The Story Behind Bryant Terry's Marinade That Brings Vegetables to Life

Plus a zillion substitution ideas, what happens to a book tour in a pandemic, and how Terry's Vegetable Kingdom is adult-tested, kid-approved—all on the latest episode of our podcast The Genius Recipe Tapes.

October 28, 2020

The Genius Recipe Tapes is a weekly show from Food52's new podcast network, featuring all the uncut gems from the weekly Genius Recipes column and video series. This week, Kristen spoke with Bryant Terry about his Genius asparagus recipe.

This week on The Genius Recipe Tapes, cookbook author, food activist, and chef Bryant Terry joins lifelong Genius hunter Kristen Miglore. They discuss Bryant's Atlanta (the TV show, not the city)-inspired lemon-pepper marinade, the musical pairings in Vegetable Kingdom, the technique of blanching then roasting vegetables, and how a silky tofu marinade-slash-sauce will breathe new life into any and all vegetables you may have forgotten in the crisper drawer.

Check out the full transcript below (or hit 'play' and get a pot of water boiling on the stove).

Kristen Miglore (voiceover): Hi. I'm Kristen Miglore, lifelong genius hunter. For almost a decade, I've been unearthing the recipes that have changed the way we cook. On The Genius Recipe Tapes, we’re sharing the behind-the-scenes moments from talking with the geniuses themselves that we couldn't quite squeeze into the column or video: the extra-genius tricks, the off-road riffs, and the personal stories that actually have nothing to do with the recipe that week.

My guest this week is cookbook author Bryant Terry. We talked about his genius technique for bringing just about any vegetable to life, and in this case, it was asparagus. But, because this was the very first interview we recorded when we started sheltering in place back in March, we also talked about all kinds of substitutions so that you can work with whatever you've got.

Kristen: Hi Bryant!

Bryant: Hey Kristen!

Kristen: I would really love to hear more about this recipe. Would you mind just starting there?

Bryant: Sure! It was kind of tongue-in-cheek. I grew up in the South and, you know, wings are ubiquitous and lemon-pepper wings are pretty popular. I've never had them, but I had this idea after watching an episode of Donald Glover's Atlanta, in which this whole episode centered around this box of these magical lemon-pepper wings. And at the time you know, asparagus was pretty beautiful at the markets. I saw some plump asparagus spears, and I thought I'd kind of play off of those lemon-pepper wings, and I created this creamy lemon-pepper marinade, and blanched the asparagus, and then let it marinate for several hours. And then I grilled it and it was pretty good. You know, I always say the litmus test for most of the recipes is if my daughters like them—and they were definitely into those lemon-pepper asparagus spears.

Kristen: They're so good, and it obviously works amazingly with asparagus. But I also wanted to ask you, since we are in this strange time where people have limited access to groceries if there are any substitutions that you think would work really well? Other vegetables, but also, if people can't find the silken tofu, for example, do you think regular tofu could work, or would it be too, kind of, gritty?

Bryant: Yeah, I think part of the point of the marinade is that it should be silky and runny so that the blanched asparagus can really soak up, you know, those flavors. I think it might be challenging with, you know, I don't know, like medