Root Vegetable

Your Roasted Holiday Vegetables Deserve This Puckery, Crunchy Topping

No cream, butter, or cheese required.

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November 15, 2018
Photo by Rocky Luten

We've partnered with Ajinomoto Co. Inc. to celebrate our favorite taste—umami—with a series that digs into its history, its complexity, and its many, many culinary applications. Here, we’re giving fall vegetables a crunchy, umami-rich upgrade with some help from pepitas, lemon, and a dash of MSG.

When you think of your typical holiday spread, seasonal vegetables probably aren't the first things that come to mind. They're in there, to be sure, but usually they’re so outplayed by cheese, cream, butter, and bacon, that you can hardly even recognize them. Gratins, stuffing, mashed this and thats...all delicious dishes that make us wake up the next morning looking for something crisp and refreshing.

Photo by Rocky Luten

Strip away all the food coma-inducing ingredients, though, and what are you left with? A platter of roasted vegetables might be nice, but perhaps not festive enough to delight your friends and family. Instead of dressing up roast vegetables by making them heavier, make them lighter and brighter with a crunchy topping, the makings of which can reflect your tastes.

The basic idea is to provide roast vegetables with a topping that’s puckery, fresh, and all around toasty-crunchy. I'm partial to a combo of lightly pickled shallots, lemon zest, parsley, and toasted pepitas and quinoa held together with some olive oil. You could swap the shallots for scallions or red onion, the parsley for any other herb, and the seeds for nuts or even bread crumbs. Any which way, it’s a fun, flavorful jumble that enrobes your roast vegetables and brings a little pizzazz to your holiday meal.

In order for your dish to get noticed among all the huggable cream coats, though, each vegetable needs to bring great flavor to the dish. But produce in the winter can be unreliable and harder to come by (maybe that’s why we cling to the dairy aisle). By adding just a little MSG to your shallot, parsley, lemon, and seed mixture, each ingredient’s natural flavor is not only more pronounced, but also works to create a perfectly balanced result; instead of being drowned out, they all shine together. (If you've ever wondered why your grandma’s green bean casserole is so good, it might have something to do with the MSG in the canned cream of mushroom soup.)

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Although I'm not a huge fan of advertiser content on a rule, I'm glad that people are finally moving away from MSG hysteria. The way that MSG has been maligned is deeply unfortunate from a culinary perspective, and frankly racist from a cultural perspective. However, I do wish that this piece had mentioned what happens when you over-season with MSG (namely, that it flattens out the same flavors that it previously made pop), because I find that that's a common problem that those new to cooking with MSG have, and it's really hard to diagnose if you don't know what you're looking for.”
— Burton
Comment

Whereas salt seasons, MSG ties together and enhances flavors, especially those of raw vegetables and fruit. To taste the difference, try taking a bite of a raw cucumber and one sprinkled with a little MSG. One’s more cucumber-y, right? On your roasted vegetables with the crunchy seeded sprinkle, everything’s more roasty, toasty, zesty, and bright. You’ll wake up the next morning still looking for vegetables, but only because the ones from the night before were that good.

We've partnered with Ajinomoto Co. Inc. to spark new conversations about MSG and bring you a series of recipes, stories, and videos that celebrate the fifth taste: umami. This rich, savory essence can be played up in almost any dish by adding a dash of MSG, a seasoning that's pure umami flavor. When cooking with MSG, note that MSG contains less sodium than regular table salt. The general rule of thumb: Use about two-thirds of the table salt you'd normally use, and then add one-third MSG back in. You can also learn more over at the Umami Information Center and World Umami Recipes on Instagram.

11 Comments

deannw November 26, 2018
i don't eat msg
 
KJ November 25, 2018
MSG is manufactured using a strong acid which produces both the MSG and a lot of nasty neurotoxins that are poisonous to humans. It is not accurate to state that MSG is harmless. Racism has nothing to do with it.
 
argentazure November 25, 2018
It is not accurate to state that MSG is harmful; you're using scare terms like "strong acid" as if that makes something unsafe, whereas everyone regularly consume acids and acid-processed things in all aspects of daily life.<br /><br />There is no clinical evidence that MSG is neurotoxic. If you have clinical evidence of that, please publish your research so that it can be peer reviewed. I'm sure there's a lucrative academic career awaiting you if you have that kind of evidence.
 
Burton November 18, 2018
Although I'm not a huge fan of advertiser content on a rule, I'm glad that people are finally moving away from MSG hysteria. The way that MSG has been maligned is deeply unfortunate from a culinary perspective, and frankly racist from a cultural perspective. However, I do wish that this piece had mentioned what happens when you over-season with MSG (namely, that it flattens out the same flavors that it previously made pop), because I find that that's a common problem that those new to cooking with MSG have, and it's really hard to diagnose if you don't know what you're looking for.
 
Marionw November 16, 2018
You're also quite likely to wake up the next morning with a headache from the MSG you added... I'm disappointed Food52 has sold out to an advertiser in this way; I've always enjoyed it as a source of real food recipes.
 
Burton November 18, 2018
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glutamate_flavoring#Safety_as_a_flavor_enhancer<br /><br />I'm not a huge fan of advertiser content either, but MSG sensitivities are scientifically nonsense, and are probably just the nocebo effect.
 
argentazure November 25, 2018
Hi Marionw, there is actually no evidence that MSG causes headaches any more than regular table salt. It does contain sodium, just like salt, and thus has the same reactions on body hydration and blood pressure, but it's no more dangerous than regular table salt.
 
charlotte November 15, 2018
I'm really surprised to see MSG being used as an ingredient in a food52 recipe. Isn't it something we're supposed to avoid?
 
Cory B. November 16, 2018
Hi Charlotte and Marion W! Actually, MSG is totally safe to eat, and if you haven't noticed a problem when eating foods high in glutamates such as Prosciutto, fish sauce, or Parmesan cheese, you're not likely to experience headaches. If you're interested, you can read more about that here: https://food52.com/blog/22455-the-cultural-journey-of-msg-in-america
 
Gianna November 24, 2018
MSG is a neurotoxin, if you want a mini-lightshow of nerve firings occurring in your brain and killing off neurons then sprinkle on EVERYTHING. Your taste buds will love it... brain, not so much ;) In science it is all about structure and function, the structure of naturally occurring glutamates is different then man-made ones such as those in Accent. I have respect for both chefs and scientists (and those who do both) but generally speaking, one should not try not obtain their health advice from someone looking to boost flavor through MSG. I suggest using things like parmesan, tomato paste, soy sauce, anchovies, dried shiitakes, etc, to bolster flavor of dishes. Why not dry a pulverized shiitake powder? AKA UMAMI "dust"...
 
argentazure November 25, 2018
Hi Gianna, you're either misinformed or lying; MSG is not a neurotoxin. MSG is ubiquitous in Asian cuisines with no associated health problems.<br /><br />If you have clinical evidence of MSG's neurotoxic properties, please publish your study; there would be lots of academic fame awaiting such evidence.