With a daughter who is now 7 months old - we've hit the solid foods stage. Adelaide is extremely stubborn and extremely driven, so eating purées was never really an option for her. You try to feed her with a spoon, and she very quickly takes it from your hand to do the job herself. We ended up doing baby-led weaning with her instead, but there is a part of me that is very sad to have missed the "here comes the choo-choo train" stage.
I don't know about you, but when I think of purées I think of the two extremes of the age spectrum; either a baby or an elderly person who needs to be fed soft or puréed foods because they are missing teeth. Purées are actually a very versatile thing to be able to make; from soups to sauces, to pie fillings and baby food, they are an excellent addition to your skill set, and usually don't require too much work.
So let's look at the how to purée.
Choosing Ingredients For Purées
The first thing you want to do is start with excellent ingredients (duh, Mackenzie). Instead of puréeing old carrots that are hanging out in your fridge (you know the kind I'm talking about - where they start to be able to bend and become pliable), set them aside for making stock down the road. Use fresh, crisp, ripe fruits and vegetables for your purée. They provide the best flavor and color, and ensure that you are getting the most nutritional value out of your ingredients.
Foods that are great for puréeing include:
- squash (winter and spring varieties)
- cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, chard, or horseradish)
- ripe fruits (just make sure to remove any stones or seeds that may interrupt the puréeing process)
- root vegetables (like carrots, rutabegas, or potatoes)
Preparing Ingredients for Purées
While there are certain foods you can just throw right into a blender to begin puréeing (like fruits), always make sure to wash your produce before you begin puréeing to remove any unwanted dirt, debris, or chemicals. My favorite way to wash sturdy vegetables is to let them soak in a sink full of cold water for 2-3 minutes, and then rinse them off under cold running water. You'll be amazed at the amount of dirt that is left behind. If you want to use additional ingredients - a vinegar wash can be very successful, using 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water (read up on a recent study done by Cooks Illustrated Magazine about the difference in washing methods here). No matter which method you choose, make sure to be careful to not let your foods become waterlogged from letting them soak for too long. Fragile or absorbent ingredients (like mushrooms or berries) should just be rinsed under cool water.
After you have washed your ingredients thoroughly, make sure that each ingredient is trimmed and cut up as necessary (This isn't an episode of "will it blend"). Peel the skin off of squash and vegetables, and remove stems from fruits (we don't need that kind of roughage). Make sure that all of your cut ingredients are uniform in size so that they cook evenly and are done at the same time and remember that the smaller or thinner the pieces are, the less time they will take to cook (if you're cooking them).
Be careful of fibrous or stringy vegetables (think celery, rutabaga, or pea pods), which can be difficult to purée. If you choose to make a purée out of these, try to remove as much of the tough fiber as possible by peeling the stringy fibers off, removing any seeds, or cutting off any undesirable or tough parts.
Cooking Ingredients for Purée
Start by choosing how you are going to cook your purée (if it needs cooked, of course). Pretty much any moist-heat cooking method will do the trick (like steaming, or poaching, simmering, and boiling), as well as any dry-heat method (like baking) as long as it does not create a crust around the ingredient. Microwaving can also give you a soft enough end product, but may not be ideal depending on the size of what you are cooking. Additionally, both a pressure canner and slow cooker could help you get the job done with minimal impact or interruption to your day.
When choosing your cooking method, make sure to consider the amount of time it will take to cook it (this is where cutting the ingredients into smaller pieces may pay-off) and how it changes nutritional value. For example, I would choose steaming over boiling because it doesn't break down the fiber or nutrients in the food as quickly - resulting in a more flavorful and higher quality end product. Depending on how much I am cooking though, steaming may take a significantly longer time if I am working in batches. Then again, if I want to boil everything at one time, I have to bring a large pot of water to a boil first - so weigh out the options and choose which way is best for you and your schedule.
If you are using an ingredient that can easily absorb or trap moisture, like eggplant or mushrooms, consider using a dry-heat method of cooking to help pull out that moisture instead of adding more. This will prevent your purée from becoming watery or flavorless.
I'm sure you're thinking, "Mackenzie, how do I know when the ingredients are ready to be puréed?". My answer to that is when they are soft enough to be stabbed through with a fork. You aren't looking for them to be falling apart, you just want a sharp item to be able to cleanly and easily penetrate the ingredient. If there is still some resistance, or you can't get all the way through, give it a few more minutes and try again. If you are going to manually (with muscle: see below) purée your ingredients - you may want to consider cooking them for longer to make the job easier for yourself.
How to Purée
I bet that as we're talking about puréeing, you can hear the sound of a blender or food processor whirring in your head. What do you do if you don't have a handy electric to do the job for you? Certainly people have been puréeing before electric gadgets were available for every home. Let's take a look at the three different ways.
- Electric. If you have a blender, food processor, or immersion blender handy, you can use those to get the job done quickly. Make sure that before you press the on button, that you have a little bit of liquid by the blade to make sure that there is something for the blade to pick up, adding liquid as needed to keep the blades moving. If you need to, take breaks to make sure that anything that has splashed up on the sides gets pushed down into the mixture (turning off the motor, first) to be fully puréed. The more liquid you add, the looser the purée will become. If you are looking for an extremely smooth purée, run the ingredients through a sieve after blending to ensure a perfectly silky consistency.
- Manual with Tools. If you want to purée manually, try using a food mill or a ricer over a bowl. Both are easy to use, fairly easy to clean, and will do the job well - it just requires more effort than pushing a button on and off. After you have run your ingredient through the mill or ricer, it may look a little like a pile of small bugs (gross analogy, I know), but this can be rectified by simply using a spoon or fork to mix it all together (with liquid as needed) until your desired texture and consistency is reached.
- Manual with Muscle. If you're halfway through a recipe and realize all of the sudden that you need something puréed, but you don't have a gadget or gizmo to do it with - all is not lost. If you are willing to put a bit of muscle behind it, you can use a fine mesh sieve and a wooden spoon to get the job done. Just hold the sieve over a bowl and really press your spoon down into the ingredients to break them apart and push them through the mesh. This is better achieved the softer the ingredient is - so if this is your chosen method, cooking your ingredients until they begin to fall apart may be the order of the day.
What To Do With Purées
So what do you do with your purées once you're done? You can store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, freeze them up to 3 months, eat them as is, or you can add them to different dishes to boost flavor and change consistency.
Many common foods that have purée in them include tomato sauce, pumpkin pie, and smoothies.
Try It Yourself
If you would like to try your hand at puréeing, I recommend making your own pumpkin purée. Read up on how to cook a pumpkin and then turn your purée into one of these delicious recipes!