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The Secret of Veggies: Steam + Saute
During our pre-workout chit-chat this morning, one of my gym buddies said he needs new veggie recipes to help him get the ol’ diet cleaned-up again. This lead to a general commiseration about how we love Paleo/Primal/Dino-Chow/Real Food/Clean Food… but the amount of vegetable chopping that’s required is sometimes overwhelming. Plus, there are tons of delicious recipes that transform veggies into something special, but sometimes you just need to eat.
Remember: You’re going to need a lot of vegetables. If you’re following the Whole30 guidelines (and really, why wouldn’t you?!), that means approximately 2 cups of cooked veggies at every meal, give or take, based on your size, activity level, and the veggie.
But to keep it simple, figure it this way:
(1 cup X 2 different veggies X 2-3 meals per day) + (veggies for snacks)
See? That’s a lot of veggies.
For variety and to keep myself from going bonkers, I usually make raw veggie snack packs for snacks and cooked vegetables for dinner. Then sometimes, when I’m feeling really frisky, I switch it. Very exciting!
Here’s my secret for keeping a stash of delicious, satisfying veggies ready-to-go in the fridge with minimal fuss.
Serves a lot | Prep 5 minutes | Cook 7 minutes | Whole30 compliant
your favorite veggies (see below)
Wash your veggies under running water, then, using a sharp knife, cut or slice into desired shape, depending on your mood and tastes. It’s best if you keep the pieces roughly the same size, so they’ll cook evenly.
Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Toss the still-wet-from-the-washing vegetable into the pan, cover with a lid, and allow the residual water to soften the veg a bit. Remove the lid, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the vegetable is softened but not completely cooked. If the veg sticks to the pan or begins to brown, add a tablespoon of water to continue the steaming process.
Place each vegetable in its own container and store in the fridge. Be sure to pop the containers into the refrigerator while hot – cooling at room temperature allows bacteria to grow. I usually reserve the bottom shelf of my fridge for hot veggies.
When it’s time to eat, heat about 1-2 teaspoons of coconut oil in your skillet, then toss in the partially-cooked veggies and seasonings. No fuss, no muss, no chopping right before dining!
Veggie Best Bets
This method works best for fibrous, sturdy vegetables. Tender veggies like snap peas, snow peas, fennel, asparagus, and spinach are best cooked “to order.” This is a short list of vegetables that are good choices to have around for everyday fortification, and they’re hearty enough to stand up to this kind of pre-cooking:
bell pepper, sliced
bok choy, chopped
Brussels sprouts, cut in half
broccoli,broken into florets
cabbage (red or green), sliced or chopped
cauliflower, broken into florets
celery, sliced thin
collard greens, chopped
eggplant, sliced or chopped
green beans, whole
mustard greens, chopped
turnip greens, chopped
yellow squash, sliced
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I'm a very unsure cook, so hope you don't mind a question or two … How many days do veggies cooked this way last in the fridge? And have you ever tried freezing them? I tend to knock myself out cooking huge batches of things all at once, then pulling them out of fridge or freezer as needed. (I know I can try these things myself, but would be interested in your experience/advice if you get a chance). This sounds like a dynamite way to cook veggies. Thanks a bunch!
Hey, Ehsa! Let's see…
How long do they last? If I cook a head of cabbage, 3-4 zucchini, and a pound of brussels sprouts, that usually gets me through, like, three days. I usually end up eating two heads of cabbage a week because I really like it and it goes with lots of stuff.
Generally, I've kept cooked veg in the fridge for 5-6 days, and it holds up OK. If you're worried about cooking too much at once, you might pre-cut everything, but only steam/saute half of it… then when the cooked stuff is gone, you can repeat with the already-cut stuff in the fridge.
Freezing… I haven't had good success freezing cooked vegetables. They tend to get really mushy/watery after defrosting. If they're cooked in liquid — say, in a soup or curry — they hold up much better. But just steamed, I don't think they hold up very well.
I’m brand new to Paleo and am reading thru this info about veggies to plan my first week.. I have a basic question. I love the idea of chopping veggies ahead to save time on a week night but why do you cook them and then pull them out and cook them a second time? Don’t veggies taste better when cooked just once?
