Monday, June 25, 2012

How to Microwave Steam Vegetables

Broccoli in Baking dish with Lid
Preparing to Steam Broccoli

Method by Robin

Summertime has just begun, and already it’s time to get out of the kitchen. Heat waves are sweeping the US and kids are out of school. We’re motivated to simplify meals and contemplate a vacation break. Conserving personal and planetary energy while preparing our veggies is a natural.

Easy salads of mixed greens are good choices; add a few strawberries if you like. Cole slaws and other cabbage slaws are also good bets. Raw veggies with dip are another cool idea. And for simple cooked veggie preparation, try microwave steaming as a cooler and energy-saving alternative to conventional steaming or boiling.

Steamed Broccoli in Baking Dish
4 Minutes Later, Broccoli Steamed
It’s possible to use snap-top plastic food storage containers to microwave veggies. Keep one corner of the container un-snapped so excess steam can escape. Though it’s been disproven that microwaving foods in plastic releases carcinogens, I prefer using a ceramic baking dish with a lid. The lid is designed to concentrate the heat but allow excess steam to escape. The lid handle is convenient and helps prevent steam burns when checking the veggies for doneness. In a pinch you can use a stoneware bowl covered with a plate, but be very careful when lifting the “lid” to avoid steam burns. Wearing oven mits can be helpful.

Sliced Carrots in Baking Dish
Carrots Ready to Steam
Add just a small amount of water to the veggies, between 1 and 2 tbsp. This water will boil and steam the veggies. If your veggies are still quite wet from washing, start with 1 tbsp. If some parts of your veggies are tougher than others, you can steam those parts separately, or steam one part longer. For example (see below), you might steam broccoli stems longer than florets.

Steamy Carrots Make Blurry Image
Beware of Steam When Removing Lid
You can microwave steam just about any veggie by chopping it up and using the technique below. Timing will depend not only on type of veggie, but how mature and tough it is, and your preference about how “well-done” you like it. Quantity of veggies and the strength of your microwave are also factors to consider. When in doubt, microwave for a shorter period of time, check veggies, and microwave again at 1-minute or 30-second intervals till it’s done to your liking.

Note that you can immediately microwave a second veggie (or more of the same veggie) in the same microwave-heated baking dish. Remember to add water to the second batch. Cooking time for the second batch, in the pre-heated dish, is usually about a minute less.

I’ve listed a few favorite summer veggies below to get you get started. Enjoy your summer and keep cool!

Microwave Steamed Broccoli

1 lb broccoli, broken into florets and stems chopped
1 ½ - 2 T water, (less if freshly washed and trimmed)

Separate out hard stems if you have a significant amount. Add stems and 1 ½ tbsp. water to baking dish, cover, and steam sliced stems for a minute or two before adding florets.

Add florets and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Check for doneness, being mindful of the hot steam when lifting the lid up.

If broccoli still tastes “green” or “sharp,” or stems are hard, microwave 1 more minute and test again. If broccoli is almost done, microwave for another 30 seconds.

Repeat the step above as needed, microwaving at 1-minute or 30-second intervals till done. About 3 ½ or 4 minutes is average if you like it semi-crisp. Timing can be as little as 2.5 minutes for a second batch cooked in the heated baking dish.

Important! Remove broccoli from baking pan to cool so it doesn’t overcook from residual heat.

Two Piles of Squash on Cutting Board
His and Hers Microwave Steamed Squash Before
Microwave Steamed Summer Squash

Timing your microwaved squash depends upon how thickly you slice it and how well-done you like it. If there’s disagreement on these points in your family (as there is in mine,) you can easily and quickly prepare different “donenesses” and/or thicknesses. If you want to create different “donenesses” from same-size slices, simply remove a portion to a plate during the cooking process, and continue to microwave the remainder at 30-second to 1-minute intervals. Use the chart below as a guide for timing.

2 Piles of Microwaved Squash on Plate
His and Hers Microwave Steamed Squash After
To prepare different thicknesses: thinner slices will cook faster and hold heat less. To ensure that all squash is warm when served, start with the thicker slices. When they are cooked, remove to plate and microwave thinner slices. Since the cooking dish is preheated, thin slices will only require about 2 – 2 ½ minutes to cook.

~2 cups sliced summer squash
1 ½  T water

Put squash and water in covered baking dish and microwave according to chart below.

Check squash at 3 minutes, or 2 minutes if dish has been preheated. Cook at 30-second intervals till done to your likeness.

Thin (1/8 inch) slices will be al dente at about 3 minutes total.
Thick (1/4 inch) slices will be al dente at about 4 minutes total.
Thin slices will get mushy around 4 minutes total.
Thick slices will get soft around 5 minutes and mushy around 6 minutes.

Important! Remove squash from baking pan to cool so it doesn’t overcook from residual heat.

Microwave Steamed Carrots

Like beets and other roots, carrots vary in size and toughness. These instructions are for fairly young and tender carrots, so you might need to microwave larger carrots longer. Again, timing will depend also on how thick your carrots are sliced and how soft your family prefers to eat their carrots.

1 lb. carrots, sliced
1 ½ tbsp. water

Put carrots and water in covered baking dish and microwave according to chart below.

Check carrots at 3 minutes, or 2 minutes if dish has been preheated. Cook at 30-second intervals till done to your likeness.

1/8 inch slices will be crispy-tender in about 3 minutes total.
¼ inch slices will be crispy-tender in about 4 minutes total.
For softer carrots, microwave 1 more minute, or for very soft carrots, microwave 2 more minutes.

Baking Dish Overflowing with Chard Leaves
Advanced Steaming: It's Okay to Overfill Dish with Chard
Microwave Steamed Chard

Microwaving greens is a bit trickier, but it can be done if the leaves are wet from washing, and if you stir frequently. Chard has the added complication of stems, which I microwave separately. The volume of chard leaves might be difficult to put into the baking dish, but you can cram in as much as possible because it will shrink quickly. It’s okay if the lid doesn’t quite close at first.

Microwave steamed chard tastes significantly stronger than conventionally steamed chard. Chard itself takes on the flavor of the soil in which it’s grown. Certain soils, like the red soils in Kauai, may make the chard too strong to be palatable when steamed in the microwave.

1 bunch chard
2 tbsp. water, divided

Chop stems separately from leaves. Leaves are trickiest and take longest to cook, so steam them first.

Add leaves to covered baking dish. Compress leaves to add as many as possible. Lid does not need to close all the way. Leaves must be uniformly wet. Add 1 tbsp. water.

Microwave leaves 2 minutes. Stir thoroughly from bottom of dish. Microwave 1 more minute, and stir thoroughly again. Microwave at 1-minute intervals, stirring in between, until done, about 5 or 6 minutes total.

Remove leaves from baking dish and cover to keep warm.

Add stems to cooking dish and add 1 tbsp. water. Microwave for 3 minutes. Check for doneness, and microwave at 1-minute intervals till done, about 4 – 5 minutes total, depending upon age and thickness of stems.

Microwaved Whole Butternut Squash

If you’re adventurous, small whole butternut squash can be steamed with their own juices, without slicing.  See last year’s post about microwaving butternut.


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