Steamed Vegetables Any Season

Sunday June 8, 2014

stove top steamers

I picked up a new bamboo stacked steamer at the Asian market. I have an antique set, but I keep that for decoration. So I was off and running looking for things to make in the new steamer baskets. Steaming fresh vegetables helps to retain the texture, color and flavor of the vegetable while keeping its nutritional value intact. It is considered one of the way healthy ways to prepare veggies.

That is vegetables just steamed in a modicum of water and maybe some salt and pepper, bit of unsalted butter, Parmesan cheese, or drizzle of olive oil, nothing more. You can add flavor elements to the steaming water like soy sauce, grated fresh ginger, garlic, sprinkle with herbs, which will vary the flavor. If I am in more of a hurry, I combine the same veggies and cook them in the microwave. Either steaming in the microwave, pressure cooker (faster than the microwave), rice cooker, stacked electric steamer (a totally cool appliance if you are a veggie person and don’t want to use the microwave all the time), or on the stove top are the best techniques for the weeknight cook. Whatever you are most familiar with.

The most common error that occurs while steaming vegetables is overcooking them! This is more apt to happen with a steamer basket, because both microwave and electric steamers are time controlled. The pressure cooker is best for the harder vegetables and frozen veggies. If you don’t want soggy, overdone veggies, check them often and follow time guidelines carefully. Since vegetables cook so quickly, do not leave the kitchen while they are cooking.

This is the overall how-to recipe for when you went to the farmer’s market, got your weekly veggie box, or just picked up what looked good at the produce section of the supermarket. If you have a glut of homegrown or bought-too-much from a road side stand in the summer, freeze the extra vegetables in quart plastic freezer bags for winter. Use a combination of two or three different seasonal vegetables to vary–just chop or slice them in similar sizes for even cooking. For example, one of the best combinations is chopped onion, frozen peas, and sliced celery, where the combination of elements forms a new flavor.

1) Every veggie is different and so the time taken by each for steaming is also slightly different. Peas cook faster than root vegetables. Ensure that you either steam the vegetables separately to ensure that they are all well done, or else place the ones with the same density together since they will cook the same amount of time. The produce section now carries pre-cut vegetables for uber-fast prep. They are more expensive, but if time is what you need, there is a variety to choose from. The grated broccoli salad with carrots make a great steamed veggie in minutes.

2) Cut the vegetables into equal sizes to ensure that they are all done evenly. Obviously the way that you prepare the vegetables greatly effects their cooking times. Whole carrots can take over 30 minutes to steam, while thinly sliced carrots can take only a few minutes. The best way to determine steaming times is to practice with your steamer and record the times. For fast cooking it would be best to chop them into bite sized pieces.

3) Chop the vegetables as close to the steaming process as possible to ensure that the vegetables are fresh or else they end up losing the moisture content and can turn color. If you have to do ahead, place in plastic bags and refrigerate and cook as soon as possible.

4)There are several easy ways to tell when a vegetable is cooked. If it is a green vegetable, look for a vibrant color change. When the color intensifies the vegetable is done. It will still be quite crispy, but is tender enough to eat. This should take at the most about three minutes. In the case of leafy greens like spinach it can take only a minute. For non leafy green vegetables like broccoli and green beans, it can take as long as 8-10 minutes depending on the size of the vegetables and how tender you like the vegetables. A general guide for stove top is Leafy Greens=3 minutes=will turn bright green/Green Beans=10 minutes=taste test for doneness/Potatoes=10 to 30 minutes=Use fork to test for softness/Asparagus=10 minutes=Insert fork in to the stem/Yams=20 to 25 minutes=Use fork to test for softness/ Beets=25 minutes=Insert fork to test.


Cooking Method: Microwave, Stove top, Rice Cooker, Electric Steamer, or Pressure Cooker

Cook Time: About 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the vegetable

Spring and Summer Vegetables

  • Red, green, or yellow bell peppers
  • Zucchini, patty pan, Tatuma, or yellow crookneck summer squash
  • Mushrooms, sliced or quartered
  • Asparagus
  • Celery
  • Leeks
  • Shallots or green onions
  • Cucumbers
  • Snow peas, sugar snap peas, or English garden peas
  • Fresh corn on or off the cob
  • Tomatoes
  • Fava Beans
  • Eggplant
  • Baby bok choy
  • Broccolini