Also, I never eat cabbage. Can you share what you do with the cabbage?
I saute it with meat, other veggies, and spices. For example, ground beef, spaghetti squash, and cabbage with my Sunrise Spice blend… or cabbage, red bell peppers, and lamb with stir-fry sauce.
Yes, veggies taste better when they’re freshly cooked, but this suggestion is based on getting things done FAST. I PARTIALLY cook the veggies in advance, then they’re ready to be quickly re-heated to heat — instead of having to cook from raw for every meal. That’s an important distinction: I’m not cooking then re-COOKING. It’s PARTIALLY cooking in steam, then finishing in fat. Adds lots of flavor and the veggies are ready faster than if you started from raw every time.
Hi. We’re just starting. My husband has to take his dinner to work and reheat in a microwave. Should he put a drop or 2 of fat in his container for when he reheats later? Thanks.
Yes! It will make everything taste a little better and fresher.
I am starting paleo/clean eat and this will hopefully help me to get there. Great blog
This was a really helpful post! Quick question — I'm assuming you handle the cabbage the same way you would any other vegetable? You'd steam lightly then saute it with a bunch of other vegetables later? Or do you usually keep the cabbage raw? I rarely eat cabbage because I'm not really sure how to prepare it.
Hurray! The 5-6 days in the fridge would totally work for me, so I'm off to market to get the veggies for my steam/saute debut. I may try to freeze one small container just to see, but I think you're right about mushy/watery. Thanks so much for your response!
I was thinking if you flash freeze them before you put in a container it shouldn’t be mushy
Awesome post, as usual! Thanks!
Boya –> Good luck with eating clean. Have fun with it!
Michelle –> Yes, I do the cabbage the same way. I chop it into cube-type shapes, but you can also shred or slice it. Different shapes have a different texture… experiment to see which you like the best. I don't like it too thin.
Ehsa –> Let me know how the freezing goes!
Wells Family –> Thank you! I'm glad you like it.
I'm really pleased to announce that I had great success freezing veggies prepared the "steam + saute" way. I used cabbage, onion, cauliflower,and red/yellow/orange/green peppers, all cut into a chunky dice. I cooked each separately, then mixed them all together and put them into 3-cup Pyrex 7 x 5 x 1.5" dishes (they're fairly shallow). Then I poured in just a bit of chicken broth, not enough to drown them, just to provide a little moisture. Defrosted a dish for dins last night, cooked them up in olive oil, and they were just terrific!
My previous veggie-freezing efforts pretty much resulted in mush, but these came out great. I think the key factors may be good size chunks, shallow containers, and some but not a lot of broth, as well as leaving the veggies quite crisp in the steam + saute process.
Also, my Penzey's pizza seasoning arrived (where has this been all my life?) so I made the sausage soup only with ground turkey, and it was a big hit!
So thanks a million for all your cooking tips as well as the wonderfully clever way you present them!
Ehsa, that's AWESOME! Congratulations. And the shallow container + broth is such a great tip. Thanks for sharing!
Can you EVEN with that pizza seasoning?! It's really great for homemade tomato sauce, too. Heat oil, add organic crushed tomatoes, a clove of garlic, and a few teaspoons of pizza seasoning. DONE! WIN! WOOT!
My husband and I are starting Whole30 on February 1st, and this is one of the best websites ever. I want to live inside of it. Thank you so, so much.
OMG! That is the best compliment EVER. Thank you!
I concur. I’ve already made it a favorite on my toolbar!
I will be starting Whole 30 on Feb 1st as well and I completely agree that this site is the best for helping to plan and be prepared. Thank you so much for sharing your tips and tricks. They are very informative!! I too have bookmarked the site. Love it!
Happy Whole30-ing to you! I’m glad you’re finding my info helpful.
What Denise said. Exactly that. Same wavelength. Rock on.
I started the Whole30 on 2/1 (yesterday) and I’m worried I’m eating more than I should–any tips for how to measure myself? And a second question: I never cook meat and have no idea where to begin. I have a fridge full of meat and am clueless about what to do next. Suggestions?
Congrats on starting your Whole30!
