6 ways to spice up veggies

No doubt about it: It’s vegetables’ time to shine. In fact, according to recent Menu Monitor data from Technomic, vegetable mentions in the add-on menu category alone increased 15 percent in the last year.

But that doesn’t mean that plain old steamed broccoli or a baked potato is enough anymore—there are many exciting ways to create and serve vegetables that are healthy and deliciously craveable. In fact, many chefs are taking it on as a personal challenge to showcase the versatility, freshness and healthy nutritional profile of produce.

Vegetarian wok stir fry vegetables

Here are a few ideas for making produce shine on your menu.

Don’t be afraid to season

From chopped fresh herbs to toasted sesame seeds, spices and seasonings are a vegetable’s best friend. Other flavorings to try: spice blends such as za’atar or herbes de Provence, grated citrus peel, balsamic or sherry vinegar, lemon pepper or seasoned salt, a squeeze of fruit juice, a condiment such as mustard or horseradish or even a simple splash of wine or stock.

Bring on the heat

Nothing captures attention like bold, spicy flavors—and vegetables are a perfect vehicle for them. The best part? There are so many choices operators can take advantage of: classic hot sauce, Korean-style kimchi, Thai curry paste, Tunisian harissa, and fresh and dried chiles of all types and degrees of heat. There’s also an entire world of vegetable cookery that spotlights spicy global flavors, such as cauliflower and potato curry and Mexican street food corn with chili powder and lime.

Get saucy

There’s a reason classic steakhouses most often menu traditional sides such as asparagus with hollandaise sauce or creamed spinach. Sauces add not only flavor, but also a luxurious mouthfeel and a premium image to popular staples such as broccoli. Experiment with cheese sauce, hollandaise variations like Choron (made with tomato), pesto or a classic beurre blanc flavored with shallots and herbs. Simpler yet, dress hot, cooked vegetables with flavored butter (try roasted garlic or sundried tomato paste) which will create a tasty sauce as it melts.

Add a little umami

Umami is the magic “fifth taste” (along with salty, sweet, bitter and sour) that brings savory flavor to foods of all kinds, and many vegetable-friendly ingredients are loaded with it. These include parmesan cheese, Worcestershire and soy sauce, tomato products, anchovy, cured ham and bacon, caramelized onions and more. If something seems to be missing from a recipe, try adding an umami ingredient for extra oomph.

Up the technique

Most cooks are already familiar with the flavor-building power of roasting vegetables, but there are other ways to add that delicious flavor to veggies, including charring, searing and grilling. There’s even a trend toward “blistered” vegetables, such as shishito peppers and okra. These techniques also add distinctive texture to foods, especially softer vegetables.
Using unexpected techniques with vegetables can also make less popular produce more palatable. Sunda, a fine-dining concept in Chicago, menus a crispy Brussels sprouts salad that combines fried Brussels sprouts with red cabbage, carrots, chilies, fried shallots and a Vietnamese-inspired vinaigrette for an innovative and craveable twist.

Brine, smoke, marinate

No, not meat: vegetables. A quick brine of rice vinegar, sugar, salt and aromatics softens and flavors dense vegetables such as beets and carrots for the grill. Vegetables as varied as cabbage, potatoes and onions can be cooked in a smoker or with a handful of wood chips on the grill. And any vegetable will soak up flavor like a sponge when it’s tossed, still warm, into a marinade or dressing.
And don’t forget that customers eat with their eyes, so appearance counts. Experiment with different vegetable shapes, from whole mushroom caps to julienned carrots. Experiment with different vegetable shapes, from whole mushroom caps to julienned carrots, use beautiful garnishes and consider presenting finished recipes in unique serveware such as rustic stoneware or skillets.

This post is sponsored by TABASCO® Brand

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