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Cooking Basics: Acids and Bases

This week I want to get a little nerdy for a minute and share a simple cooking tip that I find myself using so often in our kitchen. Hopefully it will help with your cooking at home as well! In our kitchen we prepare a wide range of vegetables and grains. This often begins with cooking them in some sort of liquid, usually just water. Sometimes we want them to stay relatively crisp and maintain their shape like when we cook potatoes for our Brunch Café or a potato salad. Other times, we want them to really soften and even begin to break down like when we cook dry chickpeas for hummus. While you can do this with just water it can leave little room for error if you don’t want those potatoes to overcook or it can take forever when you want those chickpeas to soften enough to make hummus. To help with both these processes there is a general rule in the kitchen. An acidic environment (think one that contains some vinegar or lemon juice) causes the pectin in fruits and vegetables to stay more rigid and retain its shape. A basic environment (think one that contains some baking soda) breaks this same pectin down and causes fruits and vegetables to soften. So, if you’re trying to keep that potato salad from turning into mashed potatoes, add a couple tablespoons of vinegar to the cooking water and see them hold their shape infinitely better. It also gives you more room for error if you step away for a minute! And if you want that ultra smooth hummus or want your beans to cook sometime today, try adding a couple teaspoons of baking soda to the water. Once you get the hang of this principle you’ll save a whole bunch of time and get a better end product to boot!

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