Roasted Veggies or Stop Feeding Your Kids Chicken Nuggets

A mélange of veggies (carrots, turnips, and butternut squash) prepare for the heat.

The concept is simple; crank the oven up to a high temperature (around 425 degrees), take your favorite hard, non-leafy, vegetable and break apart or dice into large cubes (one inch?), line a baking sheet with foil and place the veggies on the sheet along with a good drizzle of olive oil, roast for 20-30 minutes or until a nice roasted color has developed, remove from the oven and toss the veggies with salt, pepper, and whatever else you think might be good from your fridge or pantry. What you have is a delicious side dish to serve to the pickiest vegetable eaters.

Don’t believe us about picky vegetable eaters? We took a couple of heads of cauliflower and roasted them for Steve’s parents over the holidays. Just a little salt and pepper added to the fresh-from-the-oven crucifers, and another drizzle of olive oil, was all it took for these two devout carnivores to enjoy a vegetable they normally don’t eat.

If you’re looking to get kids to eat their veggies, asked them to help out in the kitchen. After washing the cauliflower ask your little ones to break apart the cauliflower and place it on the baking sheet. Let them do the work. When kids feel like they’re a part of the cooking they’re more apt to eat what they’ve prepared.

A bowl of roasted cauliflower with capers, lemon zest and juice.

The roasting of the veggies brings out a deep rich flavor and sweetness that pan frying or blanching looses. Great veggies to try include broccoli, sweet potatoes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and, of course, the notorious russet potato. We use this technique with hard squash and beets in addition to the veggies already mentioned. An added benefit to cranking up the oven is the warming effect the ambient heat has in a small, freezing apartment.

The basic recipe idea is outlined in the first paragraph, but for those of you who need an actual recipe, well here it is. Roast as much or as little as you want. Just make sure that all vegetable pieces rest in a single layer and that you don’t over crowd the pans. The heat needs to hit as much of the surface of the vegetables as possible (caramelizes the veggies and makes for quick cooking time).

Carrots, butternut squash, and turnips with honey, garam masala, and curry powder.

Simple Roasted Vegetables

Hard vegetables such as; cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, hard winter squashes, etc.
Olive oil*
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. For easy clean up, line baking sheet(s) with aluminum foil. Large dice or break apart (broccoli and cauliflower) the vegetables. Place the veggies on the lined baking sheets and drizzle with olive oil (about 2 tablespoons per sheet). Roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until a good roasted color has developed. Rotate the pans and toss the vegetables half way through roasting. Once the vegetables are done, transfer into a bowl and add your optional ingredients. Enjoy!

Other optional ingredients: garlic, red pepper flakes, peanut butter, lemon juice, vinegar, capers, anchovies, or whatever your heart, and stomach, desires.

Some Good Combinations

Garlic, red pepper flakes, & peanut butter: Add mince garlic to a bowl with the red pepper flakes and ¼-1/2 cup peanut butter. Add 1-4 tablespoons hot water and stir until a smooth consistency develops. Pour over roasted vegetables and serve with rice or noodles.

Capers, anchovies & vinegar: After the vegetables have roasted. Add 1-2 tablespoons capers, 1 or 2 finely minced anchovies and a light drizzle of your favorite vinegar to the veggies. This is especially good with cauliflower.

Garam Masala, curry, & honey: Toss the veggies with ½ tablespoon (or more) of each spice and about 2 tablespoons honey, along with olive oil, and salt and pepper.

*Italian dressing: Substitute half the olive oil with a good quality Italian dressing before placing in the oven, or add the dressing to the roasted vegetables after they have roasted.

Burdock Root

Burdock Root

That I was mesmerized by the variety of produce on my first visit to our neighborhood veggie market is an understatement. We moved to San Francisco in the mid-90s, well after the folks along the coasts had revived the local farmers’ market and a broader market for fresh seasonal produce had emerged. But the revolution hadn’t quite reached the Salt Lake City masses by the time we left Utah and I simply didn’t know that such a variety of fruits and vegetables was known to so many people and that city folk cook as many of them as they do. I was embarrassed.

