Roasted Vegetables: A Healthy Meal How-To
Roasted vegetables sounds like the easiest healthy meal/side dish in the world. And in some respects, it is. It is simple to prepare, highly versatile, and is usually very healthy. But there are a lot of ways to roast vegetables, some better than others. This is a guide for how to make the very best healthy roasted vegetables.
Before making roasted vegetables, you have to ask yourself what kind of veggies you want to roast. Do you want it to have a more savory flavor or more sweet? Do you want to do winter/root vegetables or summer vegetables? You can’t just mix and match any vegetables. Some cook slower and others faster, plus some flavors just go together better.
Some vegetables can go either way, which I tend to think of as onions (especially yellow/white/brown/Spanish onions for winter vegetable roasts and red onions for summer vegetable roasts) and garlic primarily. Tomatoes can also be nice in a winter vegetable roast, especially if you’re planning to puree it into soup later. I find eggplant can also go either way. If you do want to mix it up a bit, for instance to mix carrots in with “summer” vegetables, put them in to roast for a while before adding your other vegetables. For the most part, however, I divide vegetables into “summer” and “winter” vegetables, although there may be some crossover as to when the veggies are actually in season.
Winter vegetables tend to be hard vegetables that take a bit longer to cook. The ones in bold below are especially sweet and can be mixed in with a more savory mixture or selected on their own to make a sweet mix that will appeal to kids’ sweet tooth palates.
- Celeriac/Celery Root
- Sweet Potatoes
- Pumpkin/Butternut/Winter Squash
- Jerusalem Artichoke/Sunchoke
Summer vegetables tend to be softer, quicker to cook, and more varied in type.
- String Beans/Green Beans/Wax Beans
- Summer Squash/Button Squash
- Tomatoes/Cherry Tomatoes/Grape Tomatoes/Heirloom Tomatoes
- Capsicum/Bell Pepper
- Sweet Mini Peppers
- Spring Onions
- Brussels Sprouts
Some foods are not “traditional” additions to a tray of roasted vegetables, but can actually complement a tray of roasted vegetables, make it “pop,” or become a great talking point. If you’re making a savory dish, adding one sweet or tart element, like fruit or berries, creates an added flavor dimension that takes a dish above and beyond. Who says roasted vegetables have to be simple or boring?! For instance, adding sliced star fruit into a tray of green and red summer vegetables will be both visually and flavorfully appealing, but will also be a great talking point around the table.
- Baby Bok Choy
- Cucumbers (salt first to draw out extra moisture)
- Berries (Strawberries, Blackberries, Raspberries)
Cut Them Up
Cutting up veggies to roast sounds simple, but some techniques are better than others. I used to just roughly chop up vegetables into big bite-sized pieces, but after having kids I realized this was less than ideal. Not only did it mean I had to cut them up further for my kids, but uneven sized meant some small pieces were overcooked while other big pieces were undercooked. If you’re just planning to whiz them into soup, this won’t matter, but if you actually want to eat your roast vegetables, you need consistency. Ideally, you want all pieces about the same size and you want them small enough for your kids.
I use a Vidalia Chop Wizard to attain an even dice on all hard vegetables. The cubes it makes are always the same size and are perfectly bite-sized for babies and toddlers. Because they are smaller, they cook a faster, but it is so easy to use that you won’t have to spend lots of time chopping your vegetables. I just slice them and then push them through my Vidalia Chop Wizard. I have been using this thing for at least 10 years now and it’s still going. I have tried other brands, but I’m nowhere near as enthusiastic about them. This one, I would actually buy again. It’s cheap and it saves me loads of chopping time. And it is apparently indestructible. What’s not to love?
For summer vegetables, I just try my best to get them in bite-size pieces all of approximately the same size. I might slice beans and asparagus all into one-inch pieces. Zucchini I will slice lengthwise in quarters and then slice into sticks or chunks depending on how skinny my zucchini are. (Zucchini are my favorite summer vegetable. LOVE their versatility!).
I use a huge variety of seasonings and I tend to season winter and summer vegetables differently. In fact, seasoning roasted vegetables really merits its own post, which I think I’ll save for tomorrow.
The most important part of seasoning roasted vegetables is getting the right amount of oil on. You want just enough to lightly coat them. Too little and your veggies will become too dried out. Too much and you’ll have a disgusting oily layer at the bottom of your pan. I used to just dump a whole bunch of oil on top of the vegetables in the pan and hope for the best. The best was never what I got. No, to get the right result, you really must season first in another bowl where you can thoroughly toss your vegetables. I always used my hands so I can get a literal feel for how much oil is on my vegetables. As a rule, I add just a couple of tablespoons, mix, and add more if necessary to coat. By tossing in a separate bowl, you can make sure oil and seasonings are evenly distributed, but you also avoid gross roasted vegetables if too much oil goes in. Just leave the extra at the bottom of the bowl when you transfer to a baking tray/pan. (Don’t just dump the vegetables in – spoon them or scoop them in.)
At their most basic, season your vegetables with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Roasted vegetables caramelize nicely so they really have amazing flavors on their own, which just need a note of salt to highlight. As I said above, you can season with all sorts of flavors, herbs, and spices, but that’s for another post…
Now Roast Them!
For root vegetables chopped small, I will fill a whole tray with them – they shrink as they cook – and I won’t worry about even trying to do a single layer. I then mix them up during the cooking process so that as the top layer gets a nice caramelized brown color, I mix it to put the bottom layer on top. This ensures the nice crunchy caramelized bits are distributed throughout and nothing burns. Summer vegetables, on the other hand, I always try to get in as much of a single layer as I can, because they tend to be more watery types of vegetables and benefit from having more access to the air circulating in the oven.
You want to get the temperature such that it is hot enough to cook the vegetables but not so hot it burns them before they have time to caramelize. I generally cook mine at 180 C fan forced or 200 C if not (Americans should use 400 F). Root vegetables take 45-60 minutes to cook through if they are chopped small or 60-75 minutes if chopped large. Summer vegetables generally take 30-45 minutes.
Roasted vegetables are delicious as a side dish, but I also use them as a main so they can be the star of the show. Starchy winter vegetables are hearty enough to really fill you up. Pair them with a less conventional grain dish, like polenta, quinoa, or even couscous. Roast some marinated tofu or tempeh in the oven at the same time or add cubed tofu or tempeh to your roasted vegetable dish and you’ll have a complete meal.
Roasted vegetables are also good cold. This makes them an ideal part of a school lunch. Both winter and summer vegetable roasts are good cold and lend themselves to becoming portions of a school lunch. You can also send them as filling in a wrap or, rather than using a grain-based wrap, make a flat omelet and wrap that around your roasted vegetables for a high-protein lunch option. This is where the small dice method really comes in handy – it is just the perfect size and shape for filling wraps and omelets!
So go ahead, enjoy your perfectly roasted vegetables. Winter or summer, hot or cold, they are a delicious and nutritious addition to your kids’ diet. Remember, even if your kids are vegetable-averse, you can tempt them by doing a sweet mixture, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut, and beets with apples or peaches mixed in. Delicious, nutritious, and kid friendly! Yay!