Boost Your Vegetables to Dinner Stardom

Back in January I found some information on by food writer and recipe developer, Emma Laperruque, that I’ve been meaning to share with you. I’m hearing from many of you that you’re wanting to include more vegetables in your diet, and so my thoughts turned to Emma’s suggestions on how to boost your vegetables to “dinner stardom” by increasing their flavor impact. See if there isn’t an idea here you might want to try:

Make vegetables “meaty”: Disclaimer: This is not about vegetables dressing up as meat. No tofurkey or I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-beef veggie burgers. It’s about umami. This Japanese word for the fifth taste—in addition to salty, sweet, bitter, sour—signifies savoriness or meatiness. In other words, we’re stealing meat’s secret sauce to make vegetables sing.

Umami flavor is triggered by glutamates. The more glutamates, the meatier the flavor. Glutamates are amino acids, naturally found in many foods—vegetables included. Which means we can use plants to empower plants. Seasoned with bold, no-holds-barred, umami-rich ingredients, they can hold their own at any meal.

So according to Emma, here are your vegetables’ new best friends:

PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO. This is a hard, granular, nutty cow’s milk cheese—an umami goddess. Parmesan is a close cousin but absolutely not the same thing (but it may be a little hard to find). Use the real deal if you can find it. Or, opt for an aged parmesan instead. And then:

  • Grind it into a meal (in a food processor or blender). Turn into a cheesy vinaigrette.

  • Bake grated parm piles into crispy, lacy, one-ingredient crackers—fricos!—for vegetable-based dips, like lemony white bean spread. Or, crumble into a crunchy garnish for boiled, olive oil-drowned vegetables.

  • Add it to steamed cauliflower, broccoli, artichoke hearts.

  • Fry cauliflower or Brussels sprouts in a parmigiano batter.

(Note: We’re not talking about the less-expensive plastic containers of granular parmesan cheese that you find in the pasta aisles at your grocery store! For a real flavor boost, spring for the real deal!)

MUSHROOMS. What sounds better sprinkled on salad: shaved, raw mushrooms or crispy, oven-roasted, bacon-like mushroom bits? Like tomatoes, mushrooms are all about umami—and even more so the more they’re concentrated. So, if you’re cashing in mushrooms for umami points, opt for intensely cooked—say, roasted at a high-temperature or fried—or dried. And then:

  • Turn dried porcinis or shiitakes into a fine powder (a coffee grinder works well). Sprinkle on sauteed greens. Stir into garlicky breadcrumbs, to rain over grilled zucchini. Mix with salt and black pepper as a rub for pan-seared cauliflower steaks.

  • Layer roasted portobellos onto a BLT.

  • Scatter sautéed mushrooms over salads.

  • Stuff sautéed mushrooms inside spinach-feta omelets.

TOMATOES. Tomatoes get a lot of credit for being acidic—but they’re umami-laden, too. And the more you reduce them, the more you intensify their umami flavor. Or, combine sun-dried tomatoes and concentrated tomato paste. And then:

  • Add tomato paste to marinara.

  • Make a sun-dried tomato (and parmesan!) pesto. Dollop onto buttery spaghetti squash.

  • Add minced sun-dried tomatoes to mayo. Slather onto raw or roasted veggie sandwiches.

SOY SAUCE AND MISO. Both are fermented soy products, the former a liquid, the latter a paste. Soy sauce options include: light (super salty, not to be confused with low-sodium); dark (richer color, milder flavor); and tamari (wheat-free, malty). Miso comes in various colors: white, yellow, brown, and crimson. The darker the hue, the longer the fermentation and the more intense the flavor. Soy sauce is more all-purpose, so whatever is already in your fridge is fine. For miso, you’ll want to coordinate the type with the application. What to do with any of these:

  • Mix soy sauce with unsalted butter. Toss with boiled or steamed broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, or green beans.

  • Whisk white miso into a Dijon vinaigrette.

  • Stir white miso into steamed greens (kale, collards, spinach, or chard).

NUTRITIONAL YEAST. You’ll find this “dead” yeast in whole food or health food stores because, as its name suggests, it’s good for you. Protein, fiber, and folic acid, oh my. It looks like fish food. But it tastes like the neon orange powder you lick from your fingertips after eating a bag of cheesy popcorn. Sold? Then:

  • Stir into buttered corn or peas.

  • Sprinkle on just lettuce or shaved root vegetable salads.

  • Toss with roasted cauliflower or broccoli florets, still hot from the oven.

  • Turn into sneaky vegan pesto and toss with zucchini noodles.

  • Add it to Caesar salad.

I’m sold. And I suggest we give Emma’s ideas a try. Let's start boosting our veggies with this easy vinaigrette recipe and then add it to her tasty cauliflower and beet salad!



¼ cup freshly ground (or finely grated) parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)

Pinch kosher salt


½ head of cauliflower

½ bulb of fennel (cut lengthwise, stem still attached)

2 small beets, preferably red and golden, peeled

Kosher salt

Ground or finely grated parmesan, for garnish

Break the cauliflower into big florets. Shave on a mandoline into 1/8”-thick slices—if they’re too thin, they’ll fall apart—directly into a large bowl.

Halve the fennel half, lengthwise, leaving the stem attached (this ensures pretty fennel cross-sections). Shave each fennel quarter on the mandoline into paper-thin slices, directly into the bowl.

Shave each beet on the mandoline into paper-thin slices, directly into the bowl. Sprinkle with a couple big pinches of salt and toss gingerly with your hands.

Dress the salad—you’ll use all of the vinaigrette—and toss again with your hands. Taste and adjust the salt if necessary. (This can keep in the fridge for a couple hours.) Shower with more ground parmesan just before serving.

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    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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