Feb. 22, 2013 at 12:00 PM ET
Vegetables are steamed by boiling water and cooking the vegetables in the steam generated from the boiling water.
Water is not the only liquid that can be used when steaming. Many people like adding some lemon juice, wine, soy sauce or other liquids to the water to add flavor to the vegetables. You can also throw in a fresh sprig of thyme, rosemary or other herbs. A slice of onion or garlic also adds a mellow flavor to the dish.
There are several ways to steam vegetables. The easiest way is to purchase an electric steamer. A second option is to buy a metal steamer pot. A steamer pot has a colander that is slightly smaller than the pot itself that fits into the pot and leaves a few inches of clearance at the bottom for the water. A third option is to fashion your own steamer. Place a large pot on the stove and add an inch or two of water. Place a small footed sieve or colander in the pot so that the vegetables are not touching the water. If you do not have a footed colander, use one with a handle that can be attached (or even held if need be) at the top of the pot. Make sure that the water almost reaches the very bottom of the colander. The important thing is that the water does not actually touch the vegetables, but it is close enough for the steam to cook the vegetables.
Almost any vegetable or vegetable mixture can be steamed. Depending on the type of steamer and size of vegetable, steaming times can vary greatly. When you are steaming mixtures of vegetables, make sure to cut the vegetables into small pieces if it requires longer cooking times. Add potatoes, carrots and other firm vegetables to the mixture first so they can cook a little before adding tender vegetables like green beans. Add greens like spinach last as they take just a short time to cook.
There are several easy ways to tell when a vegetable is cooked. If it is a green vegetable, look for a vibrant color change. When the color intensifies, the vegetable is done. It will still be quite crispy, but is tender enough to eat. This should take at the most about three minutes. In the case of leafy greens like spinach it can take only a minute. For non leafy green vegetables like broccoli and green beans, it can take as long as 8-10 minutes depending on the size of the vegetables and how tender you like the vegetables.
Obviously the way that you prepare the vegetables greatly effects their cooking times. Whole carrots can take over 30 minutes to steam, while thinly sliced carrots can take only a few minutes. The best way to determine steaming times is to practice with your steamer and record the times.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.