Buying nutritious ingredients is only the first step in a healthy diet. How foods are prepared makes a difference between whether they die of unnatural causes or boost your health. When produce is cooked immersed in water, a considerable amount of their nutrients leaches into the water and is lost when the veggies are drained after cooking. Soups and stews are the exception, since the liquid is consumed as well. Subjecting vegetables (and fruit) to intense and/or prolonged heat, as in grilling, roasting, slow-cooking, or baking, also destroys some of their health benefits.
Steaming vegetables is easy, fast, and is one of the best cooking methods for preserving their nutrients, taste, color, and texture. During the steaming process, hot steam from briskly boiling water in the bottom pot cooks the veggies at the top. Any vegetable can be cooked by steaming.
It is helpful to have two different-size steamers because on many occasions you’ll want to use the larger one for steaming the potatoes, sweet potatoes, or rutabaga, and the smaller one for the faster-cooking veggies, such as broccoli, carrots, or green beans. You can steam more than one kind of vegetable at a time in the same pot. However, it is best to simultaneously steam ones which require about the same cooking duration. Steaming time depends not only on the type of veggie, but also on the size of the pieces. For example, potatoes chopped into ¾ -inch chunks take about 20 minutes to cook. If you attempt to steam whole potatoes, you better bring a lawn chair and a book, as it may take a couple of hours (I have never tried this scenario…).
Among the most economical and easy-to-use stove-top steamers are: 1) A collapsible, stainless-steel steamer basket which resembles a flower. Its perforated “petals” allow the steam to circulate throughout the pot and cook the veggies in the basket. The “petals” fold in and out to fit (legs down) inside almost any size pot, as long as they don’t reach up higher above the top edge of the pot, thereby interfering with the lid closure.
Before placing the basket inside the pot and adding the cut-up vegetables, pour half-inch-deep water into it. The basket legs allow the water to boil without it coming in contact with the food being steamed. Never let the steamer run out of water while the vegetables are cooking.
2) A larger stainless steel double-deck steamer comes in three parts: the base pot, into which two-inch-deep water is poured before cooking; the top perforated pan, where the prepared vegetables are placed; and a tight-fitting lid.
When chopping vegetables for steaming, it is necessary to cut them into approximately equal size pieces. Doing otherwise will results in uneven cooking, with the smallest ones cooked or overcooked, while others are still raw. This can be particularly unappetizing in the case of potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, and butternut squash.
Frozen vegetables are a bit less nutritious than their fresh counterparts but are still nutritionally valuable. They can be steamed while frozen – just follow the package directions. HOW TO STEAM: Pour the correct amount of water into the pot according to your steamer type as noted above. After preparing the vegetables for steaming, place them in the top steamer pan or basket. Cover, and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, making sure that the water continues to boil quite briskly. Timing begins now. Just before cooking is complete, fork-test the vegetables for doneness to prevent them from cooking longer than necessary. They should be tender-crisp. Exceptions are potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, butternut squash, other hard winter squashes, and yucca. They are done when fork-tender. Cooking times for different veggies as well as recipes will be provided in Part Two of this article.
When the vegetables are done, immediately remove the steamer from the stove, drain, and gently rinse them under running water for a few seconds to halt the cooking process. Most veggies require only 10 – 12 minutes to steam-cook. Plan accordingly so that all your meal components will be ready at the same time.
Steamers can be purchased from most department, kitchen, or discount stores, and steamer baskets also from supermarkets.
“Mission Nutrition” Tips and Recipe from Judy E. Buss, Health Columnist, Nutritional Cooking Instructor.
Excerpted from Judy E. Buss’ article, first published in the “Feeling Fit” Magazine, Sun Coast Media Group newspapers, Florida.
Stay tuned for more Judy E. Buss’ “Mission Nutrition” words of wisdom and recipes.