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The process of steaming foods originated with traditional Chinese menus cooked in small bamboo steamers, and has since expanded to much of the world. Simply put, the process of steaming is a great alternative to conventional heating. Best of all, if you know how to boil water, you can steam cook!

I've heard that steaming foods is healthier. Is that true? Yes! Because there is rarely a need to add fats (like butters or oils), steaming foods allows you to reap the benefits of the food without the extra calories or fats. The gentle process of steaming usually takes half the time of conventional cooking, which means fruits and vegetables seal in nutrients and flavor, retaining more vitamins and minerals than if you would have boiled or baked them.

What if I want to add flavor to my vegetables? Can I still do that? Most certainly! Steaming gives you just as many choices for spicing up and enhancing the natural flavor of vegetables as traditional cooking. Almost anything you would normally use on the stovetop as a seasoning, you can use while steaming. Here are a few examples:

Fresh green herbs, spices, sliced or diced onions, minced garlic, grated gingerroot, soy Sauce Sesame Oil Horseradish Dry roasted nuts Lemon Olive Oil Ground Pepper Sunflower seeds

What do I need to begin steaming? Traditionally, all steaming was done in a round bamboo basket. You can still purchase these today at almost any discount or cooking store. Bamboo baskets allow the most versatility because you're able to cook food in layers, all at the same time. There are actually several steamer baskets in one unit, so you could steam fish on the bottom, rice in the middle and vegetables on top. Outside of the traditional method of steaming, there are many excellent choices listed below.

Saucepan and metal colander Dutch Oven fitted with a simple wire rack Steel Steaming Basket (Cheapest and easiest method.) Electric Steamers Microwave Ceramic steamer

If I'm steaming vegetables, does it matter if the stock I'm using is fresh or frozen? Yes. It's always best to steam fresh vegetables. The first rule of thumb in successful steaming is to begin with good quality ingredients. The fresher the produce, the better tasting your final dish will be. Almost any vegetable can be steamed including onions, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, kale, collard greens, mushrooms, asparagus, zucchini, broccoli, bok choy, turnips, squash and more.

Can I steam vegetables whole? Yes, you can steam some vegetables whole. Very fresh vegetables (purchased from Farmer's Markets or Fresh Food Markets) such as string beans, small squash, spinach, bok choy, small cabbage and small potatoes can all be steamed whole.

How do I prepare other vegetables to be steamed? Most other vegetables should be sliced or diced before steaming. They'll cook faster, taste better and retain more nutrients if they're exposed to the smallest amount of steam. It's important to cut all your vegetables the same size and cook the denser ones first.

I'm ready to steam. What's the first step? You begin by selecting what you will steam and then, prepare it. For simplicity sake, we'll use vegetables as our ingredient.

1. Choose which vegetables you will steam. Wash them, slice, dice and chop them into uniform bits and set them aside.

2. Heat your water to boiling. If you're cooking in a saucepan with a steel steamer basket, this means placing the burner temperature on high.

3. Add the dense vegetables (such as carrots) first, and cover. Don't peek. The more steam you let out, the longer it will take.

4. When the vegetables have cooked, remove the steamer basket and enjoy!

That sounds simple. But how do I know how long to cook my vegetables? You can generally tell when vegetables have been thoroughly steamed by their color. For leafy greens, the color will change to bright green, which indicates they're done. There are general guidelines below:

Leafy Greens=3 minutes=will turn bright green Green Beans=10 minutes=taste test for doneness Potatoes=30 minutes=Use fork to test for softness Asparagus=10 minutes=Insert fork and taste test Bean Sprouts=3 minutets=will puff up Yams=20-25 minutes=Taste test Beets=25 minutes=Insert fork to test

Are there other things I can steam? Yes. Steamed fish is wonderful and easy to prepare. Rice can also be steamed with ease. For these and many other ideas, consult your kitchen's cookbook and start boiling that water!