If I ask you to imagine vegetables for a moment, what’s the first thought that comes to mind?
I remember my grandmother standing at the stove when I was a small child, always cooking or baking something. The cakes and pies she baked and set on the kitchen table were a child’s dream come true!
But then there were the vegetables.
Though what I’m about to describe is a vivid illustration of exactly what not to do to your fresh produce, don’t worry – I’ll follow this up with my top tips for flavor-boosting all steamed veggies, whether you’re serving fresh broccoli from the farmers market, or a frozen mixed blend in the dead of winter.
We would sit together and string the beans, shell the peas, and peel the carrots. They were so fresh, and so vibrantly colored!
Then something terrible happened. Grandma would put them in a big stockpot full of water with a bunch of sliced onions, and nothing else.
Afterwards, the kids would go out to play while she would watch us.
Meanwhile, the vegetables just kept on cooking.
And cooking some more.
Yikes! Let it suffice to say that, for the larger part of my childhood, I believed all vegetables resembled oniony, dull-colored, bland mush.
There had to be a better way!
Today, I love steaming vegetables – it’s a great way to keep their bite, color, taste, and fresh integrity intact. But they’re still obviously plain at this point. And for some eaters out there, that’s not always enough.
Fortunately, I’ve also found that enhancing what can sometimes be a bland dish is fun, and easy too.
Now, let’s explore how to perk up those flavors, to make each dish new and exciting!
9 Simple Ways to Make Steamed Veggies More Flavorful
1. Be Nutty
I have to say, I’m nutty about nuts!
Stovetop Spicy Toasted Nuts – Get the Recipe Now
And they will make a fun and crunchy garnish for your steamed sides. Try almonds, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, or any of your favorites.
I recommend that you go beyond serving them raw – it’s easy to add more flavor!
For a simple approach, toast them in a dry pan for just a couple of minutes. Chop them up, toss them with your veggies, and you’re ready to eat.
For something spicy and savory, make our quick and easy spicy toasted nuts on the stovetop – toss your choice of assorted nuts in hot sauce, garlic powder, cumin, and cayenne.
And for a better balance of sweet, salty, and spicy notes, there’s something extra special about our recipe for maple-spiced nuts and seeds that makes us hungry for more, bite after bite!
2. Experiment with Oils
Flavored olive oil is definitely a go-to when it comes to a quick way to punch up the flavor right before serving.
What an amazing quick fix!
Herb-Infused Olive Oil – Get the Recipe Now
Explore different store-bought infused olive oils like herbes de Provence, garlic, chili, and citrus flavors.
All of these tasty and convenient options – or maybe even a combination of a couple – will allow you to explore and experience a concentrated boost of flavor without putting in any prep work and taking time out of your busy schedule to make it from scratch.
But we’d be equally as enthused if you do want to play with crafting a homemade version! Follow our directions to make an easy herb-infused olive oil when you have some extra herbs – and a little extra time – on hand.
You can also get creative by simply switching to a different variety of base oil. Branch out from your usual extra virgin olive oil into new territory with another kind of fruit, vegetable, or seed oil.
Just a light drizzle of avocado, hazelnut, pumpkin seed, or walnut oil will add a completely new element of flavor.
3. Go Totally Herbal
I love to go into my garden, visit a farmers market, or check the produce section at the grocery store to hunt down whatever fresh and seasonal herbs I can grab!
Give them a quick rinse, dry, and chop them before tossing them into your lovely steamed dish.
It’s such a simple fix, adding an aromatic and lively essence to whatever you have prepared.
Don’t forget, roasted garlic or fresh, grated ginger will also add amazing pops of flavor.
4. Make It Zesty
Nothing perks up flavor like a hit of citrus!
Use a citrus zester to remove the peel in feathery shreds, and gently stir them into your dish.
Remember – a little zest goes a long way! Start with a 1/4 teaspoon or so in your dish, and taste test to see if you need to add more.
Lemons, limes, and oranges are all popular choices for adding bright and bold flavors.
Just be sure to thoroughly rinse the outside of the fruit before zesting to remove any dirt or food-grade protective coatings like wax.
