Staring into the vegetable drawer of my refrigerator, once again I’m thinking, “What can I do with those beautiful carrots that’s just a little bit different?” It’s Monday night, and I don’t have a lot of time, but I want something tasty. Solution: a quick braise. For many of the vegetables we like to eat most around my house—especially asparagus, green beans, and carrots—a quick braise is just the thing for delivering slow-cooked flavor fast.
A quick stovetop braise for vegetables is a cross between sautéing and braising. By browning the vegetables first and then simmering them briefly to finish, I get the sweet caramelized flavor of a sauté and the pleasing texture and more complex flavor of a braise.
For weeknights, I use the simplest version of the technique to cook vegetables fast. In 20 minutes or less, I can prep and cook a simple side dish that has lots more flavor than your average steamed vegetable.
For weekend cooking, I add more ingredients to create more complex flavors. The technique is really versatile. By adding more aromatic ingredients at each stage of browning, simmering, and finishing the vegetables, I can design a custom braised vegetable dish to go with whatever I’m serving. It takes a bit more time, but it’s worth it. To get familiar with your range of options, try the basic technique and then experiment with the more elaborate recipes that follow.
For even cooking, trim the vegetables to a uniform size
Shopping: Choose young, slim carrots with their bright leafy tops on.
Trimming: Trim the tops and tails and peel the carrots. Cut them in half crosswise and then cut the thicker end in half lengthwise to get pieces of about the same width, no more than 3/4 inch (the length can vary).
Shopping: Choose medium or thick asparagus (1/2 to 3/4 inch wide). Don’t use thin spears for braising— they will overcook.
Trimming: Cut off the tough ends so that all the spears are about 6 to 7 inches long.
Shopping: Choose fresh young green beans (but not ultra-thin ones) as close to uniform thickness as possible.
Trimming: Cut away any brown spots. Trim off the stem end (and the tail end, if wilted).