We've all been there — cooking dinner for someone who insists they really, really don't want to eat vegetables. Maybe it's just one vegetable, like Brussels sprouts, or simply the entire genre, that offends their palate. I remember cooking dinner for my family not too long ago, and my fully grown brother squealing in horror at the roasted cauliflower; you would have thought I was trying to murder him by crucifer!
But there are a few simple cooking techniques that I have found to be successful in coaxing haters into falling in love with at least one or two new vegetables.
Now, there's what I think of as the nuclear option, which is to drench your tricky veg in butter, cream, or cheese. Or all three. I have a recipe for Brussels sprouts in butter, cream, and lemon that has even the most ardent avoider of sprouts whimpering for more, Oliver Twist-style.
But that feels a teeny bit like cheating, and so I turn to these five healthier methods first.
1. Roast until charred. Don't be shy. This is the first tip, and one we've offered before. It's the first line of attack in trying to show off how delicious vegetables can be. The key, when roasting vegetables, is to roast boldly. Turn your oven way up (I often roast broccoli and cauliflower at 450°F or under the broiler). Let the vegetables soften, and wait until the edges are charred and singed, like they've been cooked over a grill. Come to think of it, the grill is also a very good option; there's something about that smoky flavor of slightly burnt food that most people are hardwired to love.
2. Salt generously. Most vegetables need a lot of salt. Steamed broccoli is a sad, wet sort of food without a sparkle of salt, and all roasted vegetables should get a generous dash of salt. Salt also helps remove the underlying bitterness in many vegetables. Some cooks do a fast "marinade" by rubbing salt into vegetables about 15 minutes before cooking, which helps cut down on bitterness even more and deeply flavors the vegetables.
3. Dash on some vinegar. While some vegetables are too bitter for a child's palate (or, you know, a child at heart's), the sweetness in other vegetables bothers some. I had a hard time with carrots and sweet potatoes, for instance; I don't like sweet flavors in my savory food. The fix? A dash of acidity — vinegary dressing over cooked greens, or lemon squeezed on a sweet potato, or lime dressing on cabbage — can push vegetables into new flavor profiles.
4. Puree until silky smooth. Everyone loves mashed potatoes, right? The trick to great mashed potatoes, in my opinion, besides the butter and cream cheese, is the silky texture. But you can achieve this with many vegetables. I love roasting and pureeing cauliflower, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, and other starchy vegetables. It's an easy sell.
5. Invest in a wok. It's the magic vegetable pan. A wok is an inexpensive tool (see expert advice on how to buy and season a carbon steel wok) and it lets you cook at high heat quickly. I follow Grace Young's instructions for stir-frying greens all the time, and the combination of high heat and soy sauce makes stir-fried vegetables one of the most addictive ways to eat a plate of greens. (No wok? You can also sauté vegetables at high heat in a sauté pan.)
What are your best tips for helping the people at your dinner table (maybe including yourself!) discover the vegetables they like the most? Sometimes it all about helping someone taste a vegetable in a new way. (Microwaved lima beans really need to be called to account for the damage they did to my lifelong relationship with vegetables.)
I think these five techniques are a good place to start, but I'm curious how else you've brought vegetables to the table in a fresh way.
(Image credits: Anjali Prasertong; Faith Durand)