Top chefs and cookbook authors share their tips for making roasted vegetables, homemade pickles, and superstar salads

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Tom Schierlitz

There are a few common denominators to every healthy diet. The biggest one: Eat more vegetables! But biting into the same salad every day for lunch or treating the vegetable side to your chicken or fish as an afterthought makes doing so a chore, rather than an opportunity to eat something delicious. (Tasty food is only one of the many reasons a vegetarian-leaning diet is a good idea.) So we turned to top chefs and foodies for the tricks they use to upgrade veggies to star status.

Heat, Then Roast

For better roasted carrots, Brussels sprouts, asparagus spears-you name it-that are truly caramelized, preheat your baking sheet in a 500-degree oven before you layer on the vegetables. That way, they sizzle and start browning as soon as they hit the pan. Return them to the oven until they develop that telltale char-five minutes for asparagus and up to 15 minutes for sprouts-for veggies that are at once sweet and crisp.

-J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, managing culinary director of Serious Eats and author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science

Give ‘Em a Shock

If you blanch and shock your vegetables (cook them quickly in boiling water, then immerse them in ice water), you'll get a perfectly cooked texture and a nice vibrant color. Once you've done that, you can easily sauté, dress, or grill them.

Get in a Pickle

When you have too many vegetables in the fridge, make refrigerator pickles-it works with nearly every vegetable and adds a punch to salads, sandwiches, and more. (Try this recipe for sweet tea pickles!)

-Alana Chernila, author of The Homemade Kitchen

Cook Your Lettuce (Really!)

It'll get tender and flavorful. For a seared lettuce with pine nuts, butter, and lemon salad, quarter a head of romaine (discard the outer leaves) and cook in a pan with a tablespoon of butter for three minutes. Season with kosher salt, add two tablespoons chicken stock and a teaspoon of lemon juice, and when it's reduced by half, add another tablespoon of butter and stir. Add pine nuts to the pan and then transfer to a platter, spooning stock and pine nuts over the top of the lettuce.

-Hugh Acheson, chef and author of The Broad Fork

Make Use of the Microwave

It'll give you a perfect steam every time. To micro-steam, lay your veggies in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate and cover with a triple layer of damp paper towels. Microwave on high until your vegetables are tender, about 2 1/2 to 6 minutes, depending on the vegetable and the power of your microwave.


Rethink Your Salads

A salad doesn't have to have lettuce. Try a "platter salad," where cooked and raw vegetables can sit side by side. Pick out a large plate or platter. Make some dressing in a large bowl, and then pick out some vegetables. Cook or don't cook each one as you like-for example, halve your cherry tomatoes, roast your roots, and slice up a cucumber. Toss each vegetable in the dressing separately and transfer it to the platter. Add chopped herbs or greens to the plate, add a protein if you want, and finish with something salty (olives, capers, etc.) and some black pepper. (Then check out these easy salad upgrades.)