Dream steam: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for steamed carrots, wontons and prawns (2024)

Cooking is essentially the transformation of a raw food into something different. More often than not, this is brought about by the application of heat in one of three ways: conduction, convection or radiation. If that sounds a bit like a chemistry lesson, bear with me: you carry out this same experiment every time you put a pan of water on the stove (radiation and convection from the gas flame) to boil an egg (conduction through the pan and convection in the water).

Where this gets interesting for me is that those three ways of applying heat have led to the creation of all sorts of cooking techniques, which open up all kinds of options for the cook: a chicken breast or a carrot baton, say, can be fried, deep-fried, boiled, braised, cooked sous-vide, grilled, roasted or steamed.

Not all cooking methods are born equal, though, and more often than not I go for high-impact, high-temperature methods such as grilling or frying, because they give a pleasing contrast between a caramelised, often crisp exterior and a milder, softer (or harder, depending on what you’re cooking and for how long) inside. But there are occasions that call for a more measured approach, and this is where steaming comes into its own. Since steam doesn’t go above 100C, it’s especially useful when you want a delicate result. Steaming is a very gentle way to cook, with none of the agitation involved in, say, rapid boiling or frying. It has other advantages over boiling: the food has no direct contact with the water, so its water-soluble vitamins and colour won’t leach out.

There are all sorts of steaming gadgets available to buy these days, but I’ve never felt the need for anything more than a simple, and cheap, steaming basket or colander. That said, fish can also be steamed in a saucepan with a little liquid (much as mussels are often cooked, letting them steam in the juices released when they open) or in the oven en papillote, which involves sealing it in parchment paper or tin foil and baking; the steam generated inside the package will cook the fish.

Carrot salad with yoghurt, cinnamon and herbs

If you can’t get long, thin baby carrots, just use regular carrots and cut them in half lengthways, or into quarters, or even into sixths. Serves four.

1kg long, thin baby carrots, scrubbed, tops trimmed to 3cm (or larger carrots cut into long, 1-1.5cm-thick batons)
3 tbsp olive oil
1½ tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
⅛ tsp cinnamon
Salt and black pepper
120g Greek yoghurt
60g creme fraiche
5g dill, roughly chopped
10g coriander, roughly chopped
1 tsp dried mint
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon

Put the carrots in a steamer and cook for 10-15 minutes, until just cooked but still with some bite. While the carrots are cooking, in a large bowl whisk the oil, vinegar, honey, garlic, cinnamon, half a teaspoon of salt and lots of pepper. Add the carrots the moment they’re cooked, stir to coat and set aside.

When you’re ready to eat, mix the yoghurt, creme fraiche and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, add to the carrot bowl with the fresh herbs, dried mint and lemon zest, stir gently and serve.

Cauliflower, cabbage and peanut wontons

The wontons are steamed here, but they can also be deep-fried. Makes 60 wontons, to serve four to six.

2 tbsp groundnut oil
50g whole peanuts, skin on
1 large shallot, peeled and finely chopped
5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 sticks lemongrass, trimmed and finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small sweetheart cabbage, trimmed and finely shredded (300g net weight)
½ small cauliflower, leaves trimmed, roughly grated (220g net weight)
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
¼ tsp caster sugar
20g picked coriander, roughly chopped
60 7cm square wonton wrappers (about 300g-worth)

For the dipping sauce
2½ tbsp soy sauce
1¼ tbsp rice vinegar
2½ tbsp mirin

Mix the dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Pour the oil into a large saute pan on a medium heat. Once hot, add the peanuts and fry gently for four to five minutes, until golden-brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the nuts from the oil and, once cool, roughly chop.

Increase the heat under the pan to medium-high and add the shallot, ginger, lemongrass, chilli and garlic. Fry for five to six minutes, stirring a few times, until golden-brown and soft. Add the cabbage, cauliflower, soy, vinegar, sesame oil and sugar, and cook for six minutes longer, stirring often, until the vegetables have wilted, are cooked through and the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat, stir through the coriander and peanuts and set aside.

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Put three or four wonton wrappers on a work surface and brush the edges with water. Put a teaspoon of the veg mix in the centre of each wonton wrapper, then fold in one corner to its opposite corner, to create a triangle. Keeping the longest edge of the triangle closest to you, brush the tips of the right and left corners with water, then carefully press these together, to form a tortellini shape. Put the filled wontons on a parchment-lined baking tray and cover loosely with a damp tea towel, so they do not dry out while you fill the rest of the wonton wrappers.

Fill a large steamer with about 300ml water and put on a high heat. Once the water starts to boil, put the wontons in a single layer in the steamer (the number you can steam at a time will therefore depend on the size of your steamer). Steam for three to four minutes, until the pastry is cooked through. Carefully lift out the wontons with a palette knife and keep warm while you steam the remaining wontons. Serve at once with the dipping sauce.

Steamed prawns with slow-roast tomato mayonnaise

Dream steam: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for steamed carrots, wontons and prawns (1)

You’ll end up with twice as much mayonnaise as you need for this dish, but it’s really not worth making in smaller quantities: keep the leftovers in the fridge to use with cold meat, fish or veg; it will keep for up to three days. Serves four as a first course or two as a lunch.

2½ tsp dark muscovado sugar
2cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1½ tbsp olive oil
3 plum tomatoes, cut in half
24 raw tiger prawns, heads and shells on
1 egg yolk
1½ tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp red-wine vinegar
⅛ tsp sweet smoked paprika
⅓ tsp sweet paprika
75ml sunflower oil
10g-20g bunch fresh coriander
1 lemon, quartered or halved

Heat the oven to 140C/285F/gas mark 1. Mix the sugar, ginger, garlic, olive oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt in a bowl. Add the tomatoes, gently toss, then lay cut side up on a small, parchment-lined baking tray. Roast for two hours, turning every half-hour or so, until caramelised and starting to dry out, then set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, bring a steamer pot to a boil and put in half the prawns. Steam for three to five minutes, until just cooked, then remove and repeat with the other prawns. Once the cooked prawns are almost cool, cover and refrigerate.

Transfer the tomatoes (remove and discard any burnt bits) to the small bowl of a food processor and add the egg yolk, mustard, vinegar, both paprikas and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Blitz until smooth, then, with the motor still running, slowly pour in the sunflower oil and process until the mixture takes on a mayonnaise consistency.

Arrange the prawns on a platter or a large, shallow bowl. Garnish with the coriander and lemon wedges, and serve with the sauce alongside. A large bowl of warm, lemony water on the table will help minimise the mess involved in peeling and dipping.

Dream steam: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for steamed carrots, wontons and prawns (2024)


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