When you hear steamed vegetables, you might think of a bland, mushy, boring side dish. But that doesn’t have to be the case. With the right approach, steaming your veggies can bring out their full flavor and texture. On the surface, steaming vegetables seems like a straightforward process (take produce, add water and cover in a stainless steel pot). But the devil is in the details. These few easy hacks can take your home steaming from ho-hum to restaurant-worthy.
For some help with your next meal, follow these steps to slice and dice your way to better-tasting produce. You’ll know you’ve perfected things when the kids ask for seconds… of string beans.
Wash and Cut with Care
Before steaming, make sure your vegetables are clean and ready to go. Use a vegetable scrubber to remove the grit or soak in warm water and use your fingers to rub dirt off. Then get out your favorite cutting board and get ready to chop.
Chopping produce any which way may seem like the fastest method of food prep, but the haphazard approach means your veggies won’t cook evenly. Instead, carefully cut vegetables with a sharp knife. Don’t forget to use a peeler on produce such as carrots and beets first). Create uniform slices or florets so that each one steams at the same rate.
Flavor the Water
Plain salted water is fine, but why not pump up the flavor in your pot? For a little zing, try one of these hacks:
- Squeeze a lemon into the water.
- Add a twist of lime peel to the boiling pot.
- Slice oranges and toss them into the cooking water.
- Place fresh herbs like basil or dill on top of your produce to steam (use a steamer with a deep handle to be sure vegetables are completely covered with water).
- Coat the vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper before steaming to lock in flavor.
- Mince garlic and ginger for an extra flavor kick.
How to Steam Vegetables
Follow these steps for steaming perfection:
- Pour two cups of water into your steamer pot (exact amount may vary—there should be about 1-2 inches of water in the bottom of the pot, but not so much liquid that the water reaches the vegetables in the steamer basket).
- Bring the water to a slow boil. Add prepped vegetables to a steamer basket and lower into the pot. Cover pot with a lid.
- A thin vegetable like asparagus can take less than five minutes to steam, while a heartier vegetable like carrots or broccoli can take 10 minutes or more. Set a timer for a minute or two less than you think it’ll take to steam your vegetables.
- To test if they are ready, remove one from the pot and stick a fork or knife in the thickest part. If it slides in easily, it’s probably ready. (Take a quick taste before turning off the heat to be sure.)
- The goal is to remove the veggies when they are nearly cooked through but still retain a bit of bite (they’ll continue cooking for a little while after you remove them from the stove).
Go Hot, Then Cold
Once your veggies are ready, remove them from the pot with oven mitts, then “shock” them in a bowl of cold water and ice cubes. This method stops the cooking process quickly so your broccoli doesn’t become droopy. An ice bath helps veggies retain their bright colors, too.
Jazz up your dish with seasoning that brings out the natural flavor of the produce. Slice some garlic and sautée it in a pan, then add it on top of green beans. Or drizzle zucchini and eggplant with pesto made from basil, kale or arugula. Try using a sesame oil-soy sauce blend over steamed carrots and bok choy, or drizzle spinach with olive oil and the zest of half a lemon. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with classic salt and ground pepper.