oven. In this case set them in shallow pans, containing a little water to prevent sticking. If vegetables are to be boiled, use the smallest possible amount of water, and, if it is not available for a sauce, turn it into the stock-pot. By steaming, the loss in nutritive constituents is only one-third as much as in boiling, and the proportion is the same for baking.
As for seasonings - there is nothing better than a judicious amount of salt and pepper, with plenty of butter. A particularly good old-fashioned cook, noted for her vegetable cookery, said, "I always use just as much butter as I can afford, then turn my back and put in a little more!" But when the vegetable is to appear as the principal dish of a meal, it must be dressed with a more elaborate sauce, or combined with other foods into a "hearty dish."
Whereas the vegetable has a clearly defined place in every dietary, it must be remembered that it is not in itself an adequate substitute for meat, and must be used in combination with meat or meat substitutes, in order to preserve the dietary balance. This does not necessarily mean that the combination appear directly with the vegetable. It may be used in the salad, or any part of the meal that is convenient.
The following menus illustrate this point: