Steaming is one of the healthiest preparation methods for fresh vegetables, but manhandling multiple pots and steamer inserts can be terribly inconvenient and potentially hazardous. Countertop steamers provide a more streamlined alternative, often providing multiple trays or compartments to separate the vegetables as they cook. Setting up your steamer is quick and easy, requiring little time once the vegetables are prepared.
Wash, dry and peel your vegetables, as appropriate. Keep quick-browning vegetables such as potatoes and artichokes in bowls of water with a dash of lemon juice, while the others can rest in bowls or on your cutting board until you're ready to proceed.
Cut the vegetables into steamer-friendly lengths, rings or slices. The manual that came with your steamer usually explains how to cut common vegetables for efficient steaming, and provides approximate cooking times.
Fill the steamer's reservoir with water and arrange the vegetables loosely in the steamer basket. If it has multiple baskets, place dense, slow-cooking vegetables in the bottom and lighter, faster-cooking vegetables in the top section.
Cover the steamer with its lid and plug it in. Set the timer for the recommended cooking time and start the cycle.
Open the steamer carefully when the timer indicates that your cooking time is done. Test the vegetables for doneness, and reset the timer for a few additional minutes if necessary.
Remove your vegetables to serving bowls as they finish cooking, and either take them to the table or keep them warm in the oven until they're needed. Some countertop steamers have a keep-warm function, holding the vegetables safely until mealtime.
- If your steamer has only a single basket, cut dense vegetables such as carrots into relatively small pieces, but leave quicker-cooking vegetables such as cauliflower in large florets. This helps even out the cooking time.
- Exercise caution when you open your steamer to check the vegetables, because the hot steam can cause a nasty burn. Silicone oven mitts are moisture proof and will protect against steam, but conventional fabric oven mitts do not.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.