Healthy How-To: Steaming Veggies

Here are some of the best vegetables to steam and tips for keeping them nice and crisp.

Steaming is one of the healthiest cooking techniques around. It’s also a quick-and-easy way to cook up dinner veggies (especially for my family of 5). Here are some of the best vegetables to steam and tips for keeping them nice and crisp.

The Benefits of Steaming

You may have heard this before: steaming is one of the best ways to cook veggies so they keep their nutrients. Vitamins are easily destroyed when you cook with water for long periods of time (i.e. boiling), but steaming uses the steam from boiling water to cook your food -- not the water directly.

Another advantage of steaming is no added fat or sodium (do you dab butter in a boiling pot of broccoli or load in the salt?). Any veggie you steam will be around 25 calories per half-cup and chock-full of vitamins and minerals.

Veggies to Choose

Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, artichokes, zucchini and green beans are great choices because they're sturdier and won't turn to mush too easily. Leafy greens -- baby bok choy, spinach and Chinese broccoli -- also steam up nicely but take less time. If you want to try something new, steam some radishes or quartered new potatoes.

How to Steam

Large chunks of veggies are tough to steam quickly -- so if you're in a hurry, cut or trim your vegetables into smaller pieces first.

A steaming basket is a cheap way to steam food. Fill a pot with 2 ounces of water and place the basket with the veggies on top. Once the water boils, it takes anywhere from 5 to 12 minutes to cook. It depends on the thickness of the veggie so you may want to check periodically (but don't keep lifting the lid!) and pull them off when they hit your preferred softness. And, please, don't forget the lid. You won't get anywhere unless the steam is trapped in the pot.

Immediately after steaming, have a colander of ice or bowl of ice water ready to plunge -- or “shock” -- your cooked goodies. This will stop the cooking process so your veggies stay nice and crunchy.

While we prefer the old-fashioned way, you can also steam in the microwave. There are some microwave-ready steam veggie packs you can buy at the grocery store. Or just place evenly cut veggies in a microwave-safe bowl (glass), add a little water to bottom and top with microwave-safe plastic wrap. You'll want to pull back one corner of the topper so some steam can escape -- no need for an explosion. Usually, the stovetop method takes the same amount of time.

Tools to Use

I always have trouble steaming asparagus because it doesn't fit well. I checked around and found this asparagus steamer, which is my next kitchen purchase. There are also stack & steam sets available, which let you cook pasta and steam veggies at the same time (a real time, energy and dish-washing saver). You might have a bamboo steamer at home -- they're typically used for Chinese dim sum but also work for steaming veggies. A double boiler is a make-shift solution, too, as long as there are holes in it.

The Flavor Traps

Now that you've used a healthy cooking method, don’t go adding tons of high-calorie toppings such as oil, cheese or butter (my clients do it all the time!). If you decide to add butter or oil, stick to 1 tablespoon and measure it out. Lemon, garlic or just a dash of black pepper work wonders. I love a spritz of fresh lemon on my steamed asparagus. Try mixing a few minced garlic cloves with a teaspoon of olive oil and drizzle over broccoli.

    Recipes to try:
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