14 Ways To Upgrade Your Steamed Vegetables

Once you've mastered the trick to getting perfectly steamed veggies, it's time to check out how to elevate the flavor. Steamed veg has a delicate, clean-food essence to it that makes this side appealing with a light piece of grilled cod as much as with a hearty grilled steak au poivre. However, it can sometimes taste a little bland and lack any side dish star appeal. Let's face it, steamed vegetables hardly have the same taste appeal as a lot of other veggie sides. 

If you want your steamed veggies to stand out just as much as your main course all you need are a few great ideas. Add extra ingredients when you steam vegetables or use different techniques to seal in the flavor and the moisture. Whether you have a steamer or not isn't the issue. To elevate your culinary know-how, here are a few appetizing ways to upgrade your steamed vegetables. 

1. Use fresh herbs

Give steamed veggies an aromatic boost with fresh herbs. Choose bold rosemary, tarragon, or sage or the fresh essence of parsley or thyme. You can sprinkle chopped herbs on veggies once you serve them or toss them in an herby mix while they are hot to extract the herbal notes. Another great way to upgrade the flavor is by adding them when they are steaming. There are several ways you can do this. Add fresh herbs to the water in your steamer and keep it bubbling away on a low setting so that the herby steam permeates the veg. 

You can also marinate veggies in herbs, with oil or butter, before steaming. For a more intense flavor, try steaming the veggies in a suitable steam-proof bag along with herbs. Try mixing and matching herbs to create different notes from earthy and woodsy to citrusy and aniseedy. Another option is to add sprigs of herbs with the veggies in the steamer basket. Other great herbs to use are oregano and marjoram. Steam vegetables with herbs and lemon slices, adding these to the water before you heat it. As it boils, the aromas are already filling the pan by the time you add veggies. Try this with whatever vegetables you like. Herbs and lemon pair well with green beans and asparagus. 

2. Flavor with garlic

Do you know why butter always tastes better when eating at a restaurant? One of the reasons is that compound butter is added to hot food. To make this, you beat ingredients into softened butter and then harden in the fridge in a log shape. You can then slice off pieces of savory butter and let them melt into a delicious dish. Try adding garlic, or even a garlic and herb, compound butter to a bowl of steaming veggies. The glistening butter gives the veg a velvety, oily, garlicky coating that makes every bite so much tastier. Roast the garlic and mix in fresh herbs for an intensely amazing taste.

You can also sauté chopped garlic in butter and pour this over steamed veggies before serving. Add a squirt of lemon zest and a few fresh herbs to elevate the flavor. This is one of the easiest ways to upgrade your steamed veggies using garlic. Another way is to add garlic to the steaming water so that the aromas are released as it boils. For a more intense taste, coat the veggies with minced garlic before steaming in the water. There will be no mistaking the flavor, so make sure you pair with the right veggies. Chinese cabbage is a great choice. 

3. Spice up with harissa

Steam veggies perfectly and they'll be soft with a little bite. The texture is amazing, but they aren't always as big on flavor. A steamed carrot isn't quite as intense tasting as a caramelized roasted one. With this in mind, one of the punchiest ways to upgrade your steamed vegetables is by giving them a spicy lift. And the perfect ingredient to do this with is harissa. The garlic and chili condiment gives food a smoky, sometimes sweet and spicy, quality. In other words, it's the ideal accompaniment to steamed veggies. 

Steam vegetables and then coat them with the paste once they're ready. Serve with chopped herbs to finish. If you're looking for an idea, what about carrot batons with harissa and fresh mint? Talk about a taste-changer. Add harissa to melted butter to create a delicious dip. Serve on the side with steamed artichoke. As well as dipping the leaves into the spicy butter, add some of it to the heart of the vegetable after removing the choke in the middle. For a creamier dip, mix harissa with yogurt and accentuate the sweetness of the heat by adding a little curry powder. This is wonderful served with veggies that are robust enough to be dipped such as steamed broccoli florets and cauliflower.

4. Add an acidic drizzle

From sauces to salads, adding a citrus spritz to dishes instantly enhances flavor. Steamed veggies are the same, and a little acidic drizzle wakes up the flavor no end. Use lemon juice, along with herbs and seasonings. You can also use balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Again, add this when the veggies are cooked. Wine vinegar is another choice, and for a punchy blast, what about citrus-tasting sumac? Make a vinaigrette with lemon juice and olive oil, and add salt, minced garlic, and dried herbs. Coat steamed veggies with this to brighten up the taste in the same way as a dressing does with a salad. 

A vinaigrette alternative is to use olive oil, Dijon mustard, and balsamic vinegar. Add minced garlic and fresh mint for a zesty, fresh-tasting result. Before tossing steamed veggies in the homemade dressing, coat them with butter and let it melt first. Imagine how amazing this tastes with green veggies. Nothing is stopping you from squirting fresh lemon onto vegetables before steaming them, either. Instead of drizzling, what about creating a dip for steamed eggplant, okra, and other veggies with apple cider vinegar? Add red onion, garlic, amino acids, and green onion to the vinegar along with cayenne pepper, black pepper, and turmeric. 

