Steam cooking is increasingly becoming the cooking method of choice to people who like their vegetables fresh, colorful and healthy. Preparing steamed vegetables can be surprisingly quick and easy if one has the right equipment.
Healthy cooking with steam
Cooking food with steam retains nutrients better than other cooking methods like boiling or frying. Steaming especially produces excellent results with vegetables. The benefits of steaming vegetables include:
- The process is quick – Takes between 3 to 7 minutes for most vegetables.
- Steaming minimizes nutrient loss due to cooking.
- Vegetables do not lose their color much which results in visually appealing food.
- Vegetables retain their texture and usually remain firm, yet well-cooked.
Preparing vegetables for steaming
Washing the vegetables thoroughly before cutting helps remove dirt and pesticides that are likely to be on the outer surface. Washing after cutting is best avoided as nutrients are lost in that process.
Some people prefer their vegetables finely chopped or shredded. This way, the vegetables mix well with spices to create very tasty food. On the other hand, health-conscious people who like to use minimum added salt and spices tend to cut their vegetables into bigger cubes, slices or juliennes. This way, the delicate flavors of vegetables are largely retained in the food. Whatever shape the vegetables are cut into, preparing all pieces in roughly the same size ensures uniform cooking when steamed.
Simple Vegetable steamer
While there are many sophisticated vegetable steamers in the market, a simple 2 or 3 tier stainless steel vegetable steamer is often sufficient. This contains a vessel for boiling water to produce steam and 1 or 2 vessels with small holes at their bases that are stacked on top. A lid with a couple of holes is used to close the top vessel to limit steam escape. This might sound simple, but this is all one needs to produce wonderful steamed vegetables in minutes.
Steam cooking demystified
A few points that need to be kept in mind when steam cooking vegetables:
- Ensuring sufficient steam is produced throughout the cooking process is important. Adding water to one-third of the bottom vessel is usually good for cooking for up to 15 minutes.
- Most vegetables need just around 5 minutes to cook well while still remaining firm. Very few vegetables need beyond 10 minutes to cook well. Optimal cooking times for different vegetables vary, and over-cooking defeats the purpose of steaming. Crispy steamed carrot juliennes take under 4 minutes, but can be made softer by cooking them for around 7 minutes.
- In general, smaller pieces cook fast while larger ones take slightly more time. For example medium sized potato cubes cook well in 5-7 minutes.
- After steaming, adding salt and pepper is usually sufficient to complete the healthy recipe. To enhance taste, some people go a step further and quickly sauté the steamed vegetables in a little oil and spices like cumin, turmeric and ginger.
A Simple Recipe
- Julienne carrots, beans and potatoes.
- Steam them for around 7 minutes.
- Heat a little oil in a pan.
- Add half a spoon of cumin seeds and a pinch of turmeric and wait for 10 seconds.
- Add the vegetables and salt. Sauté for 30 seconds.
- Garnish with some freshly chopped cilantro.
Being creative with the shapes of vegetable pieces and with the combination of different vegetables and spices, one can create great tasting, yet healthy food in minutes with the technique of steaming. Learn more about the benefits of steaming food in general.