Steaming is one of the quickest, easiest and most nutritious ways to cook vegetables. It preserves the vitamins and the fresh, natural flavor of the foods much better than other methods of cooking such as boiling or frying. Vegetable steamers are widely available, inexpensive and can be used for a variety of foods. Steamed foods require very little preparation, are cooked without fat and can be served in a number of ways.
Prepare the vegetables. You can steam any type of vegetable except dried beans. Some popular choices are broccoli, snap peas, squash, corn on the cob and spinach. Wash the vegetables thoroughly in warm water or a vegetable wash. Take special care to remove any sand or grit from greens like spinach or kale. Cut the vegetables into the desired size or shape, keeping the size of individual pieces consistent. The smaller the pieces, the quicker the vegetables will cook.
Insert the steamer into or over the pan, depending on the style of your steamer. Fill the pan with approximately 3 inches of water---the water should not reach the level of the steamer basket. Turn the heat on high, and bring the water to a rolling boil.
Spread the vegetables in a single layer in the steamer, and cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid. Turn the heat down to medium, but be sure the water continues to boil. You may need to add more boiling water to the pan if you are steaming vegetables for more than 10 minutes, so check the water level occasionally.
Allow the vegetables to cook until they reach desired tenderness. This can take anywhere from 5 minutes for slices of zucchini or carrots, green beans, asparagus, broccoli florets and kale, to 40 minutes for a whole medium artichoke. Generally, the vegetable will turn a vivid shade of green (or whatever its natural color is), and be easily pierced with a fork when it is done.
Serve the vegetables. You can jazz up the taste by sprinkling fresh chopped herbs, grated cheese or olive oil over the steamed vegetables. Dip broccoli or cauliflower florets, mushrooms, zucchini or carrots in melted lemon butter for a delicious treat. Chill leftover vegetables and toss them with a vinaigrette dressing, or add to some chopped lettuce for an instant salad.