Marinating 101

Vegetables taste great and, with a bit of adjusting, you can learn to love veggies just as they are. But, even the most avid veggie lover will tell you that eating plain sautéed zucchini or carrot sticks can get a bit boring. The solution? Marinate the heck out of your veggies and plant proteins!

Marinade basically just means that you soak food in some sort of liquid. The word probably comes from Italian word marinito, which means to pickle, and this word likely originated from the Latin word marine, which means from the sea. But marinating has come a long way from being sea brine! Here is everything you need to know to use marinades to add flavor to your veggie fare.

Which Foods to Marinate?

You can marinate pretty much any food. However, tender foods are generally best because they can absorb the marinade and get a nice flavor. Some good options are tofu, seitan, zucchini, eggplant, squash, and mushrooms. Harder foods such as carrots can also be marinated, but you will want to make sure they are sliced thinly so the flavor gets transferred to them.

Remember, marinating rarely penetrates deep into the food.The flavor is mostly imparted on the exterior surface. So increase the surface area! Don't use big cuts. Slice foods as thinly as you can without risking that they will fall apart when cooked.


Marinade Timing

How long should you marinate vegetables and other plant-based foods? It depends on a lot of factors. The more sponge-like the food, the less time is needed to absorb the marinade (think zucchini compared to carrots). Also, thinly-sliced foods with a larger surface area are going to need less time to marinate.

You can generally get away with marinating veggie foods overnight. Just be wary about doing this with soft vegetables as they can get really soggy and fall apart when you cook them.

  • Veggie Proteins (Beyond Meat, Tofu, Tempeh, Seitan): Marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to several hours. If marinating overnight, cut tofu into larger slices so it doesn't fall apart when you cook it.
  • Hard Vegetables (Potatoes, Carrots, Beets, etc.): Marinate these veggies for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
  • Semi-Hard Vegetables (Green Beans, Asparagus, Peppers, etc.): Marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to several hours.
  • Soft Vegetables (Broccoli, Tomatoes, Greens, etc.): About 10 minutes is good. Don't marinate these for longer than 30 minutes because they will release water and get soggy. When marinating with other vegetables, add soft veggies last after the harder veggies have already soaked for a while.
  • Fruits (Berries, Plums, Apples, etc.): Marinating fruit is technically called "macerating." This is generally done to make a sauce or cocktail.Since the idea is to get a saucy substance, you will want to macerate fruit for a longer time, preferably overnight. Note that some denser fruits can be marinated for about 10 minutes and cooked (like apples and watermelon on the grill!).

Marinating Equipment

You can marinate in a plastic bag, a plastic bowl, a Tupperware container, a ceramic dish, in a deep dinner plate…But whatever you do, DON'T MARINATE IN A METAL BOWL! Most marinades contain an acid (like vinegar). The acid will react with the metal and cause it to impart a metallic taste into the food. Yuck.


Cooking Marinated Food

You can prepare marinated food in just about any way. However, bear in mind that marinated foods contain a lot of excess liquid. You don't want to grab a freshly-marinated red pepper and throw it into a pan of hot frying oil --the combo of liquid and hot oil is going to cause some serious splattering.

In general, marinating is used when foods will be cooked in a way which would dry them out. For example, grilling really dries out food. By marinating food before putting it on the grill, you add some moisture so the food stays tender.

Note that marinades containing sweeteners (sugar, molasses, honey, etc.) BURN QUICKLY. Cook these foods at lower heat and watch them like a hawk!

Marinade Ingredients

Marinades can be any flavorful liquid, but the traditional standard is a combination of an acid, oil, and flavor elements. Here is a basic marinade formula you can follow:

ACID
Examples: Vinegar, orange juice, wine
Why: Tenderizes proteins and helps boost flavor of other elements in marinade

+

OIL/FAT
Examples: Olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil or coconut milk

Why: Coats the food and keeps it from drying out; also helps carry flavor

+

HERBS/SEASONINGS/SWEETENER
Examples: Garlic, parsley, ginger, hot pepper, sugar
Why: Adds flavor

If you follow this basic formula, you don't need a recipe for marinating vegetables – just use whatever you already have in your house. Remember, there are no specific rules and you might surprise yourself by finding which flavor combinations go really well together. If you are just getting started with making your own marinades though, you might want to create them using region-specific ingredients. Here are some marinade combinations to get you inspired.


American Marinades: Bourbon, hot sauce, oil, buttermilk (1 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice + 1 cup soy milk = vegan buttermilk), maple syrup, vegan Worcestershire sauce

Latin American Marinades: Oil, lime juice, chiles, cumin, oregano

Asian Marinades: Rice-wine vinegar, mirin, coconut milk, soy sauce, sesame oil, lime juice, ginger, sugar, garlic, cilantro, lemongrass

Italian Marinades: Red wine, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, basil, tarragon, oregano, lemon juice, thyme, rosemary

Indian Marinades: Yogurt, ginger, curry, cilantro, mint, garlic, turmeric, cumin


Image credits:
Marinating tofu
by Jacqueline (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

Mojo ingredients by chotda (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/)

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