This Chinese steamed vegetables recipe is a simple, healthy side dish of bright green Asian vegetables. They’re steamed super fast and dressed with a simple sauce of garlic and either soy sauce or oyster sauce.
It’s a great alternative to a vegetable stir-fry, and easier to make. The nutritious steamed vegetables are most often served with a Chinese stir fry and a bowl of white rice. It makes a balanced, complete meal that’s a great way to get your Chinese food fix without resorting to takeout.
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What kind of vegetables to use for Chinese steamed vegetables
A Chinese steamed vegetables recipe can be done using almost any leafy greens. The most common vegetables I see used when I order them at a Chinese restaurant are Chinese broccoli (gai lan), choy sum or baby bok choy. But many other steamed veggies can have the same treatment applied.
I love this dish done with snow peas or sugar snap peas, broccoli, green beans or water chestnuts (those aren’t green, but they fit in texture-wise).
Just pick your favorite types of vegetables, as long as they’ll steam relatively fast. For today’s photos I used Chinese broccoli, which are my favorite vegetables when it comes to Asian greens.
Simple garlic and soy is mostly how I dress my greens. You can go all fancy (ha) by adding sesame oil, sesame seeds, fresh ginger and other Asian-style sauces if you like.
There are a few tricks I’m going to share so you can turn out restaurant-worthy Chinese steamed vegetables. Whether you use a steamer basket or cook them in your steam oven, you’ll be making this side dish on repeat in no time.
Should you use a stovetop steamer or steam oven for your Chinese steamed vegetables recipe?
There’s no one right way to cook this dish. If you have a steam oven, use that, placing the vegetables onto a lightweight stainless steel pan to cook.
Otherwise, use a pot or a wok with 1 inch water in the base and place steamer basket (bamboo or metal) on top to hold the vegetables. That little bit of water will produce ample steam when heated up, and it’s how this dish is traditionally cooked.
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Top tips for the best Chinese steamed vegetables
The first thing I want you to do is wash those vegetables. Really well. I know I’m stating the obvious and I don’t need to tell you that, right? But I am anyway. More than once I’ve thought a cursory run under the tap would be enough for a bunch of leafy greens, and it wasn’t. Sand in your vegetables is unpleasant, and I don’t want you to suffer the same fate.
Click apart the leaves and dunk them into a sink or bowl of water so every single bit of dirt gets dislodged and washed away.
Have everything prepared and ready to go before you put your vegetables in the steamer. Chop the garlic and have it in a small bowl, and get out your sauce and oil. Have serving plates warmed and a bowl or sink of cold water ready for blanching (see below). Like many Chinese dishes, this moves fast and is pretty hands-on once you start cooking. There’s not enough time to chop garlic or warm plates without having either overcooked or cold veggies when it comes time to serve.
Bundle your veg
When you’re chopping and cooking, keep the cut veg in their ‘groups’. By that I mean put the stems in one bundle and leaves in another (if you’re using leafy greens, that is). This helps if you need to steam the stems for a little longer, and it makes for lovely presentation later.
Blanch for the best color
You could absolutely steam your veggies, pop them on a plate and call it done. They’ll taste fine. But your Chinese steamed vegetables recipe won’t have that lovely vibrant green color you see when you get the dish at restaurants. For that, I want you to add one small extra step to this dish and blanch the steamed veg quickly in cold water before dressing them. You don’t have to do it for long, just swish them through a large bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process. It makes such a difference to both color and texture.
Dry your veggies (yes, really)
Perhaps it sounds like overkill, but if you put your cooked and blanched vegetables onto a kitchen towel or paper towel and pat them dry, they’ll take on the garlicky oil and whatever sauce you pour over them far better than if they’re waterlogged. I dry my greens by spreading them all out along the length of the towel, then rolling it up and gently squeezing. It’s the easiest way I’ve found to do the job quickly.
When you fry the garlic to dress your Chinese vegetables, pay close attention. Heat your oil over a medium heat rather than high heat. Although you want it hot, smoking oil is too much for this step! When you put the garlic into the pan, keep it moving and remove it from the heat to spoon over the greens as soon as it begins to color at the edges. It’ll keep browning a little further so if you cook it too long it’ll be burnt instead of golden.
If, like we often do, you have leftover steamed vegetables, you can briefly steam again to reheat a day or two later.
Otherwise, repurpose your greens into a quick Chinese vegetable stir fry. Saute thin slices of carrots, bell pepper and green onions in a wok, then toss in the greens and a handful of canned, drained bamboo shoots. Mix a little vegetable or chicken broth with a tablespoon of cornstarch and a tablespoon of hoisin sauce, and add that to the wok as you take it off the heat. The residual heat will thicken the sauce nicely to coat the vegetables. All you need is steamed rice and you’ve got a lovely meal that no-one will ever know was made with leftovers!
I hope you love this easy Chinese steamed vegetables recipe as much as I do, and that you’ll adapt the vegetables and sauce to your own tastes so it becomes a staple side dish in your house.
Happy steaming, see you here again soon.
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Chinese Steamed Vegetables (Asian Greens with Garlic)
- For stovetop steaming, prepare a steamer pot with an inch of water in the bottom and set on the stove to heat. Have a steamer basket ready. For steam oven steaming, preheat oven to Steam, 212°F/100°C, 100% humidity and have a lightweight stainless steel pan ready.
- Have a large bowl or sink full of cold water ready to plunge the vegetables into when they're cooked, so they keep their color.
- Put the vegetables in the steamer or oven until just cooked through and bright green. Softer, tender vegetables such as spinach, peas, baby bok choy or choy sum only take a minute or 2. Chinese broccoli, regular broccoli, and broccolini will take 3-4 minutes.1 bunch Chinese greens
- Once the vegetables are done, immediately drop them into cold water to stop cooking. Remove them from the water as soon as they're cooled to warm; don't wait until they're completely cold. Drain, gently squeezing out as much water as you can, then place on paper towels and pat dry. Transfer the vegetables to a warmed plate or shallow bowl for serving.
- Heat the oil in a small saucepan or frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and stir constantly until the edges of the garlic start to go golden brown. Immediately remove from heat and pour the hot garlic oil over the plated vegetables.2 Tbsp peanut oil, 3 cloves garlic
- Drizzle oyster or soy sauce on top of the vegetables and serve immediately.1 Tbsp oyster sauce
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