The Back-to-Basics Way to Cook Vegetables Our Vegan Cookbook Author Swears By

November 15, 2016

Gena Hamshaw, author of our Vegan cookbook, relies on an arsenal of simple, flavorful ways to cook vegetables regularly—so we partnered with Bosch Home Appliances, who’s modern approach to cooking and appliances (like steam cooking) we admire, to share a favorite technique of hers.

The virtues of roasting a mess of vegetables are rarely ever questioned: As my boyfriend likes to say (and I’m paraphrasing), the trick to making any person eat any type of vegetable is simply to roast it.

But I have a confession to make: I love vegetables steamed. Like really love them, as in I greet them with the same excitement and pleasure that some people reserve for a bowl of pasta or a plate of cheese. The truth is that I’d often prefer a heap of steamed kale or bowl of freshly steamed carrots to vegetables prepared by any other means.

I’ve heard it said that roasting makes vegetables taste more like themselves, because it concentrates their flavor, and maybe that’s true. But for me, no cooking method makes me feel like I'm closer to a vegetable’s authentic flavor—be it the bitterness of leafy greens, the subtle sweetness of broccoli, or the earthiness of asparagus—than gentle steaming.

It's Healthful, Easy, & Quick.

There are several reasons to love steaming. For one thing, it’s healthful, known for allowing vegetables to retain water soluble vitamin content throughout the cooking process. It’s also incredibly easy, and relatively quick. Whereas preheating the oven or sautéing vegetables perfectly can take time and effort, steaming is reliable, doesn’t involve too much forethought, and is more versatile than you might realize. Using a steam convection oven or a steamer makes the process particularly seamless.

(Of course not every vegetable will be best steamed; beets, for instance, are a vegetable that I always prefer roasted.) And there are some vegetables, like cauliflower and butternut squash, that I steam when I’m in the mood for something simple, but which I also love when they’ve had a chance to gently caramelize in the oven.

Greens and Crucifers Love It.

Regardless of whether or not steaming is your preference, there are certain situations, I think, when steaming does it best. It’s perfect for turning cooked leafy greens into salad, which happens to be a wonderful preparation for colder months, when raw veggies might not appeal. I’m thinking of dishes like ohitashi, or crispy broccoli salad. I love the way that steaming kale, for example, helps it to retain its chewiness. And, while I’ve roasted and charred broccoli and enjoyed it both ways, steamed broccoli spears—usually dipped in a bright, tangy sauce—will always be my number one.

Steaming takes some of the bitterness out of vegetables (but not all), while also retaining their freshness. For example, I love the uniquely dense-yet-tender texture that steaming carrots creates. After that, all you need is a good dressing, like a batch of ginger miso dressing, and all's right with the world.

It doesn't compete, it compliments.

It's also ideal for when you want to fold green vegetables into a pasta salad, a noodle dish, or a risotto. If you were to roast or sauté the vegetables first, their flavors might just compete with your starch. Steaming allows the vegetables to bring their flavors to a dish without overwhelming it with added seasoning. I also find that steamed vegetables are often best for homemade grain bowls (my personal favorite lunch option), making it possible for dressings, garnishes, and the subtle nuttiness of whole grains to shine through.

It lets flavorful root vegetables shine.

For the longest time, I accepted as rule that root vegetables were always best roasted. Nowadays, I’d say I love steaming them for purees. Steaming them means that there’s more room for you to season the puree itself with whatever you’ve got in mind, be that butter and sage, something sweet (like a dose of maple syrup), or even a thick drizzle of cashew cream. Again, steaming the vegetable first calls more attention to flourishes and seasonings later on.

One of the beauties of vegetables is that they lend themselves so easily to so many types of preparations, each worthwhile in its own right. But if you’ve been overlooking steaming—whether because you associate it with something a little lackluster or because you’re in the habit of other methods—it may be time to try it again.

When I’ve been knee deep in recipe testing, and the weight of experimentation and its associated success and failures is getting to me, I always return to simple bowls of steamed greens and crucifers—maybe with some tahini dressing to keep them company. And it always feels like coming home.

The clean, modern design of Bosch Home Appliances inspired us to clear the clutter in our kitchens, so we're sharing recipes and tips to simplify your cooking. Their steam convection oven helps to do just that, keeping vegetables at their happiest (crisp and flavorful!).

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Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.

1 Comment

Jackson F. November 15, 2016
Loved this piece, Gena! I usually feel reluctant to steam vegetables due to the sad-diet connotation steaming has, but this has inspired me to reconsider! Can't wait to try that carrot & dressing suggestion!