How to Prep Vegetables for Crudité first. Personal notes and shopping resources follow.
step 1: BAE WASH
Before All Else: WASH. Prepping fruits and vegetables for crudité or anything really, always start with the same thing: wash everything. I mean everything, even the vegetables that you will peel by pulling the skin off (avocado), and even the vegetables you might peel with a peeler (carrots) because you’re going to touch the dirty skin outside, peel the skin off, but then touch the inside with your now dirty hands.
It’s not just about pesticides and/or germs. You don’t know who touched what, what touched what, and even the vegetables that are organic, local, straight from the farm, straight from your very own backyard garden, have dirt, environmental dust, and droppings (so gross I know, sorry), which, organic or not, isn’t pleasant to feel in your mouth. Or maybe it is for yours, I don't know what kind of organic oral kink you're into.
Helpful note: I have been using FIT, an organic fruit and vegetable spray wash for years. The spray helps loosen dirt and some of the natural waxes on fruit and vegetables skins. See TOOLS section below for detailed information on that.
Next step, wash everything. Oh, did I already say that? So important, I say it twice.
step 2: EVERYTHING ELSE
There are many ways to prep and present vegetables for a crudité board. Most vegetables are fine just washed, maybe peeled, and served raw. A few vegetables do better if they are lightly blanched — asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans — sometimes because the "rawness" is taken down to a little more edible, sometimes because it just makes the vegetables' color a little brighter. You can also lightly pickle some vegetables to add interest to a very large board — beets, cucumber, radishes. Beets are also great if roasted. Don't go too crazy with the pickling and roasting though, the point of a crudité board is that the vegetables are bright and fresh.
The following list explains what I do in my kitchen to each of the vegetable types to get them ready for the serving plate or board. The vegetables are listed in alphabetical order. Refer to the photo above for visual guidance, where also the vegetables are pictured in alphabetical order left-to-right because I am a weirdo.
ASPARAGUS (blanched): Go full Elle Woods on each asparagus stalk close to the bottom of the stalk and bend until it snaps. The stalk will break at the point where the stem changes from tender, which is edible, to woody which is still edible, but unpleasantly fibrous. Put the clean, raw asparagus stalks in a colander, then pour boiling water over them. They will turn bright green from contact with the hot water, and will ever so slightly “cook,” if at all. You can see the difference in color between duller raw asparagus and the brighter green blanched asparagus in the photo above. Rinse with cold water, drain, and dry off the stalks. Cut the stalks into 3-inch pieces. I make my cuts on a bias to match the angle of the asparagus tip. It is way too much detail, I know, but I have no other hobbies.
AVOCADO: When it comes to party boards, people usually think of avocado as a base for a dip like guacamole. You can do the usual like that, or you can be a motherfucking hero and serve whole wedges of avocado that people will think is awesome and brilliant and unexpected. Cut straight through the skin and cut the avocado the “long way” into halves first. Pull the halves apart, remove the pit (save it to grow into a tree!) and slice the halves, still with the skin attached, into quarters, then eighths. Leaving the skin and flesh intact keeps more of the avocado from oxidizing, and makes it easier for guests to pick up with their hands. Guests can peel the skin back like a banana. Side note: I hate bananas. Side side note: I buy them anyway for banana bread.
BEETS (raw or roasted): Baby beets are tender enough to be eaten raw. Slice them super thinly on a mandoline (my favorite Japanese style mandoline linked below), which is especially pretty for candy stripe beets which are pictured. Larger beets can be scrubbed, rubbed with oil, wrapped in foil, roasted, peeled, then cut into quarters to serve. If you are serving red beets, especially if they are roasted, make sure you have small forks for your guests. Red beets will almost permanently stain hands and anything those hands touch, like your furniture and linens.
BROCCOLI (blanched): If, out of last minute desperation, you’ve ever bought a pre-made crudités platter from the deli/catering counter or produce section of your grocery store, you’ve seen raw broccoli florets as crudité. That’s fine and all, but have you ever seen anyone actually eat raw broccoli in anything other than in a salad that is drenched, no drowning, in some sort of sauce? Right. No. So don’t serve the broccoli raw. Use the same technique as for the asparagus, pouring boiling hot water over the stalks through a colander. Though the broccoli will still be almost as crunchy as it is raw, it will be very bright green and will look more edible. Cut the florets or stalk into 3-inch pieces. Baby whole broccoli, cauliflower, and their disco cousin Romanesco, are especially perfectly cute for a crudité board.
CARROTS: You know how to make carrot sticks out of normal carrots, but look for little baby carrots that you can serve whole. You don’t need to peel the baby carrots, just scrub them very well. You can use a scrubbing brush; we use a clean dishwashing scrubbing sponge that is set aside specifically for vegetables. Trim the green carrot tops down to about ¾-inch. Use a sharp paring knife to “scrape” some of the dark stuff from around the “neck” where the greens attach to the top of the actual carrot. I have no idea if this dirt, but it doesn’t look great, so do what you can to scrape it off. Serve the baby carrots whole if they’re thin enough, or slice them length-wise into halves or quarters.
CELERY: You probably already did this in order to thoroughly wash the celery, but if not, remove outer stalks that are bruised or too “tough.” Cut off about 2 inches of the root end (you can stick it in a small cup of water to grow into new celery!), then pull apart the stalks. Trim the leaves of any brown or wilted leaves and bits. Cut each stalk into thirds, about 3-inch pieces. I make bias (diagonal) cuts because that is how we have cut vegetables our whole lives. Serve the most tender inner stalks, and also the leafy tops, which present well on the board.
