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How to Dress Up Your Vegetables

“How can I dress up my vegetables?
Is there a way to make them more interesting? I get tired of salads all the time.”

That’s a question I am asked quite frequently. And for a long time, I too, struggled with what to do with our side dishes. I mean, I could only take so many nights of steamed broccoli or basic green salads. I needed variety!

In time, I learned that there are many simple ways to make veggies interesting as a side. You don’t have to follow some complicated recipe or create a whole new dish.

Instead, you just have to be creative about how you cook the vegetables and then think about the flavors you want to go with them.


Grilled Vegetables

Summertime in our home brings lots of grilled vegetables, especially if I find myself grilling our main dish. It’s easy to add the vegetables and it helps keep the mess outside.

grilled vegetables

Grilled Summer Vegetables

Larger vegetables can be placed directly on the grill grates without needing skewers, but you can also use one of those grilling trays made for vegetables, or wrap the vegetables in foil.

Grilled Red Potatoes with Rosemary in a foil packet is a favorite summertime side of ours. Last summer I experimented with Grilled Baby Artichokes and cooked these directly on the grill.

Roasted Vegetables

With the cooler temperatures of fall and winter, I’m often looking for more reasons to turn the oven on to add a cozy warmth to the kitchen. Roasting vegetables becomes my method of choice.

Roasted vegetables acquire a nice subtle, sweet flavor that enhances the vegetables without adding a lot of fat or calories. You can simply toss a vegetable with oil and roast it.

roasted sweet potato fries

If you want to be more creative, you can add other flavor elements like I did in these Honey Balsamic Roasted Carrots.

Although I tend to rely on roasting in the cold weather months, you can easily roast vegetables in a large toaster oven in the summer without worrying about overheating the house. Try these Roasted Sweet Potato Fries with Parmesan as a side with our burgers in the summer.

Sauteed or Stir-Fried Vegetables

When I want to cook my vegetables stove-top but don’t want them steamed (or boiled – yuck) I saute them in a cast-iron skillet or large stainless steel frying pan.

roasted brussel sprouts with bacon

Brussels sprouts that are sautéed with bacon and shallots are so much better than steamed sprouts.

In this recipe for Brussels Sprouts, I’ve taken a side dish of sautèed Brussels sprouts and turned it into a main dish by adding pasta. Just follow the recipe formula, minus the pasta, for a great side dish.


As you feel more confident in the kitchen, you will definitely want to experiment with a combination of the above choices, and maybe you’ll think of more options and add-ins that work for you.

Here are a few of my favorite add in ideas, but you can certainly experiment beyond this list!

Fat and Acid

Adding fats and acids to a vegetable – it can be steamed, roasted, grilled or sautéed – adds a lot of flavor. I especially love to grill summer squashes and drizzle them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

It’s fun to experiment with different acids (flavored vinegars, soy sauce, and citrus juices work great) and fats (oils, butter, browned butter, bacon drippings are all complimentary to many vegetables).

green beans with feta and almonds

Green Beans with Feta, Tomatoes, and Almonds

Fresh Herbs and Spices

Fresh herbs and bold spices can bring out flavor and complexity to the simplest of vegetable sides. Cumin and Chili Powder are surprisingly good with roasted sweet potatoes for a Mexican side.

The Flavor Bible is a great resource for coming up with unique flavor pairings. Just look up any ingredient and check out their “matches.”

Partner Vegetables

Vegetables can often be made more exciting by pairing them with a partner. Try pairing two complimentary vegetables together, such and zucchini and tomatoes in the summer.  In the winter, caramelized shallots go great with broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, and more.

Garnish with Cheese and/or Nuts

Add cheese – that’s pretty simple. Mozzarella, parmesan, blue cheese, feta, and goat cheese…there are so many choices!

Nuts are a great way to add a little more excitement and texture to a vegetable. Toss toasted almonds or pine nuts with roasted broccoli.

More Side Dish Vegetable Recipes

How do you dress up your vegetable side dishes to keep from getting bored?

Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction

Wednesday 12th of October 2011

Great tips, Katie! I love veggies, but I often get bored of the same things over and over again. Thanks for the inspiration!

Jen at The Three Little Piglets

Wednesday 12th of October 2011

Roasting is great too because you can easily make a double batch - one half for dinner and the other half for soup the next night. And it adds so much flavor without a lot of effort!

Aimee @ Simple Bites

Wednesday 12th of October 2011

Awesome post, Katie! Veggies are at their peak now.

Meal Makeover Mom Janice

Wednesday 12th of October 2011

Great ideas for making vegetables more appealing. So many people think they don't like veggies but often it's because they boil or steam them and they taste bland and boring. I'm a big fan of roasting and grilling ... such good flavor. Great post!

REAL life in Rofo

Tuesday 11th of October 2011

Yum. Thanks for sharing some great, tasty ideas here! These are good ways to "re-introduce" veggies to the kids, too!