Don’t know steaming from sautéing? Blanching from braising? Here, basic techniques demystified—with recipes to get you started.

Steam

Setting food over hot water instead of in it means food retains nutrients that otherwise would go down the drain. It’s also a fat-free method. In a steamer pan, pot, or a saucepan with a tight lid, bring 1–2 inches of water to a boil; place steamer basket (a perforated holder, available at any grocery store) with food into pan, cover, and steam until done. Veggies should be crisp-tender; meat and fish should be opaque. Remove promptly to prevent overcooking. Best for: Non-root vegetables, fish, chicken

Steamed Halibut with Mango Sauce

Serves 4 / Top this mild fish with the spicy-sweet mango sauce to create a meal that appeals to all ages. Prep tip: You can substitute striped bass, pollock, or another white fish. Serving tip: Accompany with a side of basmati rice laced with cumin seeds, plus a salad of chopped cucumbers, diced tomatoes, minced onions, and plain yogurt. View the Steamed Halibut with Mango Sauce recipe

Broil

Like grilling, broiling cooks with intense, direct heat. It’s an ideal way to impart flavor but, like grilling, broiling meats to a char can produce carcinogens. To minimize risk, trim excess fat and marinate meats before cooking; broil only thin cuts to lessen cooking time; and slice off any charred pieces. To broil, place foods on a broiler pan or roasting pan and place in a preheated oven, 4–6 inches from the heating element. Broil until cooked through, usually 5–10 minutes. Best for: Vegetables, bread, thin cuts of meat, quick-cooking seafood

Broiled Tomato and Cheese Sandwiches

Serves 4 / A light and simple vegetarian meal. Prep tip: If you like meat, add a slice of organic ham or thinly sliced prosciutto. View the Broiled Tomato and Cheese Sandwiches recipe

Blanch

This method submerges vegetables, fruits, and even nuts in boiling water for just a few seconds; the technique keeps foods brightly colored and firm, retains vitamins, and, with fruits and nuts, loosens peels for removal. To blanch, bring a large pot of water (for veggies, add a little salt) to a rapid boil over high heat. Add food and cook for 30 seconds to 2 minutes—color should be bright—then remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Remove food when cooled, about 1 minute. Best for: Green vegetables and herbs, tomatoes, peaches, nuts

Blanched Asparagus with Lemon-Tahini Dressing

Serves 4 / Chilled asparagus blanketed in a creamy sauce—the perfect start to a summer meal. Serving tip: Set out as an appetizer with more blanched vegetables, or accompany with dishes of black olives, cubed feta cheese, fresh figs, and toasted nuts. View the Blanched Asparagus with Lemon-Tahini recipe

Sauté

This stovetop method cooks foods relatively quickly in a small amount of fat. Choose a roomy pan; crowding causes foods to steam rather than sauté. Preheat the pan for 1 minute over medium-high heat. Add oil, swirl to warm, then add food. Shake the pan to toss foods, or stir with a wooden spoon. When just cooked (vegetables until tender; meats should be opaque), remove food. To deglaze pan, pour off any excess fat, then add a small amount of wine, broth, or vinegar. Scrape and stir to remove the rich, browned bits from the pan bottom. Pour glaze over finished food. Best for: Leafy greens, quick-cooking vegetables, thin slices of meat, fish, or chicken.

Sautéed Chard with Almonds and Dried Apricots

Serves 4 / Bits of apricots and nuts add sweetness and crunch. Prep tip: For a spicier version of this easy dish, substitute escarole for the chard and add red pepper flakes. Serving tip: Serve alongside salmon, with a side of steamed cauliflower dressed with olive oil and fresh basil. View the Sautéed Chard with Almonds and Dried Apricots recipe

Braise

  • Steam: Brown rice, broccoli florets, mustard greens, spinach, asparagus, white fish
  • Sauté: Swiss chard, crimini mushrooms, red peppers, scallions, bok choy, shrimp
  • Braise: Sweet potatoes, kohlrabi, rutabagas, potatoes, turnips, onions
  • Blanch: Snow peas, dandelion greens, cauliflower, beet greens, fiddlehead ferns
  • Roast: Carrots, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, beets, parsnips, corn
  • Broil: Yellow bell peppers, portobello mushrooms, leeks, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes

Braised Red Cabbage with Currants and Honey

Because it uses minimal oil and develops a deep, full flavor over time, braising is an excellent low-fat, low-sodium cooking method. To braise, heat oil in a Dutch oven or large pan on stovetop, then add food and lightly brown. Add a little cooking liquid, such as broth, wine, or water; cover pan very tightly and cook at low-medium heat (stovetop) or 275 to 325 degrees (oven), until food is very tender. Best for: Thick cuts of meat, root vegetables

Roast

Serves 6–8 / Braising mellows cabbage’s natural pungency, making it lightly nutty and sweet. Serving tip: Serve this rich dish with lighter entrées, like mild fish. View the Braised Red Cabbage with Currants and Honey recipe

Lemon and Rosemary Roasted Chicken Breasts

High-heat roasting caramelizes sugars and fats on foods’ surface, necessitating little or no salt for additional flavor. To roast, lightly coat vegetables or meat with oil and place in a large roasting pan. Roast in a hot oven—usually around 425 to 500 degrees—for 20–40 minutes, or until cooked through. Best for: Sturdy root and cruciferous vegetables, meats

Serves 4 / An easy crowd-pleaser. Serving tip: Great with a side of whole-grain orzo and a salad of mixed field greens. View the Lemon and Rosemary Roasted Chicken Breasts recipe