The Magic of Cooking With Steam

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By Tejal Rao

Sometimes, when I’m not feeling well, I want Yewande Komolafe’s brothy Thai curry with silken tofu and herbs, or Hetty McKinnon’s curry udon or Lara Lee’s smashed tempeh with homemade sambal. But earlier this week, I found myself craving a hot Japanese sweet potato with plenty of butter on top.

I set it on a rack inside a Dutch oven with a couple of inches of water at the bottom — my makeshift steamer — and let it go quietly for half an hour or so. By then, the skin had loosened a little, easily slipping away from the yellow flesh, which was tender all the way through. I split it in half while it was still hot and heaped on butter, flaky salt and furikake. I highly recommend it.

Cooking with steam is easy and way more compelling than it sounds. It can transform a vegetable with constant, gentle heat, softening without withering. If I’d had broccoli, I might have made David Tanis’s steamed broccoli with butter and bread crumbs. And if I’d had eggplant, I definitely would have turned to Hetty McKinnon’s beautiful liang ban qie zi — the recipe that taught me to appreciate steaming in the first place. I never expected to warm up to the technique, but cooking is like that, full of surprises.

For example, I didn’t know that I should always check the ingredients on canned beans until I read Melissa Clark’s recent column about rosemary white beans with frizzled onions and tomato. Beans canned with salt tend to taste better. (Did you know? Did everyone?) The next time I buy canned beans, that little snippet of information will guide me.

Finally, a bit of news: I am stepping away from The Veggie to focus on my other work at The Times. But this newsletter isn’t going anywhere. It’s built on the collective work of recipe developers, testers, photographers, food stylists and editors. One of those editors is the brilliant Tanya Sichynsky, who has been The Veggie’s editor from Day 1 and will take over writing this newsletter next week.

It’s hard to leave, but I know you’ll be in great hands! If you’d like to stay in touch, you can follow me on Instagram or email me at [email protected] 💌

Curry Udon

Go to the recipe.

Tempe Penyet (Smashed Tempeh With Sambal)

Go to the recipe.

Rosemary White Beans With Frizzled Onions and Tomato

Go to the recipe.

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