Why You Should Steam Your Vegetables - Vegetable Steaming Guide

Steam

My Favorite Way to Cook Vegetables Is Also the Most Underrated

Resident Vegetarian-at-Large, Amy Chaplin, shows us the way.

February 12, 2021
Photo by Amy Chaplin

Whole Food Cooking is a column by our Resident Vegetarian-at-Large, Amy Chaplin. Each month, Amy will show us a different way to love fruits and vegetables just a little bit more.


I am a big fan of food prepared simply—and a bowl of steamed vegetables is my ideal simple meal. It requires minimal prep and can come together quickly at any time of year using the vegetables you have on hand. No need to heat the oven, peel onions or carrots or anything else, or wait for a pot of water to boil. You don’t even need to be good with a knife. And, the best part is that steamed veggies serve as a canvas that you can dress up in limitless ways depending on your mood.

Steaming is the most frequently used method of cooking in my kitchen and for three seasons of the year, I’m reaching for the steamer almost daily. I fill it with a couple of inches of water and place it over a high flame while I raid the fridge for vegetables.

If there’s winter squash on hand, that gets cut up and steamed first while I scrub, rinse and chop carrots, daikon, broccoli, and any dark leafy greens I find. And in the summer, steamed vegetable salads make great use of an abundance of buttery zucchini, sweet corn, tender carrots, peas, green beans, Japanese turnips, and more. Prepared this way, summer bounty tends to be more filling than your usual leafy warm weather salad and leaves you feeling both refreshed and grounded.

When I'm steaming, I don’t think about measuring what I’ve gathered; I just cover the bottom of the basket with my veg, place the lid on, and allow everything to cook. If I’m in a real hurry, I cut the vegetables thin—like in 1/4 to 1/3-inch slices. When cut this way, any firm vegetables such as carrots, daikon, and watermelon radish can cook in about two minutes. I tend to cut squash into no smaller than one-inch chunks as it can easily break when sliced.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“My favorite and regular way to steam all my veggies is to steam with organic vegetable broth and salt instead of water. The vegetable broth and salt adds more flavor and nutrition than bland water. Steam to desired texture. Also steaming cabbage with chicken broth is delicious too. I will save the leftover broth and use in soups, to sip as a snack or to steam the next batch of veggies. I also cook the veggies directly in the broth instead of steaming such as a long - halved zucchini. I enjoy topping with grated cheese. ”
— Michele E.
Comment

When using hardier vegetables, like squash, they steam in the first batch and are usually cooked by the time the rest of the vegetables are prepped—exact time will depend on the density of the squash and the size, of course. Once tender, I remove the squash from the pot by gently tipping them into a wide bowl or platter. Then, I add another layer of firm vegetables to the pot. Once they’re almost cooked, I add broccoli, cooking for another minute or two. Lastly, I toss in any chopped leafy greens. Steaming is so quick that the vegetables done first will stay warm enough while the rest cook.

Again, exact cooking times depend on the size of the vegetables—I just keep testing each variety with the tip of a sharp knife or carefully biting into a piece. If one group cooks before adding the next vegetable, I toss them into the bowl with the squash and keep steaming. With baby greens, Swiss chard, or spinach, I often take the steamer pot off the simmering water and set it aside for the residual heat to do the cooking—this way there is less chance of ruining the delicate leaves by overcooking.

While the batches are cooking, you can start getting out ingredients to add flavor to your meal. No matter what my mood, I always bring olive oil and tamari to the table. Then I reach in the fridge for some kind of sauerkraut, hemp seeds, and my jar of pre-sliced scallions (this is key!). If I have some gomasio or toasted seeds, I’ll add them; and often tahini, as well. I drizzle and sprinkle the bowl of steamed vegetables with a little bit of each of these flavorings and gently toss to combine.

I love eating this as a 100 percent vegetable meal; however, for something more substantial, you can add a scoop of rice, a poached egg, dollop of hummus, sliced avocado, or all of the above.

