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How to Steam Vegetables

Four Methods:Vegetables & EquipmentSteaming VegetablesUsing a Covered PanIn the Microwave

Steamed vegetables are a nutritious and quick choice for any dinner table. There are several methods to choose from, and you don't need any fancy kitchen equipment to get the job done. To get going on tonight's delicious, nutritious, colorful dinner, you'll need a steamer, covered pan, or microwaveable bowl.

Method 1
Vegetables & Equipment

  1. Image titled Steam Vegetables Step 1
    Pick your vegetables. Though technically all vegetables can be steamed (what can't be?), certain vegetables steam better than others do, and all steam at different rates. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, artichokes, and green beans will all turn out nicely and are standard steaming fare.[1] But if you want to get creative, throw in some potatoes or radishes, too! Here's a brief rundown on steaming times:
    • Asparagus: 5 to 8 minutes
    • Broccoli: stalks for 7 minutes, florets for 5
    • Carrots: 10 to 15 minutes, depending on size
    • Cauliflower: stalks for 7 minutes, florets for 5 (whole head 15-25 minutes)
    • Corn on the cob: 8 to 10 minutes
    • Green beans: 4 to 6 minutes
    • Potatoes, cubed: 10 to 15 minutes
    • Spinach: 2 to 3 minutes
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    Prepare your vegetables. While certain greens are easy to just get out of the fridge, give a quick rinse-down, and toss in the pan, some need preparing. You would not put an entire pumpkin in a steamer, would you?
    • Carrots take much less time the smaller they are cut up; the same goes for cauliflower and potatoes. Use your logic when it comes to certain vegetables like asparagus, where the tips should be cut off beforehand. The vegetables need to be in their ready-to-eat form on steaming.
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    Devise some equipment. If you have a legitimate steamer, great! Throw some water in that bad boy and stop reading this page. However, if you don't, you have several methods/devices/tricks of the trade at your disposal:
    • A steamer is a pot of water with a bowl/basket/container on top with holes in the bottom. If you have a colander that is heat resistant or some pan that fits this description that does not touch the bottom of the pot with water (otherwise that is just boiling), that can be used as a steamer. You will need a lid to put on it, too.
    • Use the microwave. All you need for this is a microwave-safe dish and some plastic wrap.
    • You can improvise the steaming method by just using a pan with a matching lid. All you do is add a bit of water to the vegetables and count on the steam to do most of the job. Some nutrients will seep into the water, though, yes, so this method isn't ideal.

Method 2
Steaming Vegetables

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    Bust out your steamer. Begin by bringing 2 cups (16 oz) of water to a boil over a high heat. Once the water begins to boil, close the steamer to allow its internal temperature to build.
    • "Closing the steamer" here meaning put the lid on the top pan, which is resting on the pan filled with water. This is similar to a double boiler or bain marie.
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    Add the vegetables. After the steamer has been covered for a minute, add your chosen vegetables, prepared and ready to go. Make sure to keep them in separate groups; this will make them easier to remove when they finish, as each one cooks at a different time.
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    After a minute and a half, prick all the vegetables with a knife to test them. The green ones should be closer to done than the others. If they seem ready, which they should just about be, the steaming is done!
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    Remove just the green vegetables. If you are working with cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, or corn, you may need more time. Whenever your vegetables are done, place them onto a tray lined with paper towels to drain.
    • Of course, the best test is a taste test. Your vegetables should be firm, but tender.
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    Season and serve. Transfer all your steamed vegetables onto a serving platter. Season to taste with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Your vegetables are now ready to serve.
    • They go wonderfully with any meat, can be served with a cheese or herb sauce, or even just as they are. Since steaming is so healthy, it is best not to load them up with extra fixings -- they are delicious and nutritious as is!

Method 3
Using a Covered Pan

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    Get a hold of a large pan. It needs to be big enough for all your vegetables. Make sure it also has a matching lid or a lid that will sufficiently keep in the steam.
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    Add half an inch (1.25 cm) of water to the pan. This will create the steaming effect but is not enough to boil all the nutrients out of the vegetables. And the left over water can be used in a vegetable broth![2]
    • Don't be tempted to add more water -- that defeats the purpose. If it all evaporates away mid-steam (which it shouldn't), you can just add more.
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    Add the vegetables when the water is boiling. Refer to the heating times listed above to know when the vegetables are done. Keep the vegetables separate so you can easily take out the ones that finish first.
    • If the lid has a vent, great. You want a tiny amount steam to escape. If it doesn't, open it just slightly periodically -- but not all the way!
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    Remove from the heat and serve. Steamed vegetables without a steamer. Season as you like (salt, pepper, or olive oil) and serve with any main dish.
    • Keep the vegetable water for tomorrow's soup! You're so resourceful.

Method 4
In the Microwave

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    Put your vegetables into a microwavable bowl with a tablespoon (15 g) of water. This does not seem like much, but it will do the job. Microwaves work quickly, giving the water little time to evaporate.
    • If you're working with denser, non-green vegetables, a bit more water may be needed, yes, depending on how large they are.
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    Put plastic wrap all around the bowl, leaving an edge turned up. Harken back to the days of TV dinners and recall the technology of the upturned corner. It is the same thing. And no, the plastic wrap won't explode in the microwave.
    • The other three sides should be tight, sealing in the heat. It just needs the one corner to act as a vent.
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    Heat the vegetables in the microwave for around 5 minutes. If that does not do it, continue in 1-minute long intervals. Each vegetable is a bit different and so is each microwave -- 5 minutes is a good starting point for checking.
    • Yes, you are right; zapping them in the microwave is not legitimate steaming as the microwave does cook them some, too. Some of the nutrients will be lost -- but some won't.[2] The microwave method is more about convenience and speed than anything else.
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    Eat. Remove the plastic wrap, toss it in the trash, and place the vegetables on your dinner plate. Add some seasonings or sauces to taste and enjoy!
    • Or, eat them straight out of the bowl. We said this method was about convenience, right?


  • Lemon juice is a delicious addition for vegetables served neat.
  • Since all vegetables cook at a different pace, always cook the different types separately.
  • Blanching vegetables rather than steaming preserves more nutrients and quality.
  • All the vegetables can be reheated in several ways once steamed, including by saute-ing, placing them in hot water and other heating methods. They will remain crisp and tasty if kept in a cool place.

Things You'll Need

Method 1: With a Steamer

  • Steamer (makeshift or otherwise)
  • Knife
  • Plate lined with paper towels

Method 2: With a Covered Pan

  • Pan with lid
  • Knife or fork (for checking doneness)

Method 3: In the Microwave

  • Microwave-safe dish
  • Plastic wrap
  • Microwave

Article Info

Categories: Steaming Food