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Healthy Cooking Techniques: Steaming

A few simple essential cooking techniques can help you prepare healthier meals without the use of added oils, a key aspect of our Health Starts Here™ program. One of the most common cooking techniques for healthy eating is steaming. This technique is great with fresh vegetables as it helps them retain optimum freshness, texture and nutritional content.

Steaming works by boiling water continuously, causing it to vaporize into steam. The steam then carries heat to the food perched above the boiling water in a bamboo or metal steamer. The steamer needs a lid placed on top during cooking to allow the steam to cook the food. This is a great method for cooking vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, green beans, asparagus or leafy greens such as Swiss chard, kale or mustard greens. Steaming helps the vegetables hold their shape. I prefer my veggies a bit crunchy and vibrant green, so I know that I’m eating something that is full of life and full of nutrients. Steaming does this beautifully.

A bamboo steamer, which can be purchased in some of our stores and at Asian grocery stores, makes steaming really easy. It’s inexpensive and durable. These steamers can be purchased with layers of baskets which allow you to place the steamer over the stove and cook several types of vegetables or a whole meal, at the same time. You can wash your veggies in the basket and layer them so steam can come up through the basket.

If you fill more than one basket, place veggies that need the longest cooking time on the bottom, such as broccoli or cauliflower, then veggies that need less cooking time in the middle, such as green beans, bok choy or asparagus. If you use three baskets, layer leafy greens such as chard, kale or mustard greens on the top layer.

If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, you can also use a metal steaming basket that fits inside the pot or even a colander or hand-held strainer. If you’re buying a bamboo steamer, select one that fits one of your normal-sized pots and check to make sure the basket doesn’t have any cracks.

To begin steaming, bring about half a pot full of water to a boil. No need to add salt to the water. Stack the bamboo baskets and then place over the boiling water, fitting it on top of the pot. Make sure that the boiling water does not make contact with the cooking vegetables and that a lid can cover the pot with the steaming apparatus. Occasionally, I add fresh sliced ginger, garlic and wine to the pot to steam my veggies. This gives a subtle flavor to the steamed veggies.

Mostly though, I keep it simple and use only boiling water allowing the vegetables to provide their fullest flavor without the need of any seasoning. One of the main aspects to successful steaming is to not overcook the vegetables. I’ve used Chinese broccoli in these photos and steaming works great in keeping the stalks crisp and the leafy greens hold their shape with a slight crunch. Generally, vegetables will cook in 3 – 5 minutes, depending on whether you have more than one basket and the type of vegetable. The vegetables are done when they are the brightest, most vivid color.

Once the vegetables are done, turn off the heat and remove the baskets. You can serve the vegetables directly out of the baskets at the table, keeping the lid on to keep the veggies warm.

If you are using a bamboo steamer, it’s easy to clean up. No need to use soap and don’t place in the dishwasher. Simply rinse the baskets under hot water and then dry with a dish cloth. The baskets are ready to use again. Although I like my vegetables straight from the steamer, some people like to add a splash of low-sodium soy sauce or another sauce or condiment.

If you’d like to dress up your steamed vegetables, try these Health Starts Here™ recipes, sauces or dressings.

Steaming is a simple technique that highlights the freshness of the vegetables and helps to capture their nutrients and maintain their shape and texture. Give it a try and let me know your favorite healthy cooking techniques.