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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 out there that transform veggies into something special (like eggplant f’armesan), but sometimes you just need to eat.

Here’s my secret for keeping a stash of delicious, satisfying veggies ready-to-go in the fridge with minimal fuss. Ready?!

Step 1
Go to the store or farmer’s market – or sign up for your local delivery service – and pick out some kickass veggies. (Can I get a hell, yeah for Farmhouse Delivery?! Find your local favorite here.) You’re going to want a lot.

Like, A LOT.

Like, more than you think.

If you’re following the Whole30 guidelines (and really, you should be), 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!

OK. Back to shopping for veggies.

Need ideas? Try these on for size – aren’t you tempted by their beauty and brains?! (And if these don’t inspire, check out my previous post Taste the Rainbow.)

Step 2
Wash veggies under running water, then cut into 1/2-inch dice or 1/4-inch slice, depending on your mood and taste buds.

Step 3
Lightly steam/saute the veggies individually until just-tender. Do not cook them completely or you will be sad.

Don’t know what I mean by steam/saute? I throw the just-washed-so-still-kinda-wet veggies into a hot saute pan, crank the heat, throw on a lid, and let the residual water make them wilt a little. Let ‘em sit for about 3-4 minutes, remove the lid, and give ‘em a vigorous stir. Keep the lid off and saute to desired just-wiltedness. If they stick or start to get too brown, add a tablespoon of water to continue the steaming process.

Step 4
Place each veggie in its own container and place in the fridge. Put them in hot – cooling at room temperature allows bacteria to grow. Um… ew. I usually reserve the bottom shelf of my fridge for the containers of hot veggies.

Step 5
When it’s time to eat, heat a saute pan, add 1-2 teaspoons of your favorite fat (mmm… coconut oil), and let it get hot. Then throw in a cup of your prepped veggies and seasonings of your choice. I usually just go for sea salt, garlic powder, and pepper. But you can get creative if you like. Or use some of my previously recommended spice blends. Remember to repeat this activity for 2 vegetables per meal.

Step 6
Dig in. Feel smug and satisfied.

*As a balance to my cooked veggies at meals, I have raw veggie snack packs for at-work snacks that contain a mix of the following: pepper strips, cucumbers, snap peas, jicama, and occasionally celery. Throw in olives for fat and some leftover meat from dinner… done!

Super secret inside tip: frozen veggies. I always have frozen chopped broccoli and frozen chopped spinach in the freezer. You can treat it exactly as above, without the pre-cooking step, just defrost it in the fridge overnight… awesome in a pinch when stir-fried with protein – or thrown into a pan with some eggs for an anytime omelet.

See, veggies are easy!

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49 Responses to “The Secret of Veggies: Steam + Saute”

  1. Ehsa says:

    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!

  2. Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    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.

    • PattibSLP says:

      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?

      • PattibSLP says:

        Also, I never eat cabbage. Can you share what you do with the cabbage?

        • Mel says:

          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.

      • Mel says:

        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.

  3. Boya says:

    Great idea!!
    I am starting paleo/clean eat and this will hopefully help me to get there. Great blog
    Boya

  4. Michelle@Life with Three says:

    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.

  5. Ehsa says:

    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!

  6. The Wells Family says:

    Awesome post, as usual! Thanks!

  7. Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    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.

  8. Ehsa says:

    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!

  9. Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    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!

  10. Densie says:

    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.

  11. Kate says:

    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?

  12. Kate says:

    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!

  13. Lisa says:

    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!

    • Mel says:

      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!

      • Lisa says:

        I just stumbled upon this and was wondering if you can do steam sautee the same day.

        • Mel says:

          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.

  14. adam says:

    hey!
    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

    best
    adam

    • Mel says:

      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.

  15. Susan Garrett says:

    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?

    • Mel says:

      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.

  16. [...] it – they last well in the fridge and reheat easily. I’m planning to try this method of steaming and sauteeing. Having food in the fridge that can be reheated (or eaten cold!) can make the difference between [...]

  17. Ugh every single one of those veggies my fiance hates. I swear it’s like trying to feed a child. He hates everything!

    • Nia says:

      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)

  18. Dave says:

    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!

    • Mel says:

      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.

  19. […] and store in the fridge. All of these (except the spaghetti squash and sweet potatoes), get a basic Steam-Sauté treatment: Spaghetti Squash Sweet potatoes Broccoli Green beans Cabbage Bell Peppers Greens: kale, […]

  20. Jaime says:

    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?

  21. Nicky says:

    Question on the steam saute, why not just partially microwave?

    • Mel says:

      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!

  22. […] love leafy vegetables cooked using this easy steam/saute method. You can have delicious and healthy vegetables on your table in about 15 […]

  23. Erin says:

    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.

  24. Crystal says:

    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.

    • Mel says:

      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.

      • Crystal says:

        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.

  25. JJ says:

    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!

  26. Cami says:

    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!

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