Friday, December 27, 2013

Heavenly Root Vegetable Puree

Vegetable purees are great comfort food. They are a luxurious way to serve vegetables and offer unexpected texture to a plate. They add contrast and interest, and are a great use of leftovers.

I love purees. I've always thought they make a plate look "special" when I've been served them in restaurants.

baby food
Mashed potatoes are probably the first thing you'd think of when you hear "vegetable puree". That certainly is one type of puree to make, but there are so many more combinations of vegetables that you can use. 

And no, vegetable purees are NOT just grown-up versions of baby food.  Although I think kids would love them as much as the adults. The best thing about them is that they are really simple to make. And if you have young kids, it might be fun to get them to help you make one.

Basically, purees need a "binder" of fat and ideally something starchy or absorbent to keep them together, else they can separate into solids and liquids on your plate. Cream, half and half, milk, even bread or tofu work well as binders. Pureed veggies need to be properly cooked, and well seasoned, and of course pureed, and that's it.

Here's how:

Preparing a vegetable puree:
Peel all vegetables first. Don't undercook but definitely don't overcook your vegetables. Boiling and steaming are best but you can also saute, roast or grill which impart deep flavor and color and ideally cause more water evaporation from the vegetables (which you want). Once properly cooked, you're ready to puree.

Different ways to puree:
Fork or potato masher - especially with soft vegetables
Food mill (if you have one) - offers a nice fluffy texture
Blender is easiest - ultra smooth consistency
Food processor - chunkier, rustic
Immersion blender - out of the question - it needs more liquid to work

If using a machine, add binder or fat first, then the veg, cover and pulse until desired consistency is reached, adding more liquid if needed (the broth that the vegetables were cooked in is best, as it obviously imparts the same flavor as the vegetable you are using).

Seasoning the vegetables:
You'll want to do so while cooking so the flavors seep into the vegetables, that is, if you are roasting, grilling or sauteeing, else add later.

The best veggies to puree are: broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, corn, eggplant, peppers, root vegetables, shell peas, spinach, starchy potatoes, winter squash. The worst are the really high-water content ones.

Here are some possible combinations, listed as:
Vegetable / Binder / Fat / Seasoning / Garnish

Broccoli / ricotta cheese / extra virgin olive oil / nutmeg / grated Parmesan
Butternut Squash / coconut milk / grapeseed oil / curry / toasted shredded coconut
Cauliflower / soaked croutons / extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) / garlic / pesto
Eggplant / tofu / sesame oil / miso / chopped scallions
Eggplant / roasted garlic / EVOO / Middle Eastern spices / chopped parsley
Turnips / sour cream / EVOO or butter / minced red onion / chopped parsley
But here is my all-time favorite:

Heavenly Root Vegetable Puree

Saute either 1 large or 2 small/medium chopped onions in a little bit of olive oil until carmelized (this takes about 30-45 minutes).

Meanwhile, steam 2 sweet potatoes, 2 turnips and a butternut squash together, having chopped these items into similarly-sized chunks so they cook evenly.

When fully cooked, mash the veggies however you wish (I puree them in a blender or food processor depending on mood). Add 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (or milk or cream or whatever dairy you have), sea salt, the carmelized onions, some softened butter, and Herbamare* seasoning to taste.

You will not have much left over, I guarantee it.

* Herbamare is a lovely organic herb seasoning salt made in France and contains sea salt, celery leaves, leek, cress, onion, chives, parsley, lovage, garlic, basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and kelp. It's really delicious on potatoes and eggs. I find it at my local health food store.

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