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How to Sweat Vegetables

If you are following a recipe, you might be stumped at the part, which says, “sweat the vegetables” – how do you make vegetables sweat? Actually frying vegetables in a little oil or butter over a low heat makes moisture rise to the cut surfaces and this makes the vegetables look like they are sweating. For example, onions are often sweated before being added to a stew, to make them flavorful and soft. A grilled vegetables recipe might call for the onions and garlic to be sweated.

Sweating is similar to sauteing, in that the vegetables will soften and cook in their own juices. The goal of sweating vegetables is to cook diced vegetables in a minimal amount of fat, in an uncovered pan.

Sauteing is done over a moderately high to high heat but sweating is done at a lower temperature, so the food does not brown. You can also sweat vegetables in the oven but using a pan is more common.

Sweating vegetables is nearly always done as a step in a recipe. After sweating vegetables, the recipe you are following will probably instruct you to do something else with them. Aromatic vegetables like carrots, garlic, shallots, onions, and celery are sweated to release their flavors. Sweating them draws out the moisture and makes them tastier.

Tips for Sweating Vegetables

In order to sweat vegetables, you need to chop or dice them to quarter inch pieces. Try to make all the pieces more or less the same size, so they cook evenly. If you are using shallots or garlic, you should mince them. Next, you need to heat a pan over a low to moderate heat, and then add one or two tablespoons of oil to the pan. Swirl it so the fat coats the whole surface.

Let the oil heat for ten seconds, and then add the chopped vegetables and some salt. The salt helps to draw the moisture out of the chopped vegetables. The pan needs to gently sizzle, no more, so turn the heat down if necessary. Stir the food often because you do not want it to brown. Add the garlic or shallot at this point, if you are using any, and keep stirring the vegetables.

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Partially cover the pan, if you want, to speed up the process. Do not completely cover it though, else there will be too much liquid in the pan at the end. The whole process will take between five and ten minutes, depending on which vegetables you are using and how small you have diced them. When the vegetables are translucent and soft, they are done, and you can continue with the recipe.

Recipe for Italian Tomato Sauce

This recipe makes enough tomato sauce to serve four people. Use fresh tomatoes, not canned ones, else you will lose the wonderful fresh flavor. You can use black pepper instead of white pepper, if you like, but bear in mind that it will be visible in the finished sauce.

What you will need:

  • 3 lbs chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped garlic
  • Salt and white pepper, to taste

How to make it:

Add all the ingredients to a big pot. Cover the pot and sweat the tomatoes for a couple of hours. Strain the mixture through a medium mesh strainer, using a wooden spoon to press it through. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Discard the solids and serve this tomato sauce with your favorite pasta or thicken it up to make a sauce for a grilled vegetable pizza recipe.

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