Ready to learn how to steam vegetables? Should you use an electric steamer or an insert that sits in a pot? We'll help you decide and teach you both.
The year was 1994 and Jeff and I had just gone vegan. We were like the blind leading the blind -- neither of us knew how to cook...like, ANYTHING!
One thing we knew: We had to start eating vegetables.
So we went to our friendly co-op and asked, "Excuse me, friendly produce department person but...how do we cook vegetables?"
To which they replied, "The easiest way is to get a food steamer."
So off we went in search of!
Back then, there weren't a ton of fancy steamers, just those straight-ahead stainless steel thingies that fit into a pot.
That very night we steamed our first batch of broccoli and plopped it on top of some pasta. We were QUITE excited at our huuuuuge success! :)
To this day, the EASIEST way to steam veggies is to just add one of those cute little steamer contraptions into a pot filled with an inch or two of water, add the cleaned and chopped veggies, put a lid on it, and let them cook for around 10 minutes.
But you might want to get an electric steamer. Why? Because then you can steam veggies AND steam whole grains and lentils/small beans.
So whether you use an in-pot steamer insert, or an electric steamer, we'll show you how to use them both.
This article assumes you have a food steamer of some sort. If not, visit our article about food steamers where we review three types of steamers and share the pros and the cons of them all. :)
You'll notice most steamer inserts (the kind you place in a pot) have legs that keep the steamer basket out of the steaming water.
They also have a handle or "loop" that you can use to lift the basket out when your food is done cooking. Keep in mind you want to be able to have easy access to that so you can easily remove the insert when it's time.
Place a medium- or large-sized pot on a burner on your stove. Place your steamer insert into the pot. Add water juuuuuuust until you begin to see the water come through the tiny holes. Place a lid on the pot, and turn heat to high.
When water begins to boil, turn heat down to medium-low. Carefully add cleaned and coarsely chopped veggies to the basket. Replace lid, and set timer. MOST veggies take approximately 10 minutes to heat, some more and some less depending on the chop. I recommend checking after 5 minutes, and then in 2-3 minute intervals after that. Poke veggies with a fork. When cooked to your desired tenderness, remove pot from the heat.
Don't let your vegetables sit in the pot over the hot water at this point because they'll continue cooking, even with the lid off. Instead, carefully remove the basket using the handle with hot mitts -- or stick a strong fork through the "loop" and remove basket while using a hot mitt in the other hand to balance the basket as you lift it out.
I recommend placing the steamer basket in the sink to allow the hot water to drip from the basket and veggies.
When slightly cooled, pour veggies into a large bowl. Season to taste. Plate.
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As I mentioned earlier, there is actually a great reason to own an electric steamer.
Because most steamers these days come with the ability to steam not only veggies, but whole grains as well.
In fact, lentils and small beans/legumes are also perfect for steaming.
Cooking these foods using an electric steamer is just SO easy -- set the timer and forget it.
We used to own an electric steamer like just about everyone seems to sell: Plastic! But after discovering the negatives of cooking with plastics I went in search of a stainless steel steamer. It wasn't easy to find!
Eventually we found an excellent stainless steel steamer! Loved it! Recommend it! But, the company halted production as they work to create a better version. (We're patiently waiting for this and will update this page when it becomes available.)
Fortunately, there is a new stainless steel steamer on the market you can check out here.
I love this steamer because it has multiple levels so you can cook more than one thing at a time. For instance, you can have a batch of grains cooking and then just before they're done, add the next layer to steam some veggies. Or steam grains and lentils at the same time. Or veggies and small legumes. You get the picture.
You can also consider an electric 3-in-1 cooker that has been growing in popularity -- it functions as a food steamer, pressure cooker AND slow cooker. This is the one we own (and have for years). Simply use the steaming function when steaming your veggies.
Add your cleaned and coarsely chopped vegetables to the steamer basket and close lid. Set timer. Most veggies take about 10-12 minutes to steam to perfection, but it's always best to steam for less time until you figure out by trial and error how long each takes to cook to the tenderness you love -- because mushy veggies suck. ;)
Carefully remove lid after timer goes off -- watch out for the steam because it CAN burn you!
When slightly cooled, plate veggies. Season to taste.
When you're ready to get into the specifics of steaming any vegetable, check out our handy dandy list below. The times listed are generally what works, but how small or large you chop your vegetable makes all the difference.
So always check a couple minutes before the timer is set to go off so you can get a good idea for how long it takes any particular vegetable - cut the way YOU like to cut it - to cook until tender.
You can also click any vegetable to learn shopping/selection advice, clean and prep tips, and flavoring suggestions - as well as more recommended cooking techniques such as sautéing, baking, roasting, and more.
As always, thanks for joining us. Happy cooking!
My mother only fixed potatoes, corn, green beans and occasionally peas when I was growing up. I had no idea what a parsnip or a bok choy (and the list could go on...) even looked like when I decided to go vegan. I certainly had no idea how to prepare any of the wonderful vegetables we have, or how to flavor them. Thanks for all the help."
-- Christina Bennett, Paducah, Kentucky