When it comes to cooking your favorite foods, you will quickly find that there are many, many different ways that you can cook the foods that you want to make.
Some people will stick to just one way of cooking what they like, while other people will be more than happy to branch out into different areas. After all, cooking can cover such a broad range of foods and food categories.
Some people will only stick to cooking certain types of food, if they can help it. Someone who prefers the precision and care that baking involves is not going to be particularly interested in the amount of estimation that is used in smoking meats or something similar.
Likewise, someone who only works with flours and other bakery materials is not going to be too keen on needing to work with vegetables.
With that being said, there will always come a time when you realize that you need to work with something that you may not be used to working with. This may happen a lot if you are new to cooking and you are branching out into different areas to try and find what you enjoy the most.
Other times, it can happen when you are trying out a new recipe and it calls for you to use ingredients in a way that you have never used before.
One example of this would be needing to soften vegetables. If you haven’t had a lot of experience in cooking dishes that require softer vegetables, then there’s a good chance that you may not know the best way to go about doing so.
Many people aren’t even aware of how to soften vegetables efficiently in the first place.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really a cut and dry answer to softening vegetables. Some vegetables can be easily softened by using other ingredients and cooking materials, while others may require you to do some finessing to get to the right texture.
The way you go about softening your vegetables will depend heavily on what type of vegetable you need to soften in the first place.
Take carrots as an example. Carrots are known for being a somewhat firm vegetable that has a notable crunch when you need to snap them or when you choose to eat them.
Depending on the dish that you are making, you may not want to have this kind of texture. Here, you would employ one of a few ways to soften your vegetables.
Preparing the Carrots
Of course, you are going to need to make sure that the carrots are ready to be softened. No matter how you are planning to soften the carrots, you are always going to need to prepare them in the same way.
Preparing the carrots involves making sure that they are clean, without any residual dirt on the outside that would affect the cooking process, and that the tops have been removed so that you can prepare the carrots immediately.
Once the carrot tops have been cut off at the base, leaving just the bulk of the carrot, you will first want to run the carrot under some cool tap water. Cool tap water works best, though you can use cold water if you feel that it is necessary.
However, using warm or hot water can affect the steps after cleaning the carrot, so you will want to hold off on this method.
Additionally, if this is applicable to your carrots, you are also going to want to consider cutting off the root ends. On carrots, this is the tiny end of the carrot that doesn’t have any carrot substance to it and looks more like a root than a carrot.
This is not going to be wanted in any carrot-related recipe, so while you are preparing the carrots to be softened, you can get rid of the root ends here.
Now that you have properly prepared the carrots, you can begin getting ready to soften them. Softening your carrots is a pretty easy process.
There are two main ways of going about doing so, with one being better than the other but taking a fair bit more time.
Method One: Blanching
The most effective method of softening carrots without altering anything more than the texture is going to be blanching the carrots.
By its definition, blanching is a process when food is scalded in boiling water for a certain amount of time, then removed and placed either under cold water or on top of ice so that you can stop the cooking process immediately.
This is commonly done with fruits and vegetables that have a high-water content.
This is done also because, when fruits or vegetables (such as carrots) have a high-water content, they will continue cooking even after they are taken out of the source of heat and have been put on a plate.
Because the water takes a little bit more time to fully let go of its heat, the residual heat stays for a bit and continues to cook the food. Placing the food on ice or under cold water will quickly cool down the water content inside the food, quickly halting the residual cooking.
With softening carrots, the goal of this is to only “cook” the carrots barely before putting them into something they can cool down quickly in.
This allows the outer portion of the carrot to soften because, technically, the carrot is cooking. But it also preserves the crunchy texture of a standard carrot, as you will only be blanching the carrots for a short amount of time before putting them on ice.
This method will work best when it is important to retain some degree of a firm texture in the carrot, but you still want the outside of the carrot to be a little bit softer.
To complete this, you are going to want to have a pot large enough for the carrots that you can fill with boiling water, either a place in the sink where you can run the carrots under cold water or a container you can put ice in (and subsequently enough ice to put in the container), and either tongs or gloves to handle the hot carrots with.
First things first, you’re going to want to boil some water. You should use the pan that you intend to boil water in, fill it up with enough water, and set it on the stove to boil.
You will begin blanching the carrots when the water reaches its boiling temperature, so you can prepare the carrots while you wait for the water to heat up sufficiently.
Once the water is at the temperature you need it to be at, you will place the carrots in the water. If you haven’t blanched things before and you are worried about how fast you can cool the vegetables down, you may not want to put all of the carrots in at once.
Instead, you should start with enough carrots that you can handle at a time. You will want to aim to boil the carrots for about five minutes, although if they are particularly small, you may want to blanch them a bit less.
After the time has passed, you will want to either drain the hot water out of the pan or you will want to remove the carrots from the boiling water.
You will then either run the carrots under cold water or place them on ice for about four or five more minutes, rotating them as you do so that all of the carrots have a chance to cool down properly.
You will then dry off the carrots and place them on a cutting board so that you can prepare the carrots for your meal as you wish.
If you are blanching things slowly or going one-by-one, you will want to return to doing that until all of your carrots have been sufficiently blanched. From here, you can begin doing with your carrots as you please.
With that being said, there is one other method that you can try if you do not have the time or patience to try and blanch the carrots.
Method Two: Microwave
One quick and easy way for you to achieve the desired softness that you want from your carrots, without altering the taste too much, is to simply put them in the microwave.
While this method is certainly quicker and a bit easier than blanching the carrots, there is the chance that the taste can be affected because the entire carrot cooks in the microwave.
You will want to peel and prepare the carrots as you normally would, finding a container for the carrots that can fit them properly.
If the carrots are too big, you may want to consider cutting the carrots up first into the size that you want them to be, although if they are too small, the results you get may not be what you actually want from the carrot.
Remember to add a couple of tablespoons of water to the container that the carrots are in so they will not change in texture more than you want them to.
After everything has been prepared, you can simply cover the container up, microwave the carrots for three to four minutes, and you will have your freshly softened carrots to use in whatever you please.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.