I usually grill a bunch of chicken and brown a bunch of ground beef, then mix and match it with veggies for instant meals! There’s a little more detail here:
If you want more explicit instructions on how to cook for the week without making yourself nuts, my cookbook Well Fed has lots of helpful info. You can get a free preview here: http://www.theclothesmakethegirl.com/well-fed-ebook-sampler/
And buy the book here:
Thank you so much! I found a simple recipe for baking chicken in the oven with olive oil–I don’t have a grill–so I will start with that and figure out the beef this weekend. Your website is amazing, I’m so impressed with everything you’ve put together and how generous you are with all that you’ve learned. And you seem awesome, too! Your mission statement is like a rallying cry! Yes!
Great tips here. I’ve been stuck on veggies and have been eating a very small assortment, broccoli, peas, green beans. Partly because I did not know how to cook any other one’s. Thanks for posting this!
Lisa, I hope this helps you! When I’m not sure what to do with a vegetable, I just steam-saute it until it’s tender, then toss it with coconut oil (or olive oil), fresh garlic, and salt. You really can’t go wrong that way. Good luck!
I just stumbled upon this and was wondering if you can do steam sautee the same day.
Do you mean, is it OK to steam saute veggie sand eat them right away? Yes! When they’re cooked to your liking, just toss with some fat — like coconut oil or olive oil — and seasonings, like salt, pepper, garlic, and spices.
really love your site and the great ideas. Sort of silly question about the steam sauté method, what kind of pan do you use for this? i mostly have cast iron pans and have a feeling it might not be too great for the pan
I use a large, non-stick skillet with a domed lid. I think that the cast iron would probably not be the best choice for steam-saute. My advice: pick up a cheap-ish non-stick, use it only for steam-sautéeing, and always use a wooden spoon so you don’t nick the coating.
I hate to shop so I usually buy a lot of vegggies at one time. I’m always worried that the minute I get them home, they start losing their vitamin content. Do you know how long veggies keep, cooked and uncooked, in the fridge without sacrificing quality?
Hey, Susan. I don’t have any real science to lay on you… sorry! I do know that yes, produce starts losing its nutrition punch as soon as it’s picked, which is why it’s a great idea to buy locally as much as possible. Frozen is also good, surprisingly, because it’s frozen just after picking, which preserves the nutrients — at least as much as the fresh in the store.
If you’re eating a large volume and wide variety of high-quality produce, you’re doing the best you can for yourself.
Ugh every single one of those veggies my fiance hates. I swear it’s like trying to feed a child. He hates everything!
Yea, I experience the same thing with my husband. To break him in I start off by cooking most veggies with bacon…. and eventually ween him off the bacon association with said veg and he’s okay. Now he will eat broccoli, squash, brussel sprouts and cauliflower (although I roasted this one and topped with lemon and parmesan) I turn kale into chips. Luckily he already loves salad. The last vestige of resistance remains with cabbage. But oh well! More for me 🙂
(Also, late reply I know, but hey maybe someone will find it helpful)
Dumb question: why do this? I’m not trying to be flippant, I just don’t understand the advantage of the double cooking. Does this make them last longer in the fridge? Or does it shorten the cooking time on meal day? Thanks!
It cuts the cooking time on meal day. It’s much better to store vegetables raw, uncut, and unwashed OR to wash, cut, and cook… so I like to do a bunch of prep at once. That way, when I’m ready to “make dinner,” I have a bunch of vegetables ready to go, and I don’t have to wash, cut, and cook in real time. Plus, I eat much more variety because I usually have 3-5 veggies prepped in my fridge.
I have what might be a dumb question that I do not know the answer too. It said you can’t have white potatoes, is red potatoes considered white?
Yes, red potatoes are “white.” When I say white potatoes, I mean anything that’s not a yam or sweet potato.
How do Japanese white sweet potatoes compare to the orange kind we’re used to? I accidentally bought some and don’t want them to go to waste.
I actually prefer Japanese sweet potatoes to the orange kind. Japanese have a texture more like white potatoes. You might want to try this recipe: http://www.theclothesmakethegirl.com/2013/11/07/crispy-oven-baked-sweet-potato-fries/
To roast, bake at 400F for 45-60 minutes. I like to microwave a potato for 8-9 minutes, then make home fries.
