What, you may ask, is a steam pot?
I first learned about this rustic yet satisfying meal through Marga, a former neighbor and self-described war-child from Southern Germany. She shared this flexible recipe as we chatted in her driveway one cold winter day last year. Marga and her husband love its simplicity, color, and health appeal and thought my family might also enjoy it as an easy weeknight meal.
We did enjoy the meal–and still do. But moreover, Marga’s willingness to pass along her recipe reminded me of how food is about so much more than eating.
As Marga described the nuances of the meal, conversation veered towards her German upbringing and how she met her husband, Charles, a native of upstate New York, while he was on a business assignment in Germany in 1968. They went on to raise two sons, who now live in New Zealand and South America with families of their own.
Though they retired to my hometown of Lancaster in 1998, she said they had absolutely no connection to the area before they made it their home. A friend merely suggested that it was a nice spot to live, and that was that. I remember Marga questioning, somewhat rhetorically, the purpose behind life’s unpredictable turns. I admired her willingness to throw caution to the wind as she embraced a new stage in life.
That’s the essence of what I love about a shared recipe. Someone’s tried-and-true family favorite is bound to taste good, but the recipe is often a gateway to so much more—to memories, stories, and getting to know someone a little bit better.
As for the steam pot, Marga calls it her emergency meal because it’s quick to prepare and the ingredients can be readily kept on hand. Almost any root vegetable may be used, making the meal easily tailored to individual tastes.
Truth be told, the first time I made this I was surprised by how much everyone enjoyed it. Since we like a little texture to our cooked vegetables, roasting is often my method of preparation. Yet the veggies in this steam pot become tender, not mushy.
Most noteworthy is that my kids quietly ate the beets I slipped onto their plates that first night. No doubt this was thanks to the “special sauce.” Beets are my favorite, not theirs!
A small amount of kielbasa goes a long way towards flavoring the meal and offering a delightfully savory aroma while cooking. If preferred, the meal can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the kielbasa and serving the cooked vegetables over quinoa, rice, couscous, or another grain of choice.
Leftovers make a light yet filling lunch, and I enjoy them cold or warm, depending on my mood—but always with a dip into the horseradish-spiked sauce. I have substituted the horseradish with sriracha sauce, and it can be used in a pinch, but horseradish is our clear favorite.
- 2 medium sweet potatoes
- 2 medium Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes
- 2 large carrots
- 2 medium to large beets
- 1 red or yellow onion, optional
- 1 small bunch of broccoli (or 1-2 broccoli crowns)
- 3/4 to 1 pound smoked kielbasa
- Options: parsnips, turnips, winter squash, green beans, Brussels sprouts, snap peas
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2-3 teaspoons horseradish (we like 3 teaspoons; start with 2 for a milder sauce or add more to taste)
Mix all of the Special Sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. The sauce may be prepared ahead and refrigerated until needed. It will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. The recipe may easily be doubled for those who like plenty of sauce.
Peel the carrots, beets and onion, if using. I like to peel the stalk of the broccoli and cook that, too, but prefer to leave the peels on the potatoes. (Marga mentioned that, for the added nutrients, she also keeps the peels on the beets and carrots.) Cut the veggies into bite-size chunks or thick slices. Cut the kielbasa link into thirds or quarters.
In a large pot with a steamer insert (see notes) and about 2 inches of water, arrange the potatoes, carrots, beets, and onion like a color palette in the steamer basket. Set the kielbasa on top. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and continue to cook on medium-high heat until the veggies are almost–but not quite–tender. The last time I prepared this, this step took 13 or 14 minutes. Remove the lid and carefully add the broccoli. Cook 5 minutes more or until the broccoli is crisp tender or cooked to your liking. Similarly, green beans should be added in the final 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness. Snaps peas require just a minute or two.
Remove the kielbasa and slice on the diagonal. Serve an assortment of vegetables on each plate along with the kielbasa slices. Drizzle some of the sauce over top or pass the sauce at the table. Optionally, place individual servings of sauce in small ramekins so everyone has his or her own portion for dipping. (In the latter case, you may wish to double the recipe.)
- In lieu of a steamer basket/insert (which can be found in the kitchen gadgets aisle of most supermarkets and at most kitchen stores), you may use a small cooling rack. Alternatively, you could rest a heatproof plate on top of 3 or 4 golf-size balls of aluminum foil, and place the vegetables on the plate. The plate should fit inside the pot with a little room around the edges so that the steam can circulate.
- Red beets will color the vegetables they touch while cooking, although I think this makes them look rather pretty. My kids, who do not care for beets, don’t mind this and actually eat a bite of two of the beets thanks to the special sauce!