How To Steam-Fry Vegetables

Side DishHow ToPaleoVegan

Steam-frying uses less oil than stir-frying, but makes a tastier side dish than basic steamed vegetables. Use any vegetable to make a quick, easy side dish for weeknight meals!

Photography Credit: Coco Morante

Need a quick side dish of vegetables to go with your meal? Try steam-frying them!

Using this method, you quickly stir-fry vegetables to develop some color, and then steam them until tender. Steam-frying uses less oil than a regular stir-fry, but the vegetables still quickly cook through.

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The veggies also pick up a little browning from the stir-fry step and some flavor from the liquid used for the steaming step, making them more exciting than plain steamed vegetables.

You can use this technique to cook just about any vegetable in the fridge, from cauliflower to green beans.

How To Steam Fry Vegetables

The most important piece of equipment for steam-frying is a medium to large skillet. Nonstick, stainless steel, or cast iron skillets are all fine, so use what you have and feel comfortable with. You’ll also need a lid for your skillet.

The size of skillet depends on how many people you’re feeding. Use a 10-inch skillet to make about 4 servings of vegetables, or a 12-inch skillet if you’re making six servings.

The steam-frying method is pretty simple: Heat a little oil in a pan, add the vegetables and a pinch of salt, then stir-fry just long enough to get a little bit of color on the veggies. After that, add a splash of liquid to the pan and quickly cover with a lid to trap the steam inside.

For the liquid, you can use water, stock, juice, wine, beer… most any liquid will do, really!.You want just enough liquid to steam the vegetables, not braise them. This means about two tablespoons of liquid for four servings (about 1 pound of vegetables) or, 3 or 4 tablespoons for six servings (about 1 1/2 pounds of vegetables).

At this point, you also can also add extra flavoring ingredients like soy sauce, fish sauce, or a squeeze of lemon.

How To Steam Fry Vegetables

The vegetables steam their way to tenderness in just a few minutes. Use a fork to spear a vegetable and check if it’s tender and cooked through. If it is, let the vegetables cook, uncovered, for another minute to let the steam evaporate.. If they’re still not done, add another tablespoon or two of liquid, close, and steam a bit longer.

Some of my favorite vegetables to steam fry are broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, bell peppers, onion, fennel, zucchini, and green beans. So they all cook at the same speed, these vegetables should be cut into bite-sized pieces for cooking. Aim for 1- to 2-inch lengths for green beans. For broccoli and cauliflower, chop or break them up into 1-inch florets.

Carrots and other hardy vegetables are also great for steam-frying. Slice them thinly (1/4 inch or so) before cooking and cook them alongside other vegetables. (FYI, asparagus is also great steam-fried, but will cook slightly more quickly than other vegetables. Best to cook asparagus separately.)

For some extra flavor once the vegetables are done cooking, add a handful of chopped herbs, a squeeze of lemon, or a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.

How To Steam-Fry Vegetables

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings

Feel free to substitute any of favorite vegetable for those in this recipe, such as broccoli, bell peppers, onion, fennel, asparagus, or zucchini. Cut into bite-sized pieces for cooking. (Note: Asparagus and other delicate vegetables will cook slightly more quickly; begin checking for doneness sooner than with other vegetables.)


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2  pound (1/2  of one medium head) cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
  • 1/2  pound green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2  pound (3 medium) carrots, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • 1/4  cup water, stock, wine, or other liquid (see Note)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)


1 Heat the oil, then add the vegetables. In a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil until it begins to shimmer.

Add the vegetables in a single layer. It's fine if the vegetables overlap, but try not to crowd the pan too much; cook in two batches if you're using a smaller skillet. Sprinkle the salt evenly over top.

How To Steam Fry Vegetables How To Steam Fry Vegetables

2 Stir-fry the vegetables until they have some light brown spots, about 5 minutes.

How To Steam Fry Vegetables

3 Add the water or other liquid and cover the skillet. Let the vegetables steam, covered, just until tender. This usually takes about 4 minutes.

How To Steam Fry Vegetables How To Steam Fry Vegetables

4 Check the vegetables. Uncover the pan and use a fork to spear a few of the vegetables and see if they're tender or still crunchy. If done, cook the vegetables, uncovered, just another minute or so to let any remaining liquid evaporate from the pan. If not done, add another tablespoon or two of liquid, cover, and steam a bit longer

How To Steam Fry Vegetables

5 Serve: When the vegetables are tender, transfer them to a serving dish. Sprinkle with parsley (optional) and serve while still warm.

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How To Steam Fry Vegetables

Coco Morante

Author of The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook and The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook. A self-taught cook and classically-trained soprano, Coco Morante writes and sings in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives with her husband and their beagle. For more recipes, visit her blog, Lefty Spoon.

More from Coco

11 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. ckc

    I have cooked like this for year’s after watching Pasquale Carpino on tv. His motto was ” Steam and sauté. And he did just about everything that way.

  2. Glory Dey (India)

    We have been using this steam fry technique in our family since ages. This is correct & healthy way of cooking. In India, we use variety of spices like turmeric, coriander, chilly, cumin etc in paste or powder form to season veggies. I use my own variations of different spices & vegetables to make variety dishes. You can use this method to prepare regular curries or broths just add more water as required! We use this to cook non-veg dishes too!

  3. Annie

    I tried this recipe last night for my family. Four kids 11 and under. They literally FOUGHT over the vegetables. My seven year old called them “Total Sugar”. They begged me to make them like this always. I used the frozen pre-cut veggies from Costco, added a little butter and salt along with the water during the steaming process. Definitely will add a little onion and garlic next time before stir-frying. Thank you for helping me mix it up a bit!

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  4. Thomas McClara

    I have been making vegetables this way for a long time. Thanks for your tips. Anotlher thing I like to do is add fresh chopped very ripe tomatoes after the stir frying and finish cooking in the tomato juice. Sometimes I add some pasta.

  5. Han

    This is essentially how Chinese traditionally cooks vegetables. One main difference is that we would brown some chopped shallot and garlic on low flame before adding the vegetables.

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