Basic Cooking Methods for Vegetables

Basic Cooking Methods for Vegetables

The wide range of options for cooking vegetables adds to their versatility. You can steam, boil, bake, roast, fry or cook them in a microwave.

Cooking Time

This varies according to the type, quality, texture, quantity and size of vegetable. Large quantities or big pieces and older vegetables will take longer to cook than smaller quantities or small pieces and younger vegetables.

Do not over-cook vegetables: Slightly under-cooked vegetables have better nutritional value than over-cooked ones: some vitamins and minerals are water-soluble or can be destroyed by prolonged exposure to heat. They also offer better color, texture and flavor.


Cooking by dry, radiant heat in the oven or over barbecue coals. Best for firm vegetables, such as jacket potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and butternut.

Cooking Equipment: Foil, if desired, otherwise bake whole, uncovered.

Basic Method: Preheat oven to 180C/ 350F/ Gas 4. Scrub vegetables and remove any blemishes, but do not peel. If you like crispy baked potatoes, use a fork to pierce the skins once or twice. Place on a baking sheet and bake until tender.


Using this method, vegetables are cooked for a few seconds in boiling water, or in a microwave. Blanching brightens the color and very slightly tenderizes fresh green vegetables while retaining their nutritional value and crisp texture. Blanching is also used to make peeling easier for some vegetables and fruit, for instance tomatoes and peaches.

Tip: Vegetables such as cabbage and onion may be blanched to make them less pungent, before use in salads or cooked dishes.

Traditional Methods:

Blanching vegetables for use in cooked dishes, salads or as a side dish: Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a rapid boil. Plunge in the prepared vegetables, one variety at a time, and leave for no more than 1 minute, or until color intensifies. Immediately plunge the blanched vegetables into cold water and drain.

Blanching vegetables or fruit to be peeled: Pour over enough boiling water to just cover. Leave to stand for 1 minute. Pour off water. The skins slip off easily.

Microwave Methods:

For firm vegetables (e.g. carrots, French beans, broccoli or cauliflower): Arrange the vegetables around the outer edge of a large, shallow dish. Add 1-3 tablespoons of water, depending on quantity. Loosely cover with cling film. Microwave for 1-2 minutes, depending on quantity. Remove from microwave and immediately refresh under cold, running water.

For tender vegetables (e.g. mange tout): Arrange vegetables in a dish, as described above. Add only 1 tablespoon of water. Microwave on 'High' for 30-60 seconds, depending on quantity. Immediately refresh under cold, running water.


With this method, vegetables are cooked in small quantity of rapidly boiling water. It is suitable for most vegetables.

Cooking Equipment: Saucepan large enough to take the vegetables without having to pile them too deeply on top of each other.

Basic method: Pour a small amount of water (about 2.5cm / 1 in) in to the saucepan and bring to a rapid boil. Add the prepared vegetables and return to the boil. Boil until vegetables are tender but still crisp to bite. Drain and serve as soon as possible.

Note: Swiss chard and spinach need no added water. Wash leaves thoroughly under cold, running water. Shake off excess water, do not dry. Place wet leaves, whole or torn into bite-sized pieces, in a large saucepan over high heat. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes.


Quick cooking under dry radiant heat. An excellent method for softer vegetables such as tomatoes, green or red peppers and mushrooms.

Cooking Equipment: Oven grill element, electric or gas grill or directly over barbecue coals.

Basic method: Preheat grill. Alternatively, allow barbecue flames to die down, leaving very hot, red coals. Place vegetables, whole or sliced, on a grill pan about 7cm (3 in) below the element, or on a grid 10cm (4 in) above the barbecue coals. Cook vegetables quickly.

Microwave Cooking:

This is usually a great time-saver for cooking small quantities of vegetables. Because microwaved vegetables are usually cooked with very little added liquid, they lose only minimal amounts of vitamins and minerals. The wattage of microwave ovens can vary and this can affect cooking times. Refer to your manual for appropriate instructions and cooking times.

Basic method: Wash and prepare the vegetables as described in your recipe. Place them in a single layer in a large, shallow dish. Add approximately 2 tbsp of water and cover with a lid or cling film. Cook the vegetables on 'High' for 2-5 minutes, depending on quantity and texture if in doubt, refer to your microwave manual.

General Rules for Microwaving Vegetables :

- For evenly cooked vegetables, try keeping cut pieces to a uniform size and thickness.

- When cooking whole vegetables - rotate once or twice while cooking.

- Arrange tender asparagus tips and broccoli florets towards the centre of the dish; these parts are less dense and need less cooking than the tougher stalks.

- Whole vegetables to be cooked in the skin (e.g. potatoes) should be pricked with a fork a few times. This allows steam to escape and prevents vegetables splitting or bursting.

- Microwaving saves much of the natural flavor of vegetables - salt isn't usually needed.

- Microwave vegetables must be allowed to stand for a short while after cooking. This ensures they will be tender without losing their texture.


Vegetables are cooked in the steam rising off boiling water - suitable for most vegetables.

Cooking Equipment : Use a tiered metal or bamboo steamer or a colander with raised base, placed inside a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. The water in the saucepan should not touch the contents of the colander. Using a steamer: Pour in enough water to quarter-fill the base of steamer or the saucepan over which you suspend your steamer. Bring water to the boil before placing vegetables in steamer. Add prepared vegetables and cover. Steam vegetables until tender but still crisp to bite. Serve immediately, or chill, covered, for a crisp salad.

Stir-frying and Sautéing

Vegetables are cooked over high heat on the cooker in a little oil, water, stock or tomato juice.

Cooking Equipment: Large frying pan or wok.

Basic method: Scrub vegetables and cut them up as directed in your recipe. Place the pan or wok over high heat. Add the cooking liquid: oil should be too hot to hold your hand over for more than a few seconds; other liquids should be brought to a simmer. Add the vegetables and use a spatula to lift and turn constantly until just softened. If you have a fairly large amount of vegetables, they can be cooked as above and then covered so they complete cooking in their own steam.

Roasting and Deep-Frying

Both these methods involve cooking food in fat or oil which adds significantly to your overall fat intake. These are not recommended cooking methods.

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