As long as we have gathered around fires, we have been engaged in an almost magical transformation of raw food into cooked meals. From fire and water comes cuisine, the art that has shaped human culture in profound ways. With a growing interest in raw food, it is important to understand the health benefits of cooking, steaming or leaving your food raw. So which is better, the salad or the steam?
The answer – it depends! In some cases, water and fire improve nutrition through exposure to heat. For example, cooked spinach has more calcium and iron than raw. Cooking also softens the fibres in food and changes the taste of vegetables making them tastier.
What really matters is that you enjoy your vegetables, so prepare them the way you like them. That could be raw, steamed, roasted, braised, stir-fried or poached.
Keep in mind that the method of cooking can impact nutrition. Try steaming, braising or roasting instead of boiling or deep frying vegetables. Below are some tips when cooking vegetables using water (wet heat methods). Wet heat methods include steaming, braising, simmering and poaching.
- Steaming vegetables is a quick way to cook them and keep them crisp. Vegetables can be cooked in the microwave (be sure to have a microwave safe steamer) or in a pot using a steamer basket. Steaming vegetables uses a small amount of water.
- Experiment with flavours. Try using a different liquid like juice or broth when poaching foods.
- What to do with the leftover liquid? When you have leftover liquid from cooking vegetables, add some herbs and vegetable scraps (carrot peels, celery leaves, onion skins, etc.) to make a vegetable stock. This can form the base of a homemade soup or stew.
How to steam vegetables
Many vegetables can be steamed quickly. Wash and cut vegetables into uniform pieces. Add about an inch of water to a pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the steaming basket and cut vegetables. If you don’t have a steaming basket, you can use a metal colander that sits in the pot, above the water. Be sure not to overload the basket. Some vegetables need more heat than others. See below for a general guideline of cooking times.
- Cauliflower 3-4 minutes
- Broccoli 4-5 minutes
- Green beans 3-5 minutes
- Asparagus 4-6 minutes
Recipe of the month: Lemon tahini sauce
Try adding some tang to your steamed vegetables with this lemony tahini sauce.
- 3 tbsp (45 mL) tahini (sesame seed butter)
- 2-3 tbsp (30-45 mL) lemon juice
- 1 small garlic clove
- Dash of cumin
- Finely chop the garlic. The garlic can also be ground using a small grater. Add garlic to a small bowl.
- Add tahini and lemon juice to bowl. Add cumin.
- Whisk ingredients together. If the sauce is too thick, try adding a teaspoon of water. Continue to add water until the desired consistency is reached.
- Spoon over vegetables and serve.
Recipe adapted from http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/lemony-tahini-sauce.aspx
 Canadian Nutrient File. Nutrient profile of raw and boiled spinach. Available athttp://webprod3.hc-sc.gc.ca/cnf-fce/index-eng.jsp
 EatRight Ontario. Food dictionary: Cooking with wet heat methods. Available at http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Cooking-Food-Preparation/Food-Dictionary--Cooking-with-wet-heat-methods.aspx#.VszgBqTSmP8