Fall and Winter Vegetables

  • Rutabaga
  • Parsnips
  • Beets
  • Fennel
  • Kale
  • Chard, Collards, and Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower florets
  • Celery/Celery Root
  • Broccoli
  • Onion wedges (like red or Maui sweet)
  • Whole white, red, or gold pearl onions
  • Winter Squash, peeled and diced, or halved
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • New Potatoes. Fingerling Potatoes, Purple Potatoes
  • Turnips and Rutabagas
  • Frozen petite peas and artichoke hearts
  • Edamane
  • Brussell Sprouts
  • Zucchini
  • Canned hearts of palm


microwave steamer

  • If making in the microwave, use a 1 quart glass bowl or microwave-proof dish. has some really convenient microwave-proff plastic steamer sets, from individual size on up. It has an insert for the vegetables. Add the vegetables and 4 to 8 tablespoons water. Cover, leaving a small space for steam to escape, with microwave-proof plastic wrap, a paper plate, a piece of parchment, or lid. Microwave about 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. If not tender enough, cook in few minute intervals. Drain off water and serve hot.

collapsible steamer basket for stove top or rice cooker

  • To cook on the stove top, pour enough water into a deep medium saucepan to come up about 1 inch. You use a bamboo steamer, the steamer insert for your saucepan, or a stainless steel collapsible steamer. I love the silicone flexible steamer basket ( Set a steamer basket in the pot, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Place the vegetables in the basket, recover, and steam summer vegetables 5 minutes and harder winter vegetables 10 minutes, until crisp tender. Remove the steamer from the pot with a potholder and serve immediately.
  • filling up the pressure cooker

  • Using a stove top pressure cooker for steaming is also a great idea. Fast and easy. Wash and peel the vegetables. Lay your vegetables out on a chopping board and use a kitchen knife to cut them down to serving size so no further chopping is required once they are done cooking. Cut away and discard any stems or excess parts of the vegetable that you don’t want to cook.
  • Place the chopped vegetables in the pressure cooker’s basket or tray. This is a device that sits inside the cooker and holds the vegetables above the waterline so they are subjected to hot steam without being submerged in the water. You can also use a silicone or stainless steel collapsible steamer basket set on the trivet. A 6-inch bamboo steamer basket also works. Check your recipe for the cooking time.
  • Check your manufacturer’s guide for the minimum amount of liquid allowed. Fill the pressure cooker so the waterline is lower than the bottom of the basket or tray, usually 1/2 to 1 cup. Do not fill the pan over 1/2 full with vegetables. Bring the water to a boil. Lock the lid of the pressure cooker, bring to full pressure, then turn down heat to maintain the pressure. Now set a timer. You are done in 1 to 5 minutes time, depending on the vegetable. Manufacturer’s booklets that come with the appliance usually have a time chart for steaming plain vegetables.
  • When the vegetables are finished steaming, use the quick release method to stop the steaming process immediately. Your manufacturer’s booklet will be specific how to do this depending on your model. Open the lid of the cooker away from you and remove the basket from the pot with tongs or an oven mitt. Serve immediately and enjoy the steamed vegetables.
  • For an automatic pressure cooker, insert the full steamer basket or silicone basket, which will avoid scratching. Add the water. Close the lid, set the timer, and press Cook. The machine will automatically switch to Keep Warm when the time is up.

electric steamer

  • To steam in an electric steamer. Plug in electric steamers are now readily available from most electrical retailers. Made of several layers the water is added into the bottom container with vegetables placed in separate compartments and a lid placed on top. An electrical timer is set and the vegetables can be left to steam to perfection before being turned off. When making layers of vegetables to be steamed place new potatoes and other thicker root vegetables at the bottom of the steamer where there is more heat. Electric steamers will give you a chart to set the time for different vegetables. If you wish to steam a variety of vegetables that include some softer items such as peas or frozen vegetables then add them to the top stem compartment in the final minutes of steaming. The electric vegetable steamer works flawlessly every time. It even has a safety mechanism, so if by chance you forget to put the water in, it beeps and will not start.
  • Procedure: Fill with water (usually about 1/2 cup). Arrange the vegetables, or other food to be steamed, in the steaming container. Set the amount of time you want the food to be steamed for/then Press the Start button. Machine will automatically switch off at the end of the time.

  • To steam in a rice cooker. Fill the rice cooker with the appropriate amount of water so it will not touch the vegetables. Place the steamer basket inside the rice cooker pan. One usually comes with the machine that sets into the top over the rice. Add the vegetables into the basket. Add any seasonings to the vegetables. Cover the rice cooker with its lid or close the lid. Plug the cord into the wall, and make sure that you turn the cooker on to the “COOK” setting. Set your timer to steam the vegetables. See your manufacturer’s guide or recipe for timing guidelines. Turn the rice cooker OFF once the vegetables finish steaming. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and place them into a serving bowl to keep them from overcooking.

Recipes and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

Your Comments

3 comments Comments Feed
  1. Cammy 04/05/2012 at 3:27 pm

    My friend told me that you can make rice in a bamboo steamer by making a parchment “bowl” and piercing holes with a knife.

  2. Beth 13/05/2012 at 4:01 am

    Yes Cammy, the steam method is a time honored way of cooking sticky rice. BH

Leave a Reply