To solve this problem just in time for the holidays (when vegetable side dishes abound), we talked to two registered dietitians to get their advice on some of the best, easiest ways to add flavor to practically every kind of vegetable. You'll thank us later.
1. Sauté with garlic and oil
This is one of the easiest and best ways to add flavor to nearly every vegetable, particularly green beans. “One of my favorite ways to eat string beans is sautéed with garlic and oil. I use these crushed garlic cubes from Dorat, where it melts in the pan like butter,” says Ilyse Schapiro, RD, CDN. Not only does garlic add lots of flavor with minimal effort, but the allium is also rich in antioxidants, which imbue it with anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting benefits, Schapiro says. “Plus, using some olive oil keeps you satisfied,” she adds.
First, drizzle a tablespoon or two of your favorite olive oil in a pan on medium-high heat. Once heated, put the garlic cube (you can also use crushed or minced garlic) in the pan, then add your vegetables and sauté for a few minutes until cooked. “I like to keep them firm vs mushy,” Schapiro says, which helps maintain the texture.
2. Roast them in the oven
The second easiest method for making vegetables that taste good: roasting in the oven. Over time, the high heat brings out their natural sweetness and can actually crisp and caramelize your produce. This is due to the “Maillard Reaction,” which occurs between amino acids and the sugars in a given food when heated that completely transforms both aroma and flavor. When someone compliments you on your roasted vegetable platter, make sure to send out a silent thank you to Louis-Camille Maillard, who first described the reaction in 1912.
Almost any vegetable can be roasted, but broccoli is a great place to start, Schapiro says. “To roast broccoli, I first spray it with olive oil, and then I season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I roast on 425 for at least 20 mins mixing the broccoli after 10 mins,” she says. Roasting the broccoli gives it great flavor and broiling it a little at the end makes it crispy.
3. Pop them in the air fryer
Want the perks of roasting but in half the time? The air fryer is your friend—particularly when it comes to gut-healthy cauliflower. “My new favorite thing is the air fryer, since it’s so easy and not messy! I season with salt and pepper, lightly coat with olive oil, and put in the air fryer for 20 minutes,” says Schapiro. The cauliflower comes out flavorful and crispy, where it seems “fried,” but it’s lower in saturated fat than from typical frying techniques.
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4. Add zest to asparagus
Make your already-great roasted vegetables sing even more by adding some citrus zest and juice before serving. This technique is great for asparagus in particular, Schapiro says. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, drizzle the asparagus with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper, bake for 8-10 minutes. Then toss with some pressed garlic, squeezed lemon juice, lemon zest, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
5. Pair with eggs
Adding veggies to your favorite egg dishes to make those bright peppers and green veggies pop while also getting in a great dose of protein for satiety and cognition. “Any vegetable tastes good in an omelet, frittata, or quiche! Plus the fat found in the egg yolk increases your absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins—A, D, E, and K—in the veggies,” says Maggie Michalczyk, RD.
6. Use them as a vehicle for dip
It’s a classic crudité combo for a reason. “Think hummus, guacamole, greek yogurt, salsa or tzatziki! You'll be more into the dip to even notice that you're eating all those veggies,” says Michalczyk. If you want to really go the extra mile, try making your own dip—we love this stress-busting vegetable dip and this healthy French onion dip.
This veggie-packed beet hummus is another dip that goes with everything:
7. Experiment with spices
Salt and pepper are great...but your veggies (and tastebuds) deserve so much more, don’t you think? Level up your roasted or sautéd vegetables by adding your favorite seasonings or spice blends—harissa powder, red pepper flakes, or herbes de Provence are also flavorful options to consider.
You can also play with how you approach flavor profiles, too. If you normally add sweet flavors to certain root vegetables, for example, try going savory instead to change things up. “Think paprika, cayenne powder and chili powder to add some heat and spice to things like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and carrots,” suggests Michalczyk.
8. When in doubt...add cheese
Adding some feta, goat cheese, or Parmesan is a nearly fool-proof way to make literally anything taste great. It is especially great on Brussels sprouts and broccoli, for example. “If you're dairy-free, try nutritional yeast which gives a nice nutty cheesy flavor plus more B vitamins,” says Michalczyk.
This story was originally published on November 11, 2019, with reporting by Kells McPhillips. It was updated on November 20, 2020.
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