Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Steamed Vegetables

Steamed Vegetables on plate

The Perfect Way to Cook Your St. Patrick’s Day Cabbage 

This Saturday is St. Patrick’s Day, and many people will be celebrating with Corned Beef and cabbage.

It’s tempting to boil the cabbage in the same pot with the Corned Beef.  After all, you already have a big ‘ol piece of beef simmering in water, so why not plop your cabbage in along with it? 

Well, that works, and might be traditional.  But the salty broth your corned beef cooks in can mute the flavor of the cabbage.  And most people cook cabbage too long, resulting in an odor many find offensive.

A better way to cook cabbage — or just about any veggie — is to steam it separately.  It will taste much better, look more attractive, and retain more nutrients. 

And steaming is almost as easy as boiling.

Steamed Vegetables in steamer

Recipe:  Steamed Vegetables

You can steam most vegetables the same way:  Add an inch or so of water to a pot and bring to a boil.  Then top the pot with a steamer, or insert a metal folding steaming basket into the pot.  (See Notes for more about steaming vessels.)  Cover and wait for the steam to cook the veggies.  Easy. 

Vegetables for the traditional St. Pat’s Corned Beef-and-Cabbage meal (a/k/a New England Boiled Dinner) include cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and sometimes whole onions.  So that’s what we’re doing in today’s recipe.  If your steamer isn’t large enough to hold all the vegetables you want to serve, see the Notes for some suggestions.

The quantity of vegetables specified in this recipe will serve 4.  You can easily increase quantities to suit your needs.  Leftovers (if you have them) will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.  The onion and potatoes will take about 30 - 35 minutes to cook, the cabbage and carrots 15 minutes (or a bit more), so start cooking 35 minutes before you want to serve your meal.

  • 4 whole small red-skinned potatoes (about 3 - 4 ounces each)
  • 4 whole small white onions (a bit larger than a golf ball; larger onions also work, but take longer to cook)
  • ½ head cabbage cut into 4 wedges
  • 4 large or 8 small carrots, washed and peeled
  1. If using a steamer, fill bottom with about an inch of water.  If using a steamer basket, you want to use the largest pot the basket will fit into without hitting bottom; fill the pot with about an inch of water.  Put pot on stove and bring to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, scrub potatoes and peel onions; wash cabbage, remove loose outer leaves, cut in half and core.  Reserve one of the cabbage halves for another use, and cut the remaining half into 4 wedges.  Wash and peel the carrots, and if thick cut in half lengthwise.  I often then cut them into 2-inch pieces.
  3. When the water is boiling, put the potatoes and onion in the steamer top (or the steamer container), place over boiling water, and cover. 
  4. Fifteen minutes later, add the cabbage and carrots (be careful — the steam is hot!).
  5. Fifteen minutes after that (30 minutes total), test vegetables for doneness.  The tip of a paring knife should slide into the vegetables with little or no resistance (although I actually like just a bit of crunch in my cabbage).  If vegetables aren’t done, continue cooking until they become tender enough for your liking (probably not more than another 5 minutes or so).
  6. Serve.  Salt and pepper at table is all the garnish you need.
Steamed Vegetables

