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Roasting Vegetables

You know you “should” eat more vegetables. Maybe you don’t make them because you (or your spouse or kids) don’t like them or because they’re just so boring and you have to add so much butter or sauce to make them taste good that what’s the point—whatever your reason, you may not eat anywhere near the recommended number or servings.

The question, then, is: How do you cook your vegetables? If you typically steam or boil them, try roasting them instead.

Roasting Adds Flavor

Vegetables are mostly carbohydrate—they have some protein and most have trace amounts of fat, but for the most part, they’re carbs. And carbs are sugar. And when you cook sugar, it caramelizes.

Vegetables don’t caramelize when you steam or boil them, but when you grill, sauté, or roast them—that is, when you cook them with dry heat—the water in them evaporates and they turn brown. And that brown is where the carbohydrates have concentrated and caramelized. As a result, roasted vegetables are sweeter and have a deeper flavor than steamed or boiled ones.

Roasting Is Easy

Roasting is easy and versatile. Most vegetables can be roasted, and you can use the same basic formula for cooking them all:

  • Trim the veggies and cut them, if necessary, into pieces of approximately equal size (in the chart below, cooking times are for 1-inch chunks or pieces, unless noted). If you’re roasting a bunch of vegetables, choose ones that are similar in density and that require similar cooking times.
  • Toss with oil and seasonings (check the chart below for some flavor combinations, or just use salt and pepper). For a head of broccoli or cauliflower, or a basket of cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, or Brussels sprouts, figure a tablespoon of oil.
  • Roast in a hot oven (at least 375°F, but up to 425°F works, too) for the given time. Resist the urge to stir frequently as this inhibits the browning that you want.
  • When someone insists that they hate Brussels sprouts (or whatever), insist that they try at least one. But don’t tell them it’s for their own good.

Roasting Is Healthful

When you roast vegetables, you may end up using less fat and salt than if you steam or boil them. If you add a lot of butter and a heavy shake of salt to give boiled vegetables flavor, you may find that roasted veggies need a lot less of either.

You can add flavor in other ways, too. For example, if you’re serving an Italian dish, toss mushrooms with basil or oregano before you roast them; if you’re making something Chinese, mix a little soy sauce or ginger into the oil before you toss them. Consider sprinkling a teaspoon or two of grated cheese over the vegetables a few minutes before they’re done. This allows you to get the flavor of a food you “should” avoid in an amount that may fit with your eating plan.

Vegetable Cooking Time Flavoring
Asparagus 12-15 minutes Slivered almonds
Beets 30-40 minutes Dill
Bell peppers 12-15 minutes
Broccoli 12-15 minutes Slivered garlic
Brussels sprouts 12-15 minutes Chopped apple; pecans
Carrots 30-40 minutes
Cauliflower 12-15 minutes Curry powder
Cherry tomatoes 12-15 minutes Basil, pine nuts
Green beans 12-15 minutes Ground cumin, lemon zest
Mushrooms 12-15 minutes
Onion wedges 30 minutes
Parsnips 30-40 minutes
Potatoes 30-40 minutes
Scallions 10-12 minutes Use dark sesame oil
Zucchini 12-15 minutes Mint

Some combinations to try:

Scallions, bell peppers, green beans

Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, onion wedges

Bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms