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Steamed Delights

Steaming is one of the better ways to cook food especially when you want to skimp on your calorie intake. Well, the truth is that not all foods take well to steaming. But steaming as a cooking technique is used favourably all around the world. So here we can add a touch of smartness and borrow those recipes from the arena of international cuisine that do well with steaming. Incorporating the list into our repertoire will come in handy especially when you want to enjoy steamed food for a meal. The other cooking techniques such as frying, sautéing, grilling, baking, tandoor add their own flavour and touch of finality to the food. There are certain techniques that are typical to a particular cuisine. Like stir-frying is the basic technique in Chinese cooking. Bhunna, or sautéing, will be often seen in Moghlai recipes whereas grilling and baking in a number of continental preparations. 

What we would like to understand better is the technique of steaming. It is definitely a very healthy way to prepare foods. Steamed foods retain nutrients, flavour, colour and texture and can be prepared without butter, oil or salt. Steamed foods are naturally moist and tender. In fact, all foods can be steamed successfully. Vegetables, fish, poultry, rice, eggs and fruits are all steamed with good results. Steamed foods are definitely lower in calories and fat than the same food either stir-fried or grilled because not all techniques are successful without the use of a fatty medium for cooking. Hence, steamed foods are a boon for those on a restricted diet.

One important thing to remember is that steam is hot. Whenever you place the steamer on the heat or counter top always remove the cover slowly and away from you. In India idlis and dhoklas are very popular steamed snacks so much so that there are special cookers available for these. Electric cookers that cook excellent rice are available too but they are still to catch on. Also remember that each time the lid is removed, all the steam rises and is replaced with cold air. It takes a moment to re-heat this air. So try not to open the lid too often. Rice cooked in an electric cooker is specially good as it is full grains cooked to flaky perfection. Electric rice cookers turn out delicious biryanis too.

Cooking times for steaming foods are approximate and experience is the best teacher. The food size (thickness and shape), the amount of food being steamed and your personal preference for doneness will determine the exact time. When steaming foods that take a long time, such as lentils, keep a check on the water level.

Some vegetables like carrots steam extremely well with dried apricots and maybe a dash of butter. Seafood too takes well to steaming. I have tried steamed pomfret with good results. As also prawns. Try out simple seafood packets that bring forth an appetizing aroma the moment they are opened. Given here are many other delicious recipes that can help you eat healthier.

Steamed delights of the world

• Around the world, the technique of steaming is used brilliantly in preparation of dimsums in China. They use a variety of sweet (like dates) and savoury fillings and make these melt in the mouth appetizers in steamers made of bamboo. These bamboo baskets lend a special flavour. In fact I use the bamboo steamers in other creative ways. One of my favourite is the Chicken Flower Dumplings.

• Some varieties of the famous Japanese sushi are also served steamed.

• The Greek preparation called dolmades is stuffed vine leaves that is served cold as a starter or warm as a main dish. It is simmered in a covered pan until tender and can take up to two hours to be cooked.

• The Tibetan momos are steamed delicacies that come with a variety of fillings. They are now becoming known throughout the world as more and more people are looking out for healthful foods.

• Mexican tamale is a traditional entree made with corn masa (cooked ground corn), rolled around selected pork, beef, chicken, or bean filler and natural spices. Tamales are hand-wrapped in authentic corn husks and steamed to perfection.

• Steamed puddings are popular in Europe almost as popular as steamed rice in India and steamed noodles in China.

Steaming - a favourite choice

As a chef I would recommend steaming as one of the methods of cooking as it is a rather healthy way of cooking food. But I would also say that experiment with this method and become more creative. If you look at the one extreme then in the earlier days the raw food diet was the healthiest! But not so any more because of the pesticide laden fruits and vegetables. In fact, steaming the food comes closer to the healthiest methods as steaming preserves the micronutrients to a great extent. Steaming means that the food never comes in contact with water and hence none of the essential nutrients get leached out. Steaming can be done without the addition of fat as a medium of cooking. Hence, those who are looking out for low fat food, then steaming is your method of cooking. 

Note down a few words -

 • Steaming is also one of the easiest ways of cooking healthy food. For me, cooking as such is an easy activity. I have always found it easy to do. In any case, what is difficult at first, with time and practice becomes easy to do later. Steaming is just one method of cooking and once you start using this method regularly in the kitchen, you will not make too much of it! It is simple to do: for me, one pan of water with a sieve on it to hold the food, and steamer is ready! We all have the pressure cooker in the kitchen, so use the vessel without the whistle. That is a good steamer for you.

• I have also been asked how does the process of steaming work on food. Steaming, like I mentioned before, does not allow food to be in direct contact with water. See water boils at 100 deg C, in the pressure cooker it is at 105 deg C but steam is at 110 deg C. Food is not bothered by the source of heat, it just needs a medium of heat and steam is so potent that it cooks without disturbing the molecular structure of the cells. Water soluble vitamins will remain intact because food is not coming in contact with water. But the more volatile nutrients do get lost in steaming. Essential flavours do remain intact when food is steamed.

• I have also been asked how I steam food exactly. Like I said before, it was a matter of a large pan with a sieve earlier for me. Of late, have started using an excellent Ballarini steamer from my Wonderchef range of cookware. It is to be used on the gas flame and has a base pot that holds the water and then a number of stackable glass bowls that are also good enough to go directly onto the table for service. 

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