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The Science & Art Of Steaming Vegetables

(POR) You can steam vegetables in a frying pan with as little as 1.5-cm of water, or in a pot with about 2.5-cm (and the veg hanging above in an inset metal colander). Regardless of your preference here the process is very delicate, because if you overcook something like broccoli no one will eat it! But if you cook it perfectly, they’ll never forget it and learn to actually love vegetables. Imagine that.

Start by doing the following: (1) Get the water boiling before you put anything in it, and then (2) throw in the vegetables and put on the lid. After that it only takes between 3-6 minutes to finish cooking. BUT – even if your cook time is perfect – if you leave the vegetables in the hot pan/pot afterwards, they will continue to cook and ultimately overcook. So pulling them out immediately after removing the pan/pot from heat is a critical part of the process.

  • For vegetables without dense construction (kale, swiss-chard, etc.) you only need about 3-4 minutes on medium-heat. The goal is to retain the deep color and beauty of the leaves as well as a bit of the crunch in the stalk. You’ll know if you’ve overcooked it because the color will drain from the leaves, and the texture will be noticeably mushy. Aside from that, no one will want to eat it since the flavor will be gone and so too the vegetable’s sweet smell.
  • For brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots and other dense vegetables, steam for a maximum of 5-6 minutes on medium-heat. (1) If you can poke a fork into a carrot or cauliflower stalk and there is still some resistance to the thrust, then it’s probably done. (2) If it is difficult to get the fork past the skin then it needs more time. (3) And if it’s too easy to drive the fork in and through then it’s too much.  For things like medium to large beets you’ll probably need more than 6-minutes of cook time. Just keep checking with pokes until they are done.
  • Broccoli can either be very dense or fairly dense, so it’s easy to overcook if you try to apply a “one-size-fits-all” rule to a vegetable like this. For the fairly dense head of broccoli you’ll want to shoot for between 4-5 minutes of steaming on medium-heat. For very dense heads, between 5-6 minutes. Either way – the finished product should be deep green, sweet in smell, and springy in texture. You should be able to crunch into it a bit. Add some butter and the result is simply euphoric. Even children love properly-cooked broccoli, and that’s saying something considering how much kids usually hate vegetables these days.

Advantages to steaming? It saves time, energy and nutrients. Cooking vegetables in a water bath takes way more energy and time because of the water volume involved. It also sucks nutrients out of the vegetables during the process. Steaming is therefore better all the way around. A recipe card for steamed broccoli is attached below the infographic.  Happy steaming!

Steaming Infographic 1


Recipe Card: Steamed Broccoli
Prep Time Cook Time Total Time Servings
10 minutes 4-6 minutes 15 minutes 2-3
1 – head of broccoli butter, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and crushed almonds
  • (1) Cut the crowns away from the large stems of broccoli. (2) Break each crown into bite sized florets. (3) Peel off the outer skin from the main stems. It’s often woody and inedible. (4) Throw the outer skin away and then cut the peeled main stems into mouth-sized chunks. (5) Soak the stem chunks and all florets in a vinegar-water bath for about 2-minutes.
  • (6) Put 2.5-cm of water into a pot and bring to a boil. (7) Put all of the broccoli into a steam basket and then into the pot. (8) Cover the pot and then reduce heat to medium. If you don’t have a steam basket you can put the broccoli into the water on the bottom directly.
  • (9) For small florets cook for between 4-5 minutes. For large ones, 5-6 minutes. The broccoli will be done when you can pierce it with a fork. As soon as you can do this, (10) remove from heat and then from the pot. Place in a serving bowl directly to insure that it doesn’t continue cooking from the heat of the pot.
  • (11) Dress to taste with butter, salt, pepper, lemon and almonds.
Notes, Notes, Notes:
STEAMING TIPS: Green vegetables like broccoli will go from a vibrant green color to a very drab olive color in about 7-minutes of steaming. So keep an eye on the time!





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