Question on the steam saute, why not just partially microwave?
You can certainly use the microwave. I don’t like the texture of veggies from the microwave, which is why I use the method outlined above. But if you like ’em that way, go for it!
Just made these for the first time – who knew collard greens could be so tasty! I’ve got broccoli, zucchini and more collards ready to go for the week. Thanks for the ideas.
WOOT! I’m so happy this approach has made veggies a little easier to chomp! Thanks for stopping by to say hi!
I have a question, which I didn’t see asked above, but may have been elsewhere on the site. How much time should one allow for a steam + saute session (including prep, cutting, steaming, containers, clean-up)? How about a full Week 1, 2, 3 or 4 prep session? I’m really interested in trying all of this, but I know I have a really busy schedule and need to leave myself enough time to do it properly or I will get frustrated.
Your site is amazing! Well done friend. Great tips, advice and quite practical approach to making Whole30 doable for the non-foodies too.
That really depends on how fast you are at chopping…
For veg, I’d estimate 10-15 minutes per vegetable, again, depending on how adept you are with a knife and if you have motivating music playing 😉
For a full cookup based on the plans in my other posts, I’d estimate 2-4 hours.
Thank you for the estimates. That’s about what I assumed, but I wanted to verify. I may enlist my husband as “chopping helper” for the afternoon. Your site is just great – feeling motivated and able to tackle this for the FIRST TIME based on the way you have organized the weekly cookup plans.
Glad you’re fired up! Have fun in the kitchen 🙂
Hi! I have both your books and I’m working on my monthly meal plan as we speak. Just a suggestion for a future blog post, I’d love an extensive list of every veggie you think works well for the steam/saute method and what doesn’t. I think you had a different blog post (there’s a pic of you posing with a plant on your head) that kale is a “special” veggie that doesn’t like the steam/saute method, but then you have kale listed in your book as a good veggie option for this method. Just a suggestion! Thanks for the awesome blog & books!
I have been wanting to try Whole 30 but I don’t possible see how I can afford it. I have about $100 a month for food if I am lucky. I usually eat oatmeal for breakfast, nothing for lunch and some protein and veggies for dinner. But never this volume because I could never buy that much. Its just wrong that it costs more to eat healthy than it does to eat junk food!
It would be very hard on $100 a month. Try using frozen vegetables, which are much less expensive than fresh and create less waste. Although grass fed meat is expensive and may be out of reach, lots of paleo recipes use what are historically less desirable (and less expensive) cuts of meat – chicken thighs instead of breasts, marrow bones, beef short ribs, and tougher cuts like shanks and roasts that get cooked for a long time in a slow cooker.
I’m not sure why short ribs always make the list of “cheaper” meat. I think short ribs may have been “less desirable” in the 80s but they cost (grassfed) around $13/lb near me. Which is around the same as chuck roast or brisket. True, these cuts are fatty but they are also quite easy in a slow cooker. Not to mention delicious and in every non-vegetarian cook book and restaurant menu.
Cheap grass fed? Maybe feet–or brains.
I would just note for food safety reasons…
The bottom of your fridge is the coldest area, and should be reserved for meats (also in case they drip raw juices). Hot air rises, so if you put hot veggies in the bottom of the fridge, you’re warming up all the foods on the shelves above.
When I cooked professionally, we would spread par-cooked vegetables out in a single layer on a sheet pan, cool them at room temperature (it only takes 15-20 minutes, and you only need to worry if they’ve been out for 2-3 hours) before putting them the fridge so they don’t raise the temperature of the entire apparatus.
I just wanted to say that I started Primal eating following Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint about 3 weeks ago, and I did this steam-saute method for this past week’s vegetables (always have tonnes of raw at work), and it is AMAZING. It’s such a time saver to just whip up enough for a week on a Sunday, then roll throughout the week trying different recipes in Well Fed and Well Fed 2.
I made the czech meatballs, and served them over steam-sauteed purple cabbage and it was absolutely dynamite!
