If I ask you to imagine vegetables for a moment, what’s the first thought that comes to mind?
I remember my paternal 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.
And then there were the vegetables.
Though what I’m about to describe is a vivid illustration of what not to do to your fresh produce, don’t worry – I’ll follow this up with my top tips for flavor boosting your favorites, whether you’re serving fresh broccoli from the farmers market, or a frozen mixed blend in the dead of winter.
Then Came Grandma’s Veggies
I’m sure many of you can relate, and maybe you can already guess what I’m about to say. If not, this may come as a bit of shock to you.
We would sit together and string the beans, shell the peas, and peel the carrots. They were so fresh, and vibrantly colored!
Then something happened. Grandma would put them in a pot of water, and add a load of onions, some salt, and pepper.
Afterwards, we would go out to play while she would hang damp clothes on the line, watching us with the magical eyes that she had in the back of her head.
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 onion flavored, dull colored mush.
There had to be a better way!
Steaming Your Veggies is a Beautiful Thing
Today, I love steaming vegetables – it’s a great way to keep their bite, color, taste, and fresh integrity intact.
But, they’re still plain veg 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.
9 Tips and Tricks for Waking Up Your Steamed Veggies
Now, let’s explore how to perk up those flavors, to make each dish new and exciting.
1) Think Pig
It all goes back to the old adage that everything is better with bacon. Crisp up some lardons or pancetta in a pan, and crumble it atop your finished dish.
This may not be the healthiest option, but there is nothing quite like bacon’s savory, smoky, salty crunch. Brussels sprouts and bacon make an excellent pair. For something a little different, you could even try sauteing the vegetables instead.
2) Go Herbal
I love to go into my fridge and hunt down whatever fresh herbs I can grab. Give them a quick chop and toss them into your lovely steaming dish.
It’s such a simple fix, adding a lively essence. And it’s so good. Don’t forget, fresh garlic or ginger adds amazing pop, too.
3) Say Cheese
There’s nothing like a fistful of finely grated cheese melting atop hot vegetables. The enticing aroma wafts up and says, “Eat me.”
Try Parmesan, sharp cheddar, or some sultry smoked Gouda.
4) Make it Zesty
Nothing perks up flavor like citrus. Use a citrus zester to gather shreds of just the colored part of the citrus peel and gently stir it into your dish. Remember that a little zest goes a long way.
Don’t have a zester or microplane on hand? If you’re in the market for one, check out Foodal’s guide to the best items on the market.
Or, try adding a drizzle of freshly squeezed juice to those green beans or asparagus. Give different varieties of lemons, limes, or oranges a try.
5) Go Nuts
I’ve gotta say, I’m nutty about nuts. Try almonds, pecans, walnuts, or any of your favorites.
Toast them in a dry pan for just a couple of minutes, to begin to release the flavorful oils. Chop them up, toss them atop your dish, and you’re ready to go – presentation perfect!
6) Spice Things Up
Chili lime powder, red pepper flakes, or Sriracha sauce sprinkled on or folded into a dish is sure to add a little pep to your step (and tingle to your tongue)!
These are some hot and spicy examples, but why stop there? Scan through your spice collection – you’re sure to discover an array of flavor enhancing possibilities.
7) Try Compound Butter
Adding a touch of fat, along with garlicky, herbaceous, or citrusy flavor, provides a silky mouth feel.
Mix your choice of minced fresh herbs or other flavorful ingredients into softened butter. And store any that’s left over in the refrigerator or freezer, for next time.
While some might say that this is a great way to turn a vitamin-packed dish into something less healthy, the truth is, a touch of fat eaten alongside fresh produce actually helps us to absorb the fat soluble nutrients.
8) Experiment with Oil
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!
Explore different flavors like herbes de Provence, garlic, and lemon. The list really goes on and on, allowing you to explore and experience a whole new world of wonderful flavors.
Try getting creative with the oil base too, and branch out from olive into new territory –just a drizzle of avocado, hazelnut, pumpkin seed or walnut oil will add a new element of flavor.
Check out this post for more on the many different varieties of fruit- and seed-based oils that are out there to choose from.
9) Create a Custom Combo
Here is where it gets really fun! Nobody said the above items need to stand alone in your quest to add flavor and vibrancy to a dish – so mix it up a little!
Try combining olive oil with fresh herbs, or some gooey cheese with crispy bacon. Lemon zest and garlic make a wonderful pair. Or, how about compound butter made with a dash of the hot stuff?
Let your imagination and your taste buds guide you.
I hope these tips have given you the inspiration to create your own tantalizing twists on many new dishes. It’s always fun to put something on the table that you can be truly proud of, and that you’re excited to eat.
Plus, let’s not forget that enticing, first sight/first bite, ooh-aah moment!
There will never be another pot of mushy, oniony, bland vegetables for me. However, if it were not for Grandma’s loving cooking lessons, I’d never have become the foodie I am today.
Please share the ways that you’ve discovered to boost veggie flavors in your own kitchen. I look forward to your comments.
About Marla Tetsuka
As a professional chef, author of multiple cookbooks, and graduate of the esteemed Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Marla brings a professional touch to the community that we call Foodal.