Should You Boil Water Before Adding Vegetables?

'Vegetables bouillon' photo (c) 2010, Joel Bez - license: Rita writes:

“Do you know of old or ancient ways of cooking? Someone told me or I read (?) that when you cook above ground food to put in boiling water! And if cooking below-ground food put in cold water and bring up the heat to boiling!!

They said that this is the old Hebrew way…you mentioned you had done a Barmitzva…so may be you would know!!!”

Well, I don’t know of any Jewish sources that mention this. I decided to go to the experts for their  responses:

Miriam Kresh of Israeli Kitchen: “I don’t think it’s connected to ancient ways, except that in ancient times people were just as smart about cooking as they are now. Above-ground food like string beans cook up quickly and you preserve their nutrition by plopping them into boiling water. Slower-cooking root veg benefit by starting in cold. Did I read this in Adele Davis? Don’t remember. But that’s the way I cook too.”

Dan Shernicoff of Brassnet: There is no benefit to cooking roots like potatoes starting from cold water, there is no benefit to starting from hot for them. Since starting from cold is easier, that’s what we do.  As to “above-ground” veggies, it’s not nutrition, it’s that we want to have more control over cooking times since they cook very fast and it’s easy to over cook them.

Faye Levy. author of Feast from the Mideast: This was a rule I learned at cooking school in Paris. Basically green vegetables go into boiling water so they stay green and are easier to keep crisp-tender and not too soft. Root vegetables sometimes have strong flavors (or did in the old days) that you want to draw out by starting them in cold water and cooking them more slowly.

Gil Marks, author of Encyclopedia of Jewish Food: Chicken and meat retain flavor when started in hot water, while more seeps into the liquid when started in cold water. So soup should be started with cold water and poached should be hot.

I’d like to weigh in on the nutrition issue. While the ancients lacked our scientific knowledge of vitamins, they could see that certain vegetables lost their color and texture when cooked for longer. So some developed techniques to retain color and texture,  whether or not they were aware of the health benefits. Of course some cuisines favored over-cooked foods.

My mother cooked root vegetables starting with a small amount of cold water, to keep the vitamins from leaching into the water. Generally she timed cooking to perfection but since she underestimated the amount of water, the smell of burnt potatoes remains a strong childhood memory. She steamed vegetables like string beans. Boiling the water, then adding the steamer so that the vegetables don’t touch the water, preserves both flavor and nutrition. But it takes longer and is not practical for root vegetables.

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  1. Interesting! I’m going to ask my teacher about this (I’m attending the Culinary School at Kendall College) and I’ll try to let you know what he says too!