Salt not only flavors vegetables, it transforms them.
When you use salt in the kitchen, yer a wizard (Harry)! 🧙
Salt of course makes vegetables more flavorful. But it also magically transforms them! You can use salt to have greater control over your ingredients. And when you have more control, you get the results you want. It’s like getting an 'Outstanding' on your O.W.L.s. 🦉
Like salting meat ahead of time, salt draws moisture out of vegetables. How? The salt creates a higher ion concentration at the surface of the vegetable. Over time water travels from within the vegetables to the surface to create equilibrium. It’s a process called osmosis. The same thing happens in meat. But unlike meat, we don’t wait around for the water to get reabsorbed.
How do you salt vegetables in advance? It’s simple. Use about a teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of vegetables. Toss well and then let them sit for about 30-45 minutes. You can let them drain in a colander as they sit or press them with a towel to get rid of the water.
It is worth saying, that this happens for all vegetables. But you’ll only notice the difference in watery veg: eggplant, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, etc. 🍆🥒 🍅
But salting veggies ahead of time doesn’t just remove liquid. It also affects texture. Which is important to remember for the less watery vegetables too.
With less water inside, the cells lose pressure and start to soften. And that’s not all. The sodium ions replace the calcium and magnesium ions in pectin. Why does that matter? Pectin is what makes cell walls strong. 💪Removing the calcium and magnesium ions weakens them. This means veggies salted ahead of time are more tender—almost wilted—which has its pros and cons.
Salting vegetables ahead of time is a tool in your toolkit. It’s not something you should always do. You have to consider the final result you want.
Eggplant spotlight: Eggplant is full of air pockets. It’s what makes it so absorbent of cooking oil. But salt collapses those air pockets. It makes eggplant less absorbent, which means it will turn out less greasy in the end.
Where I learned this: The Science of Good Cooking, Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat, and this America’s Test Kitchen Bootcamp video