What's your favorite way to cook vegetables? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jo
    Jo
  • diana
    diana
  • cook4fun
    cook4fun
  • teeget
    teeget
  • Cara Connelly
    Cara Connelly

16 Comments

Jo March 2, 2021
Steamed vegetables are very much underrated. There are other, more exciting, ways of cooking them, usually to achieve some deeper flavour and crispiness, so simple methods are often overlooked.
When I was young, my grandmother would occasionally make me steamed vegies for dinner.
A couple of chunks of potatoes, carrots, green beans, zucchini - whatever she had growing in the garden. Seasoned with a little bit of salt and some olive oil, it was unexpectedly delicious.
 
diana March 1, 2021
This article inspired me to steam more different kinds of veggies. Thanks for the additional tasty ideas. I'm a fan of topping steamed brussel sprouts and broccoli with grated hard boiled farm egg, feta cheese and a dash of coconut amino or basalmic vinegar/glaze. I find the simple, inexpensive metal folding steamer in a saucepan perfect for 1-2 people.
 
cook4fun February 21, 2021
I've recently become a fan of steamed vegetables. . .specifically a bowl of steamed broccoli with a spoonful of hummus and/or quinoa and perhaps a sprinkling of toasted, mixed pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds.
 
teeget February 21, 2021
Also a big fan of steaming veg. I can never understand why someone would boil an entire pot of water just to cook some potatoes! I also love roasted veg but steamed are excellent if you just add a few flavorings. Note: it's best to add ones that take longest to cook at the bottom of the steamer while preparing the remaining ones that will go on top.
 
Cara C. February 21, 2021
Add roasted radishes. One of our new favorites!
 
elbean February 18, 2021
this is just classic hippie/macrobiotic eating.
 
Maria K. February 17, 2021
I love my vegetables roasted best, it really brings out their flavor. I am not a fan of steamed vegetables.
 
buzzbell February 16, 2021
Hmm...how to 'check' to see if vegetables are done in a pressure cooker? - you run it under cold water. de pressurize it, open it, check and then put it back on the flame? There Have to be better suggested times for steaming veggies?
 
Amanda T. February 21, 2021
Don't use a pressure cooker. Use a pot, a steamer, and your stovetop.
 
Valerie February 21, 2021
Seems to me the Instant Pot would be perfect. Just put a rack in it to keep the veggies up out of the water. Put approximately 1 inch of water in or 1 cup of water. Use a pan or bowl to put your veggies in. Make sure your rack handles are up so you can get the pan or bowl out when you have steamed them enough. Put the lid on and use the saute feature to bring water to a boil. DO NOT USE THE PRESSURE feature. Set your time and walk away. I think with an IP you need to stick close by or you might end up overcooking everything.
 
Michele E. February 15, 2021
My favorite and regular way to steam all my veggies is to steam with organic vegetable broth and salt instead of water. The vegetable broth and salt adds more flavor and nutrition than bland water. Steam to desired texture. Also steaming cabbage with chicken broth is delicious too. I will save the leftover broth and use in soups, to sip as a snack or to steam the next batch of veggies. I also cook the veggies directly in the broth instead of steaming such as a long - halved zucchini. I enjoy topping with grated cheese.
 
dara D. February 14, 2021
I was worried this would be an article about steaming vegetables and my fears were reified.
 
Paolo A. February 14, 2021
Totally ruined it with the poached egg comment
 
HeidiLea February 20, 2021
Sounds delicious to me. And besides adds nutrition other than just veg. But you know eat what you want.
 
Regine February 13, 2021
I love to eat my veggies steamed. My secret afterwards is to sprinkle salt and then drizzle apple cide vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Wonderful on cabbage, broccoli and other veggies.
 
Misa M. February 12, 2021
I'm a steamer fan as well! I usually steam veggies in the instant pot. Great article. Thank you.