5. Infuse ginger into the veggies

Have you ever sipped on hot water infused with slices of fresh ginger? It's warming and slightly spicy, making it a well-known pick-me-up for when you're feeling a little run down. It's also a great ingredient to pick up the flavor of steamed veg, and it pairs deliciously with pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and squashes such as butternut squash. Add ginger slices to the steamer basket and place your vegetables over the top. The steam will pass through the ginger and infuse the vegetables. If you add lemon juice to the water and zest to the veggies, this will complement the ginger as the two are a natural flavor pairing. 

Or sauté ginger in olive oil, after peeling and chopping, and pour over the vegetables once ready to serve. Just as a vinaigrette is ideal for giving veg a citrus profile, it's ideal for creating a gingery taste that's well-distributed. Use rice wine vinegar and olive oil as a base and add minced ginger. You don't want to be biting into big pieces of ginger with this delicately steamed side. Elevate the flavor of the ginger with garlic that's also finely minced, chili flakes, and Chinese five spice. 

6. Steam with extra virgin olive oil or add it later

Extra virgin olive oil is such a spectacular ingredient. It gives salad a whole new culinary meaning and you can use it in a few ways to upgrade your steamed vegetables magnificently. Start by coating raw vegetables, that are already chopped, in extra virgin olive oil and salt. The best way to do this is with your hands so that you can lightly massage the salty oil into every surface area. Next, they go in the steamer basket. To ensure veggies steam evenly, move them around halfway through cooking. To enhance the taste, add butter before serving so that it melts into the already glistening and seasoned veg. 

When you are sautéing garlic or ginger, be sure to use this fine extra virgin olive oil. The same goes if you're opting for steaming veggies tossed in a vinaigrette. Choose a good quality brand of oil that's good enough to eat without anything added. Simply drizzle it on top and season with salt and pepper.

7. Steam with a stock cube

Stock cubes are a must-have kitchen essential used to make stews, casseroles, soups, and sauces. A vegetable stock cube brings a salty, savory taste to veggie dishes. You can use them to improve steamed veggies. You could add a stock cube to the water you are using to steam vegetables with. However, this isn't going to bring much flavor. What you might want to do is add a little of this broth to the vegetables once you are set to serve them. 

Consider adding other ingredients to the stock, such as lemon, garlic, chili, and seasonings. Once you've finished steaming, maybe you can use this stock to make a tasty veggie broth. An alternative way to steam, and use stock, is to add bell peppers and onion to a pan with melted butter on the stove. After a couple of minutes, add the veggies that you want to steam. Pour on a little stock and cover with a lid. Add enough liquid to create steam rather than boil the veggies. Mixed with seasonings, the stock gives the dish a boost. 

8. Upgrade with soy sauce

Salty and savory, soy sauce is delicious with steamed veggies such as Asian bok choi and mushrooms. You might want to use a bamboo steamer with parchment paper so that soy doesn't leak through and serve this umami-rich side in the basket. For an immediate flavor hit, mix soy sauce with olive oil and Dijon mustard. Pour this over steamed veggies, making sure to coat them fully for a terrific tangy taste. 

Another option is to steam veggies in Asian-style baskets and serve with a sweet soy sauce. You might want to choose Asian vegetables, too, if you're serving these with other culinary delights from this part of the world. Combine rice wine, sesame oil, and oyster sauce with sweet soy sauce. Serve on the side to dip the veggies in or drizzle over the top before serving. If you're steaming veggies in a pan on the stove with stock, then add soy sauce to the stock to enhance the flavor even more. You might want to use a low-sodium stock or soy sauce to avoid saltiness overpowering the vegetables. 

9. Make them cheesy

One of the most mouthwatering ways to upgrade your steamed vegetables is by making them cheesy. It's also super easy. Steam vegetables then add them to a tray in a single layer. Shred cheese on top and pop the veggies under the broiler to create a melted, golden-brown topping. Choose your cheese well, so that it gives the side a rich, creamy, robust rather than mild flavor. If you want to leave out any broiling, then finely grated Parmesan on top of a serving of steamed vegetables will melt immediately. Add a little cilantro for a pop of color and taste, or another herb if you think it tastes like soap. Tossing veg in a buttery nutmeg glaze before serving and adding the cheese is wonderful, too. 

If you've decided to dress steamed vegetables up with a lemon, garlic, and olive oil dressing, then what about adding cheese? Crumbly bits of feta add a creamy, tangy, saltiness that complements the vinaigrette and transforms this veggie side. What about steaming deseeded bell peppers before stuffing them with spinach, feta, and Parmesan filling with breadcrumbs? Once stuffed, bake the steamed peppers in the oven.