Mel, my mother bought me both of your cookbooks (27-years-old and the gifts change to cookbooks ;)), and I couldn’t be any happier.
You have been an unspoken asset to me changing my life for the better, and for that I thank you.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share this awesome comment — it made my day! I’m SO happy that this little trick has been helpful to you. Congratulations on changing your eating habits — hope you’re feeling really good! Keep me posted on how you’re doing, and tell your mom I said thanks for buying our cookbooks! Happy cooking to you!
I finally bought a pan with lid!! (it was a long time coming but with your books, i’ve gone from literally NEVER cooking to almost always cooking!)
I steam-sauteed a few veggies, and i had a question about storage. I took the veggies immediately after steam-sauteeing and put ’em in a container and in the fridge.
When I take them out, there’s moisture…from the condensed hot air that came off of the vegetables. Am I doing something wrong?
Congratulations on conquering your kitchen!
The condensation is normal. I always just dump the extra water out of the container. If it bothers you, put the veg in the fridge uncovered until they’re completely cool, then put the lid on.
“conquered” is a strong word. but we have a mutual understanding now 🙂
and thanks! that’s a great idea. i just didn’t want to ruin anything!
Here’s a cooking “truth” for you: You really can’t mess anything up too badly, especially when you’re talking about savory cooking (versus baking sweets). The worst that will happen is that you might overcook a vegetable and it will be too soft — or you’ll overcook meat and it will be too dry. Both of those just mean a less-than-awesome meal. You can still eat it, and you’ll learn more for the next time. Try to enjoy your time in kitchen 🙂
I steam-sautéed my first head of cabbage this week, and have used it multiple times with great success. I’ve actually been using my own timesaver with most of my standards. I buy steam-in-bag frozen veggies, and pop them in the microwave for the shorter time listed on the bag. While they’re cooking, I prep everything else for the meal, then add them to the rest of the ingredients for my hot plate. This works especially well for broccoli florets and French-cut green beans, which are two of my favorites, and it saves on chopping time. If I don’t use the whole bag, I refrigerate the rest for later.
Have I told you lately that I love you? This is exactly the place I needed to be. I have been struggling with practicality and how to be resourceful with all these new ingredients and foods I am so unfamiliar with. You have laid out exactly what I needed to know. Thank you so much!
Oh… yay! Glad this helpful. Happy new year!
I have a pot that fits 2 steamer baskets on top. Would your process still work? Lightly steam the veggies and then sautee.
That should work great!
I was wondering if there is a way I can print this stuff out without all the images? Thank you.
I really love your site. I’m not a kitchen person and meal “planning” puts me over the edge. lol So thanks for doing the work for me. We are going to attempt starting today. We don’t have Costco only Sams club, so I’m hoping they have a lot of compliant stuff.
I’m wondering, how do you change your strategy for frozen veggies? If I throw them into a stir fry, everything gets soggy :/
It’s nearly impossible to prevent frozen veggies from getting mushy. The cell membranes are broken during freezing/defrosting, and that changes the texture. I usually defrost them in the fridge and then give them a quick sauté with some fat in a very hot pan. I like to let them caramelize a little bit. They taste pretty good that way, but they’re not crisp the way fresh veggies would be.
Thank you!! I am starting week 3 of my Whole30 and was losing motivation regarding meal prep/planning. I am going to take the morning to prep and pre-cook all the veges that are staring at me in the fridge. This will make my week MUCH easier!
I have a really nice Viante steamer but still find that when I’m working I dont have the time or energy when I get home. I’d live to pre-steam using my electric steamer. Any idea how much I should reduce the standard times so that they are only lightly steamed and ready for sauteing? 20%?? 30%??
Hmmm… I really don’t know. When I do them on the stovetop, I’d say they’re about 50% of the way I’d like them.
Thanks! I really hate mushy veggies – lol. Probably better to err on the side of less steaming time and saute a little longer in yummy fat then 🙂
That sounds about right.
Melissa just wanted to say thank you for posting this. My hubby and I are starting Whole 30 this month. Sometimes meal planning overwhelms me, but this post has inspired and calmed me at the same time. I’m very thankful.
I’m so glad this is helpful! Hope your Whole30 is going great!