In my humble opinion, one of the main draws of cooking in a more plant-based direction is not only that you dial back on meat, but also that you get to amp up the in-season, market-fresh vegetables on your dinner plate. Of course, this is an easier proposition in warmer months, when not a whole lot of intervention is required of a home cook to make the corn, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, cucumbers and greens sing. (I’m weeping, summer!) But this time of year? Well, there’s only so many nights in a row of boring broccoli roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper I can handle. In case anyone else finds themselves in the same predicament, here are five ways to upgrade your colder-weather roasted vegetables…
1. MAKE YOUR BED
For a while now — and not just in the winter — I’ve been into plating roasted vegetables on a swirly “bed” of something creamy, whether it’s an herby yogurt, hummus, guacamole, or even puréed artichokes (above), a recipe I picked up from plant wizard Amy Chaplin. I love the contrast between the roast-y char of the vegetables and the cool creaminess of the sauce.
Artichoke Sauce: While your vegetables roast, add one 14-ounce can drained artichoke hearts (quartered, whole, any kind) to a blender or food processor with 1/3 cup olive oil, 2 or 3 trimmed scallions, juice from one lemon half, salt, pepper, and a few tablespoons of water. Process until smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the blender, and adding more water until it reaches desired consistency. (Chaplin uses her sauce more as a salad dressing, so she thins it out with water, up to 6 more tablespoons; for this dish, though, I like the consistency to be creamy-hummus-ish.)
Works with: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, beets, mushrooms
2. USE MISO
Let’s talk about what happens before your vegetables go into the oven. Kay Chun, a recipe developer for NYT Cooking, makes a batch of miso compound butter, then tosses that with her produce. “It’s a quick, easy way to elevate and intensify vegetables using pantry ingredients. The miso caramelizes during roasting, adding depth and salty-sweet notes.”
Miso Compound Butter: Combine white miso, butter (room temperature makes it easier), grated garlic, grated ginger, chopped scallions (or chives), salt and pepper. Start with a 3:1 ratio of butter to miso, then adjust according to how strong you like the miso flavor to be. You can dollop it over the vegetables, then let it warm up in the oven and give it all a stir once the butter melts or you can whisk it it with a little neutral oil – not olive oil, it will fight the miso – just until the mixture is spreadable and can be tossed with the veg.
Works with: Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels, carrots
3. ADD TEXTURE
Cookbook author Susan Spungen, whose next book is all about vegetables, suggests adding whole raw almonds, dried figs, and rosemary or sage to a mix of fennel, shallots or squash before you roast. “The figs kind of caramelize,” she says. “And the fruit and nuts punctuate the veggies in a way that’s really good — you end up looking for the little bites of roast-y almonds and figs as you eat.”
Fig-Almond-Herby Roast: Combine squash, fennel, shallots, rosemary leaves, almonds, figs, sage leaves, rosemary sprigs, salt, pepper, olive oil, salt and pepper, in a large bowl. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes at 425°F. Stir and toss, then continue to roast until everything is nicely caramelized, another 25 to 30 minutes.
Works with: Squash, fennel, shallots (or a mix of them)
4. SPICE THINGS UP WITH SEEDS
I am always looking for an easy way to upgrade roasted butternut squash, so I was thrilled to hear Chun’s suggestion. “Squash can sometimes be one note in texture: soft soft soft!” she says. So, she tops hers with a spicy mix of roasted seeds.
Spicy Seed Topping: Sweat minced shallots in neutral oil in a skillet set over medium heat and cook until deep golden. Stir in the seeds (roasted pepitas, sunflower or sesame) and season with salt and pepper.
Works with: butternut squash, delicata squash, carrots
5. DRIZZLE WITH TAHINI
“Well, this is what I’ve been eating every meal: Brussels sprouts or sweet potatoes topped with spicy tahini,” says To Asia With Love author Hetty McKinnon. She starts with basic tahini dressing, then every couple of nights, adds a spoonful of a condiment to the dressing to change it up. “Sometimes I’ll accent the tahini with preserved lemon paste or roasted garlic achaar,” she says. “The other night, I added some zhoug [a spicy Yemini green sauce, which you can find at Trader Joe’s] and it was mind-blowing!”
Basic Tahini Dressing: Whisk together tahini and a little water (about 2 tablespoons water for every 1/4 cup tahini), a pressed garlic clove, the juice from about half a lemon, and salt to taste. It might seize (stiffen) a bit, but just keep whisking until it relaxes, adding more water to reach desired consistency.
Works with: Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, butternut squash
What are your favorite ways to upgrade roasted vegetables? Please share…
(Beets photo by Christine Han for The Weekday Vegetarians.)