This article has been updated from its original September 2018 version.
Knowing how to sauté vegetables is a basic and key skill we can all benefit from mastering. Whether you’re making a stir-fry, a simple sautéed veg side dish, or a component of a more complex recipe like a vegetable lasagna, being able to quickly cook up any veg on the stovetop can open up a whole new world of healthy and delicious meals.
Much like cooking perfectly fluffy grains, there are some key steps to follow when sautéing vegetables – and a few things to avoid:
Use the largest non-stick skillet you have.
More skillet surface area means more of your vegetables will make direct contact with the pan and have a better chance of caramelizing (browning). Using a non-stick skillet will ensure your vegetables will slide out easily and retain their beautiful shape.
Do not overcrowd the skillet.
If there are too many vegetables in the pan at once, they will steam and become mushy instead of browning and retaining their crunch. If you have to cook a large amount of veg at once, do it in two batches or use two skillets.
Medium or medium-high heat is best.
Turning up the heat allows vegetables to lock in their moisture and caramelize quicker, which means you won’t cook them to death. The goal with sautéed vegetables is to retain their bright color and texture.
Hold the salt.
Wait to salt your veggies until they’re just about done. Salt draws out moisture, so if you salt your veg in the beginning of cooking, they will steam in their own juices instead of browning.
Though it may seem like constantly stirring vegetables would help them cook faster, it actually does the opposite. Leaving your vegetables untouched while they’re cooking will help them brown properly. Try to only stir your vegetables once or twice while sautéing.
There are two slightly different methods for how to sauté vegetables…
The first is for softer vegetables that cook quickly and have a higher water content, such as zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, fennel, or asparagus. These can simply be cooked in a bit of oil until browned.
The second is for harder vegetables that typically take longer to cook, like broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc. These veggies benefit from a little steaming before browning.
I do this by adding a splash of water to the pan with the veggies, covering it with a lid, and letting the veg steam for a few minutes. Then I remove the lid, raise the heat to medium-high and evaporate any remaining water. Lastly, I add oil and proceed to caramelize the now-slightly-softened vegetables just like the first method.
Check out the two methods in action in the recipe card below – featuring zucchini and broccoli.
How Long Does It Take To Sauté Vegetables
The short answer: not long at all – less than 10 minutes.
The long answer: it depends on the vegetable. Greens (like spinach and kale) take 2 to 4 minutes. Heartier veg (like carrots and broccoli) can take up to 10. When sautéing, keep an eye on the skillet and use your own judgement to decide when they’re done.
How to Sauté Different Veg Together
If you want to cook two or more vegetables together, start with heartier veg first – the ones that’ll take longest to cook – and add quick-cooking ones to the skillet last.
For example, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, and cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts) should go in the pan first, using the steaming method (#2 in the recipe card below). After steaming, you can add any softer vegetables, like onions, peppers, mushrooms, and zucchini. Greens should go in last.
Spices and Seasonings
One simple way to season sautéed vegetables is with minced garlic and splash of soy sauce, added in the last 30 seconds of cooking.
Dried herbs and spices are another great way. Smoked paprika, garlic powder, ground cumin, ground coriander, and yellow curry powder are a few of my personal favorites.
Knowing how to sauté vegetables is a basic skill we can all benefit from mastering – whether you’re making a stir-fry, a simple sautéed veg side dish, or a component of a more complex recipe like lasagna.
- 1 to 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- About 4 cups of chopped vegetables
- Fine sea salt, to taste
- Optional flavorings: dried herbs/spices, garlic, ginger, fresh herbs, and/or sesame seeds
- Method #1 (for softer vegetables with a higher water content, like zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, fennel, or asparagus): In a large non-stick skillet over a medium-high flame, heat enough oil to coat the bottom of the skillet. Add the vegetables and cook untouched until they’re lightly browned on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir and continue cooking until the vegetables are lightly softened and browned all over, 2 to 3 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and stir in any optional flavorings of your choice.
- Method #2 (for harder vegetables, like broccoli, sweet potatoes, or carrots): Place your vegetables in a large non-stick skillet and add a splash of water, about 2-4 tablespoons. Place over medium heat, cover tightly with a lid, and steam until the vegetables are bright in color and just starting to soften, about 4 minutes. Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium-high, and allow any remaining water to evaporate. Then stir in a bit of oil and cook untouched until the vegetables are lightly browned on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir and continue cooking until the vegetables are browned all over, 2 to 3 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and stir in any optional flavorings of your choice.
Keywords: vegetables, side dishes, sauteed vegetables, broccoli, zucchini