10. Steam-sauté veggies

If you don't have a dedicated steamer, then you may use a steamer basket over a pan of boiling water. These baskets come in various styles such as foldable and bamboo. Another technique for steaming though is to steam-sauté veggies in a skillet. What's important is that whatever type of pan you use that it has a lid. Sautéed mushrooms are delicious, but steaming vegetables with a little liquid touching them works amazingly well, too. Add stock, butter, and olive oil to the pan, season, and steam. 

 Sauté onions, garlic, bell peppers, and carrots in a hot pan with fresh thyme. Sprinkle in spicy seasonings and cover with a layer of shredded white cabbage. Cover the pan with a lid so that it steam-cooks. Once tender, combine the sautéed veggies and steamed cabbage. Add a little coconut milk, more thyme, and a chili pepper. Put the lid back on and continue to steam. This is an awesome side with Jamaican jerk chicken or crispy fried chicken

11. Oven-steam veggies with extra ingredients

If you've got a steam oven, then you can set it to combination steam and cook veggies this way. You can do this instead of roasting or steaming them. Some ovens also have a setting to adjust the amount of humidity. You might want to use this technique if you've got more than veggies in the pan, such as halloumi cheese, which isn't going to brown in a steamer. 

Another oven-steam method involves making a parcel for the vegetables out of foil or parchment paper. Preheat the oven before adding the vegetables and ensure that the package is sealed properly otherwise the steam will escape. Add a little water in with the veg and place the bundle onto a baking tray. If you don't have any foil or parchment paper, you can oven-steam vegetables in a baking tray. To stop them from roasting, add water to the tray to create a steam environment. An easy way to create a packet is to lay out foil in a baking tray and grease it with butter, leaving an untouched border, before adding the vegetables and cubes of butter. Lay another sheet of foil over the top, and seal all around the rectangle before baking. 

12. Flavor with tahini

Tahini is made from roasted sesame seeds and oil. A lot of people know it as an ingredient to add to chickpeas to make hummus. But did you know, it's also great to use to upgrade steamed vegetables? Turn it into an umami dipping sauce for steamed veggies. Thin out the tahini with a little water and enhance the flavor by adding white miso, fresh parsley, and lemon juice. Sprinkle in toasted sesame seeds or some other crunchy nut or seed. 

You can also turn tahini into a sauce, which makes steamed veg tastier to those who find them a bit boring. You'll need tahini and lemon juice again, but this time add olive oil, tamari, and maple syrup for a sweet and salty, citrusy sesame seed topping. Give steamed vegetables a creamy taste by mixing tahini with Greek yogurt. The two pair well, and tahini is a common ingredient in Greek dishes. Add garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice, plus fresh herbs such as parsley. To lift the taste, add a few red pepper flakes. 

13. Spoon parsley sauce on top

If you want a special steamed vegetable side then look no further than steamed asparagus. The tips almost melt in the mouth. To make the al dente spears taste even better, you could try them with a creamy parsley sauce. Parsley is used in plenty of steamed vegetable recipes. The mild, herbaceous flavor enhances veg, especially with a squeeze of lemon juice. Making it more of a feature with a sauce is transformative for steamed veggies. Make a roux and add milk so that you've got a white sauce. Season and add chopped parsley, stirring as it heats, before pouring over steamed asparagus. 

You can also customize the sauce with other ingredients. Add cream for a richer sauce or English mustard for a hit of tangy heat. You can also add lemon since it goes so well with parsley and steamed veg. For a smooth sauce, finely chop the parsley and use the leaves rather than the stalks. Add the chopped herb when the white sauce has thickened. What about adding grated Parmesan cheese to parsley sauce for cheesy, herby, creamy yumminess? If you're wondering what main course to serve the side with, then baked ham is a superb choice. Take inspiration from the United Kingdom, where it's traditional to serve parsley sauce with sliced ham or a piece of cod. 

14. Serve with a dipping sauce

In Thailand, it's a culinary tradition to serve dark leafy steamed greens and raw veggies with fermented shrimp dip. The contrast between the bitterness of the vegetable and the salty intensity is what elevates the dish. However, if you're not sold on a fishy dip, then there are plenty of others to pair with whatever medley of steamed veg you choose. If you like Asian flavors, then serve veggies with rojak, a sweet and spicy fruit and vegetable salad dip. Decide whether you want a mustardy, creamy, or acidic dip. 

What about a peanut sauce? Mix peanut butter with coconut milk, add soy sauce, lime juice, and hot sauce. You can serve this nutty, salty, spicy, and sweet dip warm with steamed veggies. You can also combine peanut butter with chili paste, miso paste, garlic, and ginger, plus soy sauce and sesame oil for an Asian-ingredient-rich dip. Or what about smoky remoulade sauce? You'll need a fair few ingredients for this but it's worth it. Whisk mayonnaise with Dijon mustard, hot sauce, and lemon juice. Add horseradish, minced garlic, and Creole seasoning, plus smoked paprika, and black pepper. Once combined, stir in chopped dill pickles. Leave the dip in the fridge for half an hour for the flavors to come together. Serve with an assortment of steamed veg. This is such a good dip that you could serve this as an appetizer.