Crudite That's Not Passe with Greek Yogurt Ranch and Bloody Mary Dip
For crudite such as carrots, parsnips, green beans, asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower, blanching vegetables (quickly cooking in low-boiling salted water and cold-shocking) will improve the texture, color and flavor of the vegetables. Blanching vegetables will take the raw edge off their bite and cold-shocking stops the cooking process–well, cold.
For the yogurt ranch: Combine ingredients in a bowl, then stir and adjust seasonings. Chill until ready to serve.
For the bloody Mary dip: Combine ingredients in a bowl, then stir and adjust seasonings. Chill until ready to serve.
For the crudite: For carrots or conical root vegetables, peel and cut in half across. For thinner end, quarter the vegetable into 4 sticks. For the larger end, slice into planks, then stack a few planks and slice into sticks. Another technique is to slice large carrots into thin planks on a heavy angle or a long bias, then slice the thin ovals into sticks. For large parsnips, the center may be woody and tough. Quarter the top of the parsnip, cut into the core on an angle and remove, then slice into sticks.
For green beans, trim stem ends.
For cruciferous vegetables, such as broccolini, broccoli and cauliflower, trim and cut florets into equal portions. For very woody or fat stems of broccoli use a vegetable peeler to trim.
For asparagus or white asparagus, hold a piece at each end and snap; use resulting size as a guide to trim woody stems from the rest of the bundle. Ends may be saved to puree for soup. For very large or woody asparagus spears, trim the woody ends with a vegetable peeler.
For these vegetables, bring 3 to 4 inches of water to low rolling boil and season with salt. Place a large bowl filled with ice and water nearby. Add vegetables to water, cook 90 seconds to 2 minutes, then transfer with a spider to ice bath and drain on kitchen towels.
Cut celery ribs into 4- to 5-inch lengths including the leafy tops, then cut into even thin sticks.
For scallions, trim roots and tough ends of dark greens.
For cucumber, cut into 4- to 5-inch lengths, then quarter and remove watery center by cutting into cucumber on an angle (this is not necessary for Persian cucumbers). Cut into even sticks.
For peppers, slice off tops, then bottoms with a paring knife, then stand a pepper upright and cut down the side of the pepper to open it up. Lay flat, skin-side down, on a cutting board, and trim any white ribs out of the center, then slice into strips. I have a slightly different style to offer as well: Halve, scoop the guts out with your hand into a garbage bowl and trim edges, then slice sticks lengthwise from inside of pepper working out so you do not dull your knife.
Small radishes may be served whole, large, or quartered. Watermelon radishes can be cut into stalks, julienned—see jicama. Or, trim one side and thinly slice into disc-shaped chips.
For round vegetables such as jicama, trim top and bottom as if peeling a melon. Trim skin in strips from top to bottom with a utility knife or chef's knife. Cut vegetable into planks, then slice planks into even sticks.
At or near the center of a large cutting board or a serving platter place the chilled dips, then arrange the variety of vegetables in a colorful pattern around the bowls and arrange the shrimp nearest the Bloody Mary Dip. Serve the saltines away from any dampness to keep them crisp.