CUCUMBER: If you can find very small Persian cucumbers, just serve them whole. Otherwise, cut the cucumber in half length-wise, then make ¼-inch slices along a deep bias to make spears. I do this because the longer spear shape matches most of the other vegetables. It’s also fine to cut the whole cucumber into rounds, you pagan.
ENDIVE: Pull apart the leaves, and trim the bottom of each leaf of the jagged edges. Great for scooping.
GREEN BEANS (blanched): Trim the stem end off of each green bean, then prepare the same way as the asparagus and broccoli — by pouring boiling hot water over the green beans set in a colander.
RADICCHIO and TREVISO: Pull apart the leaves. Trim the jagged edges. Generally, the innermost leaves are the best for scooping or dipping.
RADISHES: I love every kind of radish ever, but for a Party Board, I like slightly less common radish varieties like French Breakfast Radishes, the longer-shaped ones that are dark fuschia/red and white. Prep these kind of radishes the same way as baby carrots, scrubbing them well, leaving the green tops and leaves, and scraping away the dark spots around the “neck.” If you have access to a farmers market, you may be able to find green honeydew and purple ninja radishes. For regular round radishes, cut into small wedges, or thinly slice on a mandoline into rounds like baby beets.
SUGAR SNAPS: Use kitchen shears to trim dark stem ends. And that’s it. Sugar snaps, like that hot young surfer you were dating last summer, are basically always ready to go.
TOMATOES: Even easier than sugar snaps, just wash and go. Like Pert.
WATERMELON RADISH: Trim the green top and the root end off the radish. To make it easier, cut the radish in half the “long way,” then slice each half into half moons using a mandoline. Use a very sharp knife to carefully “peel” the thinnest, outermost skin of each slice. It may seem time-consuming to peel by hand for each individual slice, but it’s easier and makes for a “smoother” edge than trying to use a peeler on a whole, round radish.
ZUCCHINI: Use baby zucchini, and if they still have the blossoms attached, even better! If the squash are thin and tender enough, you can serve them whole, otherwise, slice them the long way into halves or quarters.
OTHER VEGETABLES GOOD FOR CRUDITÉ
What you serve will always depend on seasonal and local availability.
Cauliflower and Other Cousins in the Brassica fam (year-round): “Blanch” the same way as we do for asparagus and green beans by pouring boiling hot water over the florets set in a colander. There are "baby" whole heads of different color cauliflower, broccoli, and romanesco that are really pretty and interesting, but they are very expensive.
Fennel: Slice the white bulb lengthwise. The slices will be pretty patterned.
Parsnips: Parsnips are gross to me. Prep them however you want I don't care.
Peppers: Cut large bell peppers length-wise into ½-inch wide strips, or serve small sweet baby bell peppers whole or sliced in half length-wise.
Sweet Potato: Roasted sweet potatoes cut into wedges or chunks are good in the cooler months when tender, fresh baby vegetables aren’t as readily available, but we didn’t do it this time because we usually have sweet potato in one of our hummusesesesssesii. If you want to include sweet potatoes for their color on an especially bright board (orange or purple!) buy sweet potato chips and just throw them right on the board with the other vegetables.
GET THESE TOOLS
I wash and prep A LOT A LOT A LOT of fruit and vegetables almost every day. These are some tools that make prep work a little easier. None of them are absolutely necessary except a sharp knife and a stable cutting board. Pro-tip: place a damp paper towel or kitchen towel under your cutting board to "anchor" it. There you go: stable cutting board.
- SALAD SPINNER: I have no idea how I ever lived before a salad spinner. I have this salad spinner, as I prefer the push spinning mechanism over a handle you have to turn yourself or a lever, which seems to never to apply enough spinning speed.
- FIT Fruit and Vegetable Wash: There are MANY fruit and vegetable washes on the grocery store shelves now, but I use FIT because it's the only one I've seen that is certified organic and, a silly detail that has somehow become important, the spray bottle shape and size fits better under my sink, if you know what I mean. Full disclosure: FIT's creator is a friend, but I don't get the product for free; I always buy it myself!
- SCRUBBER: To scrub vegetables, I use this regular kitchen scrubbing sponge. I keep it dedicated to vegetables and mushrooms because you don't want to use the one that gets soapy and touches dirty dishes. There are special brushes and cloths on the WOUG at BedBath and Beyond (Wall of Useless Gadgets) but I find the sponge the most effective and easiest to handle, not to mention least annoying to acquire.
- PEELER: I have to use a vegetable peeler with a sizable handle and good grip because, like mentioned above, everything is slippery with water from washing everything.
- CUTTING BOARD: in the photo above is this one, great because it's huge and heavy so it doesn't move around even when there's water everywhere from ALL THAT WASHING you did to the vegetables. I have about 12 cutting boards, though.
- KNIVES: I have many knives, but for prepping a basketful of vegetables for crudite, I use only two, sometimes only one if I'm too lazy. For slicing avocados and cutting most vegetables, I use my Bob Kramer 7-inch Meiji Santoku . For small jobs like trimming leaves or scraping around stems on root vegetables, I use a small 4-inch paring knife.
- MANDOLINE: I have had this Japanese mandoline for years, and that is after I inherited from my Mom who had it the entire time I was growing up. The mandoline works well enough, but the blades, like me, are starting to dull with age. I'm going in for a minor upgrade, just something new, but I generally don't use fancy attachment blades, etc.
NOTES and RESOURCES
- All fresh produce from either the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Wednesday or Hollywood Farmers Market on Sunday. Whole Foods Market when I can’t find it at the farmers’ market.