Food

Crudités party trick! Turn vegetables into a stunning 'garden'

Crudités: It's a fancy way of saying "vegetable platter" and a go-to for any party. But have you ever noticed that when you just dump a bunch of cut-up veggies on a platter or tray, guests tend to bypass them for the more inviting eats? This holiday season, TODAY's director of culinary production, Bianca Borges, shows how to give your crudité platter a serious upgrade.

In this video, Borges demonstrates how to arrange the vegetables in rows to create a "garden," complete with "earth" made from crackers. She also shares tips on how to prep the veggies ahead of time and keep them fresh throughout the party. Serve the veggies with your favorite dip or Borges' secret two-ingredient dip: Just mix one cup sour cream with 1/4 to 1/3 cup Dijon mustard (to taste). Step aside, cheese tray — there's a new star of the party!

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Here are Bianca Borges' top three tips for perfect vegetables:

1. How to properly store raw vegetables

Vegetables such as celery, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, radishes, zucchini and yellow squash can all be served raw. To keep them fresh, wash the vegetables well, peel if necessary and cut to desired sizes. Wrap in damp paper towels and store in a large, sealed zip-top baggie with the air pressed out. The vegetables can be prepped up to two days in advance.

2. How to blanch vegetables

Some vegetables, such as asparagus and green beans, benefit from brief cooking — or blanching — to make them more tender and to preserve their bright colors. Other veggies, like carrots, can be served raw but will look fresher if you blanch them.

Here's how: Clean and cut vegetables to the desired size. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt as if making pasta, about one tablespoon of salt per gallon of water. (Use kosher salt if available — it has a clean, non-metallic taste.) Then add one type of vegetable at a time to the boiling water. Cook until half-tender, from one to three minutes, depending on vegetable (for instance, carrots take the longest and asparagus the shortest, with green beans somewhere in the middle).

3. How to prevent blanched vegetables from overcooking

After you've removed each type of vegetable from the water, you'll want to stop it from cooking. There are two easy methods for doing this.

The first is to "shock" the vegetables: Fill a large bowl 1/3 with ice, then add cold water until the bowl is half full. Once vegetables are in the boiling water, begin testing at about one minute — remove a vegetable, take a bite and see how firm it is. When vegetables are as tender as you want them to be, scoop them out of the water with tongs or a large strainer scoop and drop into the ice water. (You can use the same boiling water for remaining vegetables.) Let them stay in the water until cooled, about two minutes, then store as for raw vegetables.

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If you don’t have access to enough ice, the second way is to put a few layers of paper towel on a large sheet pan; when vegetables have blanched enough, transfer to the sheet pan and spread out so they cool down quickly. Once cool, wrap them in the same paper towels and store in baggies as for the raw vegetables. Like the raw veggies, the blanched vegetables can be prepped up to two days in advance.

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