No matter how much you like to cook, sometimes you just want to prepare veggies quickly, but still want them to taste good.  One of my favorite ways to quick-cook vegetables is a technique that I learned from How to Cook without a Book by Pam Anderson, who really stresses improvisation and good food.

One of her techniques that I’ve found useful for vegetables is the “steam/sautéed” method.  It’s a very simple technique, using both “wet” and “dry” cooking in a single pan, without boiling or blanching and draining.  You can facilitate speed by how you cut the vegetables–smaller pieces cook more quickly than larger chunks.  This book is an excellent resource to help you learn to improvise and adjust quantities for single servings, doing away with leftovers. Recipes are simple, and presented in a manner that makes them very easy to adjust serving sizes, giving the necessary ingredients and there are variations given so that you get the feel of improvising.

To cook vegetables this way, you need vegetable, some fat, and flavorings.  The recipes in the book are presented starting with one pound of vegetables, but are easily down-sized to a single serving.  The basic ratio of these recipes is (p. 204):

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon fat
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound prepared vegetable
  • optional aromatics (1/2 small onion, sliced thin, or 2 medium garlic cloves, minced)
  • optional spices (dried or fresh herbs and or flavorings)
  1. Bring the water, fat, salt, and vegetable, along with the optional aromatics, spices, dried herbs and/or other flavorings to a boil in a Dutch oven or a large deep skillet. Cover and steam over medium-high heat until the vegetable is brightly colored and must tender, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the vegetable size.
  2. Remove the lid and continue to cook until the liquid evaporates, 1-2 minutes longer, adding optional fresh herbs and/or other flavoring at this point. Sauté to intensify flavors, 1-2 minutes longer.  Adjust seasonings, including pepper to taste and serve.

The cooking instructions are simple. I’ll give you an example of a recipe from this book, and of the technique (above):

Steam/Sautéed Carrots with Cumin (p.209)

  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch coins
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley or cilantro leaves

Follow the Steam/Sautéed Vegetables recipe (p. 204), adding the cumin with the carrots and the parsley once the carrots start to sauté.

One pound of carrots is approximately 5-6 medium or 4 large, so it’s easy to adjust the proportions here for two medium carrots.  For me, 1 large carrot is about the right amount for a serving of vegetable.  The amounts of fat, spices, and water are easily adjusted (see Measurement Conversions), and they do not have to be exact–you can add a bit more water if the vegetable is not quite tender enough, and a bit extra will evaporate once the pan is uncovered.  You’ll adjust the seasonings to taste, as well.

You will need to consider whether your vegetable is “soft” (vegetables which normally give off water as they cook) may not need the steaming before the sauté step), but  vegetables that do not give off moisture as they cook, like the carrots, green beans, cabbage or broccoli, do need this step.  The amount of water will vary with the density of the vegetable–you will learn to judge that, always remembering that you can add more water a tablespoon or so at a time as needed.

Dried herbs and spices (except black pepper) should be added with the vegetable in order to have the flavors develop.  Because fresh herbs can lose volatile oils with heat exposure, these need to be added at the end so that the freshness is retained.  With this technique is easy to prepare vegetables for small-time cooking, keeping the big-time taste.

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