When you don't have an extra pot to spare for steaming rice, vegetables and other foods, your crock-pot comes to the rescue. The small appliance's compact shape and tight lid allow for steam to build up and re-circulate inside the pot, gently cooking your food. A simple stainless steel steamer basket is an ideal partner for your crock-pot. The baskets' legs keep foods from resting in the cooking liquid, while its perforated sides allow for better steam circulation. Look for a basket with a removable center post so that you can add a covered bowl, as when you steam rice.
Set a kettle filled with about 2 cups of water on the stovetop and turn the burner to high. In addition, preheat the crock-pot to high.
Soak and drain the rice two or three times, or until the soaking water is mostly clear.
Unscrew the center post on your steamer basket and put it into the crock-pot.
Put the drained rice into a glass bowl that will fit inside the steamer basket. Cover the filled bowl with foil. Set the bowl into the steamer basket.
Pour the boiling water around the perimeter of the basket, so that the water reaches a depth of 1 to 2 inches at the bottom of the crock-pot.
Put the lid on the crock-pot, and leave it to cook for 2 hours.
Preheat the crock-pot to high, and heat about 2 cups of water to boiling in the kettle.
Wash, dry and chop the vegetables. To ensure even cooking, cut denser pieces such as root vegetables into smaller pieces, and lighter veggies like cauliflower and zucchini into larger pieces.
Put the steamer basket in the crock-pot. Set root vegetables at the bottom of the basket, and softer veggies on top of them.
Pour the boiling water around the inside perimeter of the crock-pot to a depth of 1 to 2 inches; cover the crock-pot with its lid.
Cook for at least 1 hour. Check the texture of the vegetables and cook them longer if they are crisper than you prefer.
To steam tamales in a crock-pot, you don't need additional water. Instead, soak the cornhusks that encase the tamale dough. After you've spread the dough over the moist cornhusk and put on the filling, wrap it up tightly and place it at the bottom of the crock-pot. Repeat with the rest of your tamales, then cook them on high, covered, for at least 4 hours. The moisture from the cornhusks will create the ideal steaming environment to cook the tamales.
Crock-pots can also be used for traditionally steamed sweets, such as Christmas pudding or Boston brown bread. After putting the dough into a buttered bowl or pudding mold, cover it securely with aluminum foil and set it on a rack or in a steamer basket in the crock-pot. Pour at least 2 cups of boiling water into the crock-pot and cook it, covered, on high. Steamed breads will be done in about 2.5 hours, while a denser Christmas pudding does takes at least 4 hours.
Use caution when lifting the lid off the crock-pot, because the steam can burn skin with which it comes into close contact.
With a focus on food, nutrition, cocktails and the latest dining trends, Melissa J. has been a freelance writer for more than 15 years. Her specialties include articles for such publications as SF Chronicle and National Geographic Green Living, as well as blog posts for the hospitality industry. Her previous positions include newspaper staff reporter and communications specialist for a nonprofit agency.