There is something sexy about oven roasting. It’s not as smoky as grilling or as sinful as frying, but the deep golden crust and caramelized juices that form during the roasting process can be quite alluring. The oven transforms even the most homely vegetables into tender, sweet morsels that only resemble their raw counterparts in name.
But I’m a nutritionist, so I’m supposed to like vegetables all the time, right? I wish. Just like you, I can only take so many dinners with steamed broccoli and salad before my eyes glaze over and boredom sets in. That’s where oven roasting applies. Just about any vegetable can benefit from a little heat (although, I would leave the lettuce and cucumbers to salad duty). The high temperature concentrates the subtle flavors and coaxes out natural sugars from the vegetables, instead of diluting them like blanching or steaming can.
Also, unlike other cooking methods such as sautéing or braising, oven roasting allows for vegetables to form two distinct textures: a crisp exterior and a tender interior. Sure, there are other ways to create complementary textures (such as frying or breading) but these techniques tend to dull the vegetable flavor and add unnecessary fat and calories.
In my experience, just a thin slick of oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt are all that’s necessary to achieve roasted perfection. In addition to preventing sticking and aiding in crust formation, the oil allows the body to readily absorb the fat soluble vitamins in vegetables and should not be skipped. Another tip is to add flavoring (such as spices, herbs and garlic) after cooking, as they tend to burn quickly in the high heat.
Other things to consider: the size and amount of the vegetables. They need to be cut small enough so that the inside has a chance to cook through by the time the outside is golden brown and delicious. The vegetables also need to be able to lay in a single layer on the sheet pan, or else a crusty outside will be very difficult to achieve, as they will steam rather than roast.
One of my favorite oven roasted beauties are sweet potatoes. They have a simple, sweet flavor and fleshy interior that does exceptionally well in the oven. I leave the skin on for even more texture and nutritional value (In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 5 years, the sweet potato is considered a “super-food”, and are high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, beta carotene, vitamin C, and potassium). Tossed with some aromatic spices, these crispy roasted sweet potatoes are truly addictive any time of the day. Although, as sexy as oven roasted foods are, I’m pretty sure shoving your face with them is not.
Crispy Sweet Potatoes
Savory Spice Mix
Sweet Spice Mix
For the sweet potatoes
Whisk the spice mix ingredients together thoroughly in a bowl. Can be labeled, dated, and stored in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Wash the potatoes well, but do not peel them. Cut them into 1/3 inch cubes and place in a large mixing bowl with the vegetable oil and salt. Toss to thoroughly coat the potatoes in the oil.
Spread the potatoes out evenly on a cookie sheet (or two if they don’t fit in a single layer) and bake for about 45 minutes, turning the potatoes about every 10 minutes, so they cook evenly. When done they should be crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.
Toss the potatoes with one of the following spice mixes and serve immediately. The spiced potatoes can also be kept warm in the oven (which should be off, but still plenty warm) for up to 30 minutes.