How to cook vegetables

An assortment of roasted root vegetables with fresh herbs

How can you maintain nutrients when cooking vegetables?

  • Cook vegetables in the smallest amount of liquid and in the shortest amount of time to reach the desired tenderness.
  • Follow the recipe or directions for cooking the vegetables.
  • Cook most vegetables with a lid.
  • For vegetables with a skin, scrub well and cook with the skin on. If it must be peeled, peel as thinly as possible.
  • Cut pieces into uniform sizes of even cooking.
  • Cook vegetables only until crisp-tender. Overcooking destroys the texture, color and flavor.

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How to cook frozen vegetables

  • Frozen vegetables are already partially cooked, so be careful not to overcook them.
  • Fully thaw tightly packed vegetables such as spinach, kale and corn on the cob before cooking.
  • Partially thaw bigger lightly packed vegetables such as broccoli spears before cooking.
  • Do not thaw small loosely packed frozen vegetables such as peas or corn.
  • Follow package directions to cook until crisp-tender in the microwave, on the stovetop, or in the oven.

How to cook canned vegetables

  • Canned vegetables are already fully cooked, so you only need to reheat them.
  • They can be reheated in the microwave, on the stovetop, or in the oven.
  • Heat them in the canning liquid to preserve the nutrients.

How to steam vegetables

  • Group vegetables by approximate steaming time and remove each as it’s done cooking.
  • Vegetables can be steamed in a microwave or on the stovetop (with or without a steamer insert).
    • Microwave: 
      • Place the vegetables in a microwave-proof bowl. 
      • Add about 1 tablespoon of water. 
      • Cover with a microwave-safe plastic wrap or waxed paper, leaving a corner turned back to serve as a vent.
      • Microwave on high for 1 to 3 minutes. 
      • Check for doneness and continue cooking in 1-minute increments until vegetables are crisp-tender. 
      • Drain excess liquid from cooked vegetables.
    • Stovetop with a steamer insert
      • Put about 2” of water in the bottom of a saucepan. 
      • Place the steamer insert (collapsible steamer, heat-proof colander, or strainer) on the rim of the pan on its legs on the bottom of the pan. 
      • Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil. 
      • Place the vegetables on the steamer insert, and then cover and steam for about 90 seconds. 
      • Test them for doneness with a fork or sharp knife. Remember you want them to be crisp-tender. 
      • Keep steaming until they are firm but tender, checking every 30 seconds.
    • Stovetop with no insert: 
      • Put about ½” of water in the bottom of a saucepan. 
      • Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil. 
      • Add vegetables and follow the instructions described above.

How to roast vegetables

Root vegetables like potatoes, squash and carrots are excellent choices for roasting. Tender vegetables such as peppers, onions, garlic, and asparagus will roast more quickly than root vegetables, so add these vegetables to the pan for the second half of the roasting time described below.

  • Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a shallow pan with aluminum foil and set aside.
  • Prepare vegetables: wash, dry, and cut into similar-sized chunks for even cooking.
  • Place vegetables in a bowl. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and one or two other herbs or seasonings to taste. Oregano, basil, parsley, marjoram or rosemary are common choices. You may also like cayenne pepper or curry powder in place of other herbs.
  • Spread vegetables in a single layer on the prepared pan. Do not crowd vegetables as this will cause them to steam.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes. Turn the vegetables over with a spatula, spreading them out in a single layer.
  • Return to the oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes or until the edges are brown and the centers are soft.

How to bake vegetables

Vegetables such as white potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squash can be baked whole in the oven when you have enough time.

  • Potatoes: 
    • Preheat oven to 375° F. 
    • Scrub with a vegetable brush, dry with a paper towel, then pierce the skin in 3 or 4 spots with a sharp knife.
    • Bake directly on the oven rack for approximately 1 hour. 
    • Potato is done when it is tender and easily pierced with a fork.
  • Sweet potatoes
    • Follow the instructions above. 
    • Place the sweet potatoes in a pan on the oven rack to contain the juice that will bubble out. 
    • For large sweet potatoes, you may want to cut them in half to shorten the baking time.
  • Squash: 
    • Preheat oven to 350 F. 
    • Scrub and dry the squash. 
    • Cut in half and remove the seeds and stringy pulp, leaving the peel on. 
    • Place cut side down in a baking pan, and add about 1” of water to the pan. 
    • Bake until the squash is tender and easily pierced with a fork. 
    • Remove from the oven and peel skin off with a fork.