How to Steam Green Beans

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Also called string beans or haricots verts, green beans steam quickly in just a few minutes. Because steam and boiling water share the same temperature -- 212 degrees Fahrenheit -- steam cooks foods just as quickly as boiling water, but without leaching away as much color, texture or nutrients as water does. All steamers are equally effective as long as their lids fit tightly, and as long as you pay close attention to the cooking process.

How to Steam Green Beans
(Mary Plunkett/Demand Media)

Place the green beans in a shallow layer, no more than about three beans deep, so they cook evenly no matter what type of steamer you use. Steam them, without letting any water bubble up from underneath the steamer and touch the beans, for 2 to 5 minutes. Check the beans at the 2-minute point to help ensure that they don't overcook; they're done when one you've taken from the pot feels crisp, but tender when you take a bite.

Mary Plunkett/Demand Media

Small steam baskets that adjust to fit into any size pot take up little space in your kitchen. The perforated sides of baskets allow steam to reach the green beans from all directions. Be careful when you remove the lid from a pot with a basket steamer so the rising steam doesn't burn your face or hands; raise the pot lid away from your face, and use tongs to lift the beans out. Improvise your own basket by placing a cake-cooling rack on bundles of tinfoil into a large pot, a setup that raises the beans above the boiling water.

Mary Plunkett/Demand Media

Green beans will steam just as well in steamers meant for other foods, such as asparagus steamers, fish steamers or bamboo steamers meant to cook foods in separate layers. If the lid doesn't fit properly in your steamer, place a layer of tinfoil between the pot and the lid. Metal steamers are self-contained, with both a rack and a matching pot for water, while bamboo steamers sit directly in water placed in any large frying pan or wok.

Mary Plunkett/Demand Media

Season the green beans before steaming, after steaming or at both points. Before steaming, sprinkle the vegetables with salt to bring out their flavor, and add very subtle flavor by placing some gingerroot or lemon grass stalks in the boiling water. After cooking, sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper, and fresh or dried herbs that pair well with the flavor of green beans, such as basil, dill or parsley. A splash of lemon juice or vinegar gives the beans some zip without overpowering their flavor.

Mary Plunkett/Demand Media

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