So many great soups, sauces, stews, and braises start with some simply sweated aromatic vegetables. Sometimes when I'm not sure exactly what to cook, I just begin sweating some vegetables. The few minutes it takes gives me time to formulate my next steps. Just the smell of it wafting from the kitchen is enough to inspire me, get my dinner companions hungry, and leave my neighbors wondering what are they eating tonight?
Sweating vegetables is a technique that uses a gentle heat to soften vegetables and gently draw out their flavors. The idea isn't to brown or caramelize them—instead, the mellow aromas from the vegetables should mingle with the rest of the dish without dominating it.
Often, sweated vegetables will later be pureed or pressed through a sieve to become part of a soup or sauce. In other dishes, they are left whole. You can also sweat some finely chopped vegetables and then let them a bit cool before adding them into a meatloaf or fish cakes. This slideshow demonstrates how to perform this very important step of sweating vegetables.