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I'm a newbie cook from to prepare the nightly dinner for my wife and I. I usually have a meat and stream or boil sweet potato, corn, Brussels sprouts, asparagus or broccolini.

It occurred to me that I was adding a little bit of butter and salt to everything that I cooked. I know if I bake something I could add rosemary etc, but how can I season / flavour food different steaming / boiling? Adding herbs to the water??

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I would take back the closure vote if I could; I realize its not a "what goes with X" but a how to add stuff when steaming, which is a good technique quesiton. Recommend other folks not vote yes to close. – SAJ14SAJ Mar 19 '13 at 3:50
Is "botton" supposed to be butter? I am going to edit for clarity, but if that is not right, feel free to roll the edit back. – SAJ14SAJ Mar 19 '13 at 4:18
Please don't mark the correct answer so quickly, leave it a few days and more answer may appear from the masses :-) – TFD Mar 19 '13 at 6:27
I edited the title so it won't mislead other people to think that it is a "what goes with X" question (this is how I interpreted it initially too). – rumtscho Mar 19 '13 at 11:02
While not a direct answer to your question, I would add that roasting vegetables adds considerable flavor, and is very easy to do. The basic no-recipe technique is to cut the veggies into uniform size chunks, add some oil or butter, optionally some herbs, salt, pepper or acid (vinegar, lemon juince)--just a splash. Roast in an oven between 350 F to 450 F (depending on what else you were doing in the oven) until browned and delicious looking. This is very popular with all my guests. Broccoli, green beans, and asparagus are among the vegetables that this works especially well for. – SAJ14SAJ Mar 19 '13 at 11:51

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Adding flavors to the water will not transfer to the vegetables. Steam is a poor medium for flavor as water carries almost nothing with it when it becomes gas. There are a few very good methods to add some flavor to steamed veggies, so you can just use one of those!

You can add herbs and other aromatics to the veggies This works best with fresh herbs, but a few sprigs of rosemary or a few leaves of basil in contact with your steamed veggies will get some good flavor action. Alternately, mixing them in right after you take the veggies off the steam will let the residual heat of the veg to bring out the flavors in the herbs. Other things that work well is cooking your veggies on a bed of orange peels or lemon peels to add some citrus flavor.

Add oil, plus any flavors you want to infuse into the oil Once you have steamed your veggies, hit them with a light drizzle of oil. I make a chili-infused olive oil that I toss my steamed carrots in that is always a huge hit. There are wide array of lipid soluble flavors that you can infuse your oil with.

Compound butters are great, but so is just butter Animal fats added after cooking almost always turn ho-hum into yum-yum. Butter has long been the french way to add a bunch of subtle flavor to a side dish. You don't have to use a ton, normally a light toss is enough to make a difference. Compound butter is just butter with herbs chopped in and it gives you the double whammy when you use it.

Any ground spice You can also just shake some ground spices on. Pepper, curry powder, cinnamon, pretty much anything that sprinkles and fits the profile you are looking for will work. If your spices are fresh ground, you will get even more taste for your buck.

If you are boiling your veggies, your options open up. Most root veggies will take on the flavor of whatever you cook them in, so using stock or vegetable broth can add some flavor. Vegetables that you cook with each other in a pot of boiling water will also get some transference among themselves. That's the basis for a large number folk dishes like New England Boil and the reason Cajuns always throw some taters and corn in with the crawfish.

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You can also marinate your vegetables before steaming or cooking. Try throwing them in a bag with some fresh herbs and some oil or butter several hours or the night before you plan on cooking them to infuse some flavors. You can also achieve similar results by steaming in a bag with those herbs and butter so that the food is in constant contact with the flavorants.

For example, packaging asparagus in a ziploc bag with some butter and garlic and rosemary and then steaming the bag until your desired doneness will give you a nice flavor on the asparagus while also providing a flavorful liquid to accompany it. One thing to consider with this method is whether you would like to blanch the veggies first to keep their bright color.

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Being unable to transfer flavor using a steamer is simply not true. In (NZ) traditional Maori culture we have an earth oven or "Hangi" (pronouned har+ng+ee) where food is loaded into baskets and cooked in a pit where a fire (bonfire) was lit to heat stones. The pit is cleaned after the fire has burnt and the stones put back in. The baskets are put on top of the stones and covered with wet sacking. The sacking is then covered with dirt taken from the original pit. Heat from the stones and the walls of the pit plus steam from the sacking and a small amount of water added to the final mound cook the food. The final product is food that has infused a slight woody, earthy flavor.

Because the process of laying a Hangi is very labor intensive it is usually saved for special occasions such as a wedding, where you are cooking for a lot of people.

So let's try to replicate it in a steamer. While I am going to create a cheats Hangi you can have any combination of vegetable in the steamer. In my case I have whole cabbage leaves on the bottom; one or two leaves overlapping but covering the entire base. Then I have a layer of sliced pumpkin cut about 8mm thick. More cabbage leaf and layer of potato 8mm thick. More cabbage leaf and with thinly sliced carrot 2-3mm and a few more slices of potato. To finish I have some pork on top (de-boned chops) with more carrot added to fill).

That is the general idea it is not a recipe set in stone. Sweet potato is great in there as is brussel sprouts cut in half or sliced. Chicken, lamb or any other meat (or no meat) can be used.

In a 15 cm steamer you can make enough for one or two. In a 20 cm steamer you can make enough for 4-6 people. My measurements below are for the smaller steamer. For a 20 cm steamer go 1.5 times. For larger than 20 cm double it but you will be cooking for 8 or more.

So the real magic begins with what goes in the water. Remember I am trying to achieve an earthy, woody flavor. So I have added to my water 4-6 cloves crushed garlic, 1 tsp Thyme, 1 tsp Rosemary, 1 tsp Sage, 1 tsp Tarragon. You can add others or take some out. In my opinion once you use over four types of herbs the end result gets a bit confusing.

The second key is to have the steamer set low. When you lift the steamer basket or pot you want to be seeing to garlic gently rolling around through convection. Not boiling or even simmering. Low and slow is critical.

The cooking time will vary depending on the size of your steamer and how much you have in it. I expect my little steamer to take about 1.5 - 2 hours. I like to put some potato at the top to test and remember around 8 mm slices. At that size it becomes a good timer. Any bigger and they take longer than the meat needs to cook. After 3 - 4 hrs things will still be okay but the flavor from the garlic and herb mixture will be stronger.

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