Veggies are awesome. I am forever enamored with how many flavors and textures and colors there are to play with. And the fact that the palette changes each season makes me feel like a wide-eyed kid playing nature’s version of Iron Chef.
But I can get in a rut with veggies too. I love the uber-simple Alberto’s Grilled Marinated Asparagus so much, for instance, that I make it over and over and over again. But then, that’s not very fun.
So I developed a little arsenal of ways to dress up any vegetable. Use these like shadows and highlights on your ever-changing palette of seasonal veggies to add a bit … more to something that’s already quite lovely. and by all means, mix and match at will.
- Toasted nuts – Nuts have a lot of things going for them. Their (healthy) fat adds a touch of richness, they have an incredible range of flavor, and then … there’s that crunch. I like to chop or slice them rather than using whole nuts, both because I like the texture better and because it makes a little go a looong way.
- Cheeses – Gone (I hope) are the days when vegetables had to be covered in a gooey blanket of cheese to be appealing. Fresh seasonal veggies from a CSA, farmers' market or garden are way too interesting to be covered up like that. But a tiny bit of flavorful, pungent cheese—shredded, shaved or crumbled—is a wonderful addition to almost any veggie.
- Brown butter – Try these Sautéed Radishes with Mint to see the effect brown butter has on veggies. Just a tad adds luxurious texture and deep, nutty, lip-smacking flavor.
- Vinegar – Not all flavor additions have to do with fat. Vinegar—and vinaigrettes—brightens veggies even out of the salad bowl. Try our Roasted Beet Wedges with Champagne Vinegar to see how. I also like tossing our Mustard-Shallot Vinaigrette with grilled or roasted veggies.
- Spices – Simply adding a new spice to a basic dish elevates it to a whole new level. I make roasted broccoli all the time, for instance. Then I pushed the envelope and came up with Roasted Broccoli with Garlic Chips and Spanish Paprika.
- Citrus zest – Citrus zest packs a surprisingly bright, tangy wallop. A little run of a lemon, lime or orange over a Microplane zester does wonders, especially on richer items like asparagus and potatoes.
- Soy sauce and miso paste – Both soy sauce and miso paste are umami enhancers, which means they add that voluptuous mouthfeel to the foods. This is especially helpful for vegetables which, for the most part (the big exception being mushrooms), are low on the umami scale.
- Grated aromatics – I like grating things like garlic, ginger and shallot onto veggies; I find the effect more pungent than simply sautéing them with minced or chopped aromatics. Do beware though: they can burn super-quickly. It’s best to add them in closer to the end of cooking, as I did with our Swiss Chard with Grated Garlic.
- Honey – Honey truly gilds the lily when it comes to vegetables that have an inherent sweetness to them—like carrots (try our Honey-Ginger Roasted Carrots and you’ll see what I mean). Use it, too, as a semi-sweet counterpoint to salty and sour components like soy sauce and vinegar.
There are my 10 … have any you’d like to share?