Don’t have the right kind of tool on hand for zesting? If you’re in the market for one, check out Foodal’s guide to zesters and microplanes to review the best items on the market.
5. Say Cheese
If you wake up and think about cheese almost every day, you have yet another excuse here to incorporate your favorite dairy into your diet.
Directly before serving, finely grate some cheese – or a lot – on top of the hot vegetables.
The cheese will start to melt, and the most enticing aroma will perfume your kitchen!
You have your pick of so many cheeses to create the ultimate gooey, salty bite. Use any aged cheese you enjoy eating, such as parmesan, pecorino, manchego, gruyere, fontina, sharp cheddar, or gouda.
Are you vegan, or trying to minimize your dairy intake? We completely understand! You can also enjoy all the indulgent delights of a classic cheese sauce, but without any dairy.
Drizzle our umami-packed vegan cashew cheezy sauce over your steamed broccoli or green beans for the most satisfyingly cheesy flavor and velvety texture that’s achieved with a mix of nutritional yeast and pureed cashews.
6. Spice Things Up
Do you desire a fiery fling?
Spice things up with explosive ingredients and condiments!
These are some hot and spicy examples, but why stop there?
Scan through your own spice collection – you’re sure to discover an array of flavor-enhancing possibilities.
7. Think Pig
It all goes back to the old adage that anything’s better with bacon.
Crisp up some lardons or pancetta in a pan, or cook bacon in the oven, and crumble it atop your finished dish.
You could also serve your steamed veggies smothered in a warm homemade dressing made with bacon, honey, and mustard.
This may not be the healthiest option, but a small handful of chopped pieces will go a long way.
And there is nothing quite like crispy bacon’s savory, smoky, salty crunch!
Brussels sprouts and bacon make an excellent duo, but you’ll be pleased pairing bacon with other types of produce as well. And you could also try sauteing the vegetables instead, for additional caramelization.
8. Try Compound Butter
Adding a touch of butter, along with plenty of herbaceous flavor, provides a silky and aromatic sauce when melted into a bowlful of hot and steamy vegetables.
Fold your choice of minced fresh herbs and other flavorful ingredients like minced garlic or tomato paste into softened butter.
You can use it as is as soon as you make it for a sumptuously spreadable texture that you can drag a crisp-tender broccoli floret or asparagus spear through, or you chill the compound butter until it’s firm.
Start with our recipe for a garlic and herb compound butter, which you can then customize with your favorite additions.
Be sure to store any that’s left over after dinner in the refrigerator or freezer, for the next time you are preparing a veggie side dish.
9. Win with a Custom Combo
Here’s where it gets really fun!
Nobody said the above items need to stand all alone in your quest to add flavor and vibrancy to a steamed vegetable dish…
So mix it up a little!
Try combining spicy nuts with fresh herbs, or some gooey cheese with crispy bacon. Lemon zest and garlic make a wonderful pair. Or, how about a compound butter made with parsley and a dash of hot sauce?
Let your imagination and your taste buds guide you, and combine flavors to your heart’s content.
No More Boring Veggies Ever Again!
I hope these tips have given you the inspiration to create your own tantalizing twists on your simple side of steamed vegetables.
It’s always fun to put something on the table that you can be truly proud of, and that you as well as the whole family will be excited to eat.
There will never be another pile of mushy, oniony, flavorless vegetables for me. However, if that big, boiling pot at Grandma’s house didn’t exist, I might never have been inspired to come up with this fun list!
What are some ways that you’ve discovered to boost the taste of bland produce in your own kitchen? Please share below! I look forward to your comments.
But don’t stop there – we have many more tips and tricks to share with you to make the best versions of all kinds of recipes! The following articles are just a small offering from our collection to help you make the tastiest food in the kitchen:
- 19 Superfood Add-Ins for Power-Packed Smoothies and Juices
- 9 Essential Tips for Cooking with Wine
- 9 Types of Aromatic Mint for Garnishes and More
Photos by Nikki Cervone and Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Originally published on March 5, 2016 by Marla Tetsuka. Last updated on May 26, 2023.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.