My more experienced eyes have gotten better at scanning the bushy beds of red and green leaf lettuces, chicories and tender greens. I’ve grown increasingly enamored of the contrasts in texture and color I find throughout the market. I’m relieved to know the differences in tastes among the mustards, collards and cresses. In the midst of those radicchio heads, rainbow chard and kale lay dark, stick-like interlopers. Dirty, brittle burdock roots are inexplicably nestled among big, dramatic leaves. The shape of the tender root leaves a mean impression – slender, bark-y, impossibly straight and remarkably long – but these are not wooded sticks or twigs. A member of the daisy family and related to dandelion and chicory, the burdock in my market is essentially nothing more than the tap root of a biennial weed.

Northern Asians and Europeans have been eating it for ages and it seems, to my surprise, to be fairly ubiquitous. The Japanese, who call it gobo, seem to like it a lot – they stew it, stir fry it, make sushi and medicinal teas from it. It’s put to good use in stews in England and France, though less frequently these days. No doubt my pioneer ancestors ate it or made medicines from it wherever they found it along the trail westward. A quick search of the cookbooks on my kitchen shelf didn’t offer much on this pedestrian old-world vegetable, but a recent Google search for burdock recipes produced an astounding 53,900 hits. Where have I been?

That it is found in most places in the world confirms the genius of burdock’s design. The seed pods stick to everything, especially animal fur, and germinate easily. The name speaks to the seed pods, or burs, of the burdock plant that very likely inspired George de Mestral, the inventor of Velcro® who hatched his remarkable idea after a walk in the field and an evening spent picking burs off his clothes and out of his dog’s coat – a happy accident and a stroke of great luck.

The aisles of the produce market are narrow and on a Sunday afternoon, full of shoppers. Most of us carry plastic grocery store hand baskets. With plenty of bumping and nudging, you learn to say “sorry” and “excuse me” with a pained smile. When I got to the burdock I was reminded of its astonishing length. I knew movement through the aisles would be tricky with a long pointed stick resting on the rim of the basket and shooting outward a good two feet beyond the “bubble” around me and my stuff. That I didn’t think to wait to grab it until I was ready to check-out probably says more than I care to admit about my social skills.

I recommend cutting the roots to manageable lengths before scrubbing them. Having a three foot long spring-loaded pole in the hand makes for some tough cleaning over the sink (the experienced clerk at the market cut my specimen in half for me so I could manage it in on my walk home). I left the skin on half of the root and used my vegetable peeler on the other half. I chopped the unpeeled burdock into chunky rounds and shaved the peeled burdock into long ribbons. Exposed burdock oxidizes quickly. This is a vegetable for which the acidic water bath was created. Boiling seemed the most straight forward preparation and a pot of salted water makes for easy clean up.

Raw, it doesn’t taste like much. But the fragrance of the freshly cut and peeled tuber reminds me of other pungent roots like parsnips and rutabagas. I gave my sample a simple boil because I wanted to get to the foundational flavors of the food. The cooking liquid has traditionally been poured off and saved for use as a tonic. But I salted the water to season the burdock as it cooked and instead of saving it for soup, I foolishly tossed it. The taste of simply cooked burdock is mild and reminiscent of its artichoke cousin.

I like the name. And I prefer the sound of burdock to gobo, though the latter better places it in its context – a produce market in the middle of a mostly Asian commercial district in San Francisco. Burdock sounds funny and seems to beg for naughty wordplay. This is a plant known by many names – beggar’s buttons (inspired by the clinging pods?); love leaves (a reference to the heart-shaped leaves at the plant’s base); or, my favorite happy major! I mostly like what burdock has come to represent in my evolving appreciation of the bounty of fresh markets and my budding fascination with the simplest of time-tested foods. This is a food I’ll return to often.

Asian Burdock “Noodles”

1 Burdock root, cut into 10 – 12 inch lengths, peeled

6 cups water

1 tbsp sea salt

3 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp rice vinegar

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Cracked black pepper

Bring water to a boil and add salt. Once water comes to a boil, cut burdock into lengths, and peel with a vegetable peeler. Once clean, use the peeler to make long ribbons of burdock and add them to the boiling water quickly (burdock oxidizes like artichoke and must be cooked shortly after peeling or it will blacken). Boil burdock until tender, approximately 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

In a bowl, mix the soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil. Add burdock noodles and toss. Plate and finish with fresh cracked black pepper.