Plain Roasted Vegetables Are Fine; Here Are 5 Easy Ways to Make Them Better

Sam Worley, Joe Sevier
·5 mins read

Summer’s out; fall is in. And with the changing season comes the changing dinner plan. Fresh tomato sandwiches are in the past as we stare down a long corridor full of cellar-ready roots and other hardy vegetables: potatoes, broccoli, beets, carrots, squash, turnips, etc. And since 2020 is gonna keep 2020’ing, that means more roasted veg parading through your kitchen than ever before.

Roasted Halved Sweet Potatoes
Roasted Halved Sweet Potatoes

Tonight, the oven’s on dinner duty.

But don’t even think about letting malaise set in. This stuff is delicious, sweet, and filling enough on its own—perfect for pasties, no meat required! And with a few tricks up your sleeve—such as forgoing parchment—it’s easy to make each pan of roasted vegetables feel like something fresh. Here are just a few of our favorite ways to punch things up.

1. Swap your cooking fat

Tired: roasting a sheet pan of vegetables in plain oil. Wired: roasting them with an herbed or spiced butter, which itself will caramelize a bit in the oven’s heat, lending a nutty note to the contents of your pan. (This works especially well with carrots.)

Or go for ghee, which will give roasted vegetables a creamy, nutty flavor—with a smoke point that’s comparable to oil.

Animal fats (lard, schmaltz, duck fat) are great, too, and can be used to add savory richness to roasting vegetables. A little goes a long way, which means they’re good for adding flavor when you’re trying to cut down on animal protein. Since animal fats tend to solidify at room temperature, melt whatever one you’re working with first and then toss with the vegetables before roasting.

Still lamenting the end of tomato season? Tomato brown butter is here to help. Sweet, tart, and nutty, deploy it like a dressing, drizzling over vegetables after roasting them.

Roast cauliflower in garlic-thyme butter, then top with cheesy breadcrumbs.

Large-Format Side: Roasted Cauliflower with Thyme, Panko, and Parmesan

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Prop Styling by Beatrice Chastka, Food Styling by Laura Rege

2. Build flavor up front

Spice blends are an efficient way to add layers of flavor to your roasted vegetables. One favorite: shichimi togarashi, the Japanese mix that includes sesame seeds, dried orange peel, ginger, and seaweed. You could also grab za’atar (an earthy and bright Levantine combination that has a touch of sumac), suya spice (a fiery Nigerian blend), quatre épices (a warming French-derived blend frequently used in charcuterie). Or go retro with a nostalgia-laced flavor enhancer à la Epi’s Emily Johnson.

But there’s nothing wrong with a single addition like mild, sweet Aleppo-style pepper—bright red chile flakes that are more smoky-sweet than hot. If you love cumin but have only used the ground stuff, grab some whole seeds and lightly crush them. You may be surprised by the bold flavor and texture they add to your ’roasties.

Perhaps a non-spice spice is the way to go for you? Things like black lime, kelp flakes, and mushroom powder are all big flavor boosters you can deploy like any actual-spice spice.

You could also pour a little fish sauce—or even better (since it won’t introduce extra liquid) anchovy salt—onto everything before you put it in the oven. You won’t be able to detect any fishiness on the other end, but the umami note these ingredients bring will add a deep savory undercurrent to whatever is on your sheet pan.

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Top roasted winter squash with dukkah, an Egyptian mix of herbs, nuts, and spices.

Roast Pumpkin with Dukkha/Dukkah and Pomegranate

Photo by Jonathan Lovekin

3. Plant a flavor bomb

Whenever you plan on roasting a sheet of vegetables, consider this: including a whole bunch of unpeeled garlic cloves in the mix. They’ll bake to a delicious, mellow sweetness; all that’s left to do is slide them out of their skins—they’ll come out easily at the end—and pop them into your mouth.

Roasted Garlic

Bon Appétit

4. Make it spicy

There are as many spicy chili pastes and sauces available at the average market now as there are vegetables to toss them with. Try slathering your vegetables in a spoonful of harissa (the Tunisian mixture of spices, chiles, and tomatoes) thinned out with a little vegetable oil. Or gochujang, a fermented Korean hot pepper paste? It’ll totally transform a pan of salt-and-pepper roasted potatoes. Smoky chipotle paste and eggplant? That’s practically a match made in paradise. Calabrian chili paste, ajvar, zhug, and more are all there for the spicing.

Or, use the oil from a jar of chile crunch—or approximate your own version of it—in place of olive or vegetable oil to lace every inch of your butternut with numbing heat.

Give sweet potatoes and cherry tomatoes the harissa treatment and spoon them over a bowl of black lentils.

Black Lentil and Harissa-Roasted Veggie Bowl

Photo by Alex Lau, Prop Styling by Kalen Kaminski, Food Styling by Rebecca Jurkevich

5. Finish it with something extra

Once you take your roasted vegetables out of the oven, put on a finishing touch. This could be a drizzle of honey and tahini; it could be a splash of soy sauce and a bit of rice wine vinegar; it could be something sweet and tangy like pomegranate molasses. Bon Appétit suggests a couple of tablespoons of funky, cheesy nutritional yeast—it’s for more than just popcorn!

Take the drizzle a step further and fully marinate your vegetables after roasting. Your beets will truly never be the same. If the dinner rush gives you no time to marinate, toss your roasted vegetables with any vinaigrette or herby green sauce to give them a speedy final push.

Or, instead of putting something on your veg, put your veg on something. May I suggest a bowl of ricotta? Hummus or salted yogurt are great, too, turning roasted veggies into a fully realized dinner. Or how about a vegetable purée? Scatter a big batch of harissa-roasted cauliflower over a swath of smoky carrot dip and you’ll never mind eating “just vegetables” for dinner again.

Or, put something in your veg. Fill squash halves, bell pepper boats, or hollowed-out onions with cheese and breadcrumbs and return them to the oven to let the cheese get melty and the bread toasty.

Roasted Cabbage Steaks With Crispy Chickpeas and Herby Croutons

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Roasted Beet Tzatziki Salad

Nick Korbee

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Sheet-Pan Roasted Squash and Feta Salad

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Originally Appeared on Epicurious