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Why and How to Steam Vegetables

Although we can create steaming recipes which also include meat, poultry and fish, I am going to concentrate on vegetables for this post.

It has taken me a long time to be convinced of the goodness that steaming vegetables gives.  We can steam in our microwaves, in our specialised pots, or with our stand alone steamers, but the results are all the same.

Steamed Vegetables

What is Steaming?

The goodness of our fresh vegetables for our growing families is kept intact, and compliments any meal.

Steamed vegetables are full of nutrition, and quick and easy to get to our tables as accompaniments to our meals.

Learning how to steam vegetables is sensible.  I wish I had cottoned onto this method in my twenties and not my late 30’s.  There’s no fat used, no added calories, and the vegetables can remain crispy and crunchy if that’s how you prefer yours to be.

Basically, it is really using steam to cook vegetables and not actually putting the vegetables into water to cook.

Blanching retains more nutrients than basket steaming, but at home here we have a steamer that has 3 separate compartments.

Vegetables take different times to cook, so I find myself putting on the root vegetables first and adding ones that take less time to cook, ie broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus spears etc much later.

How to Steam Vegetables


If you are blanching in a pan, it is most suited to green vegetables and needs the water heated with a good amount of water first.  Approximately 1.5 – 2 litres of water for enough greens for about 6 people.    Add some salt and bring to the boil.  The salt helps the vegetables in the blanching process by helping raise the water temperature and keeping those vegetables delicious and nutritious.  Most green vegetables will be ready in 30 – 60 seconds with this method.

Steamer Appliance

This specially made kitchen appliance is made just to steam food of all sorts.   It can cook fish, chicken and much more and using it makes steaming vegetables really easy.  We can buy steamers for a pittance nowadays so I’d probably say having one is a good addition to any kitchen.  I have traditional steaming pots, but I have never, ever used them.

Steamers have a bottom section that contains a heating element.  We fill that with water and that is where the steam is generated.   The steaming baskets fit over the base and allow you to put your vegetables in for steaming.

My steamer has 3 baskets that can stack one on top of the other.    With the steamer, you don’t have to worry about cooking your vegetables.

They tend to come with cooking instructions for different vegetables, with their times and suggestions to get the most out of your machine.

Steamer 150

Pan Method

With the double boiler set up (ie a pan within a pan) you add water in the lower layers and bring that to a boil.   The steam builds up pressure and cooks the vegetables in a pot that sits above the actual water.  This isn’t how I would steam my vegetables as I’d not trust myself to have unburned veges, but it’s how my grandmother used to do them.

If we don’t have a steamer, and we want steamed vegetables, it does do the job, so read on if you want to know how to steam vegetables in a pot.

You need a nice big pot and it needs to be bigger than the vegetables that you plan to steam in it.  Add a little water in the bottom, approximately an inch and boil the water.  Add the vegetables when the water is boiled and most of them will be above the water line.

Make sure the water does not boil off, and add more boiling water from a kettle if you have to.    Put on a tight fitting lid for the top to keep the steam in the pan, but preferably one with a little escape hole in the top.


There are some very cheap steaming dishes for our microwaves these days.  I got a fantastic one from lakeland.  It works along the premise of a few tablespoons of water in the bottom, and the vegetables in the insert, that doesn’t sit in the water.

Microwaved vegetables done this way take around 5 minutes but the microwave is also cooking the vegetables along with the steaming, so the end result will be slightly different from using a pan or a steaming appliance.