A vegetable steamer is a device that allows raw vegetables to cook by using the steam that is created when water is boiled. It's essentially made up of two compartments: one holds the water, and one above it holds the raw vegetables. A heating element is used to bring the water to a boil. As the steam from the water rises, it slowly cooks the vegetables without robbing them of the vitamins and nutrients that placing the food in boiling water would remove.
Steamers for vegetables come in several different designs. Some are shaped like pots, with a colander like insert that fits into the top section. Water goes into the pot and the colander insert is loaded with the vegetable or vegetables the cook wishes to prepare. The pot is placed on a range top or heating element, gradually allowing the water to heat and steam the food.
Other models come with their own built-in heating element. These electric steamers are great to use, as a cook can simply plug the steamer into an outlet and set the timer. When the vegetables are done, the steamer rings a bell and shuts itself off. The vegetables are loaded with flavor and steamed to perfection, with no guesswork involved.
Many manufacturers include recipe books with their products. These easy to follow guides can help people who are new to the steaming process learn how to prepare the vegetables for steaming. Cooks can learn such helpful tips as when to add firm vegetables to the mix and when to add those that will cook much faster, as well as some great ideas for vegetable combinations that they may not have considered.
Of course, cooks can always fashion their own vegetable steamer from pots and pans found around the kitchen. A large pot that has a matching lid can be paired with a footed metal colander. The colander needs to fit down into the pot easily, but still leave enough room at the bottom for water, without allowing the water to touch the vegetables. Once the steamer is assembled, the cook can pour in the water, place the colander in the pot, and arrange the vegetables in the colander. For faster cooking, a lid can be used to allow the steam to circulate through the pot without much escaping, allowing for the vegetables to receive more of the moist heat.