  • You can steam any vegetable using this method.  Most vegetables take a few minutes longer to cook via steam (as compared to simmering), so adjust your timing accordingly.
  • Steaming is the best method when you want vegetables to retain their shape and not fall apart during cooking.  This is an issue when cooking cabbage — you want the wedges to hold together.
  • Another advantage of steaming:  Certain vegetables (like summer squash) don’t become waterlogged.  This is sometimes a problem when you boil them. 
  • And none of the vegetable nutrients leach out into the water when steaming.
  • The major disadvantage of steaming is that some vegetables may lose a bit of color.
  • Steaming is the best way to cook cabbage.  It doesn’t produce that cabbagey odor some find offensive.  And with steaming, it’s easier to cook the cabbage so that it’s just done (still retaining just a tiny bit of crunch), which is when it’s at its most flavorful.  Limp, overdone cabbage can be dreadful stuff.
  • Most brands of cookware offer steamer tops that fit on top of another pot (usually a 3- or 4-quart size).  These steamer tops have perforated bottoms (like colanders), which allows the steam to rise but prevents the food from falling into the boiling water.
  • A bamboo steamer (often used for Chinese cooking) is another good vessel for steaming.  These fit over a wok (or properly sized pot) that holds boiling water.  You can stack several of these, greatly increasing your steaming capacity.
  • You can also buy folding metal steam baskets that adjust (somewhat) to the size of the pot you’re using.  Make sure the basket holds the food above water level.  A disadvantage of these baskets is that their capacity is usually limited.
  • Whatever vessel you use for steaming, make sure the water is at a decent boil, and that you have enough water so the pot doesn’t boil dry.  Keep the steamer top tightly covered so as little steam escapes as possible.
  • When removing the lid from the steamer, be careful!  Steam is hot, and it’s easy to burn yourself.
  • If your steamer doesn’t hold all of your vegetables, you’ll have to cook some of them separately.  The cabbage and carrots benefit most from steaming, IMO, and take about the same amount of time to steam (when the carrots are sliced in half lengthwise).  So I’d definitely steam them.
  • The onions and the potatoes?  You can cook them in the bottom of the steamer (salt the water if you’re doing this).  Or steam them separately.
  • Or you can boil the onions and potatoes separately (salt the water if you do this, for added flavor). 
  • Or even add the onions and potatoes to the Corned Beef pot.  Although I think they taste better when cooked separately, both of these — potatoes in particular — retain quite good flavor when cooked with Corned Beef.
Steamed Cabbage on Black Acrylic

How I Do It 

When I cook vegetables for Corned Beef, my steamer usually isn’t big enough to hold everything comfortably. So I simmer the potatoes and onions in salted water. But I steam the cabbage and carrots, using a different pot and steamer top.

I’d steam the potatoes and onions too, if I had the capacity.  Time to spring for some of those bamboo Chinese steamer baskets, I guess.

I could also cut down the quantity of veggies, of course.  But what’s the fun in that?  Steamed vegetables are delicious.  In fact, even though the star of our St Patrick’s Day dinner is Corned Beef, it’s actually the vegetables I enjoy most.  Cabbage and carrots especially.  That’s because when you steam them, you get to enjoy their unadorned, natural flavor.  And you really taste them — almost as if for the first time.

You’re probably not used to hearing, “More cabbage, please.”

But steam your cabbage, and you may discover a new favorite vegetable.

You may also enjoy reading about:
Corned Beef
Braised Cabbage
Roast Belgian Endive
Braised Belgian Endive
Roast Cauliflower
Roast Sweet Potatoes


Vicki Bensinger said...

I have a tri-level steamer that I got upteen years ago and still use. I put my food on the bottom and then layer the veggies. I think oftentimes people forget about steaming. It's such a great method.

Please tell me how on earth do you shoot that photo in black? What type of surface, etc are you using? It's stunning!

Anonymous said...

Now I know what I'm having for dinner tonight!
Tejas Chica

Kitchen Riffs said...

@Vicki, I've seen those tri-level steamers - they're great. Similar concept to the Chinese bamboo ones, except they're metal and much sturdier. Bottom two photos were shot on black acrylic (you can use a mirror, too, but you risk double reflections if you do). I have black foam core all around to block out stray light (the acrylic reflects everything). A fun technique.

@Anonymous, you can't go wrong with steamed veggies!

@both, thanks for taking time to comment.

Katherine Martinelli said...

Great tips for steaming! I actually rarely steam my veggies, I don't know why. You make a good point that they retain their nutrients this way as opposed to being cooked directly in the water. And great notes on all the different steaming devices you can use. I have a bamboo steamer and always forget that it can do so much more than steam dumplings!

Purabi Naha said...

Steaming is such a great and simple option to enjoy the flavours of vegetables in natural way! I love steamed veggies and yes, your post is fabulous, as always!

Kitchen Riffs said...

@Katherine, I don't steam veggies enough either. But for some - cabbage in particular - you get the best, purest flavor from steaming.

@Purabi, I agree! Steamed veggies have a flavor that is so simple and natural.

@both, thanks for your kind words, and for commenting.

nutritionist long island said...

I like this method, I'll will definitely gives out a very distinct taste.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Nutritionist, it's an easy method, and has great flavor. Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Nothing like cooking veges in the broth of the corned beef...or steaming them with it.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Anonymous, steaming is a great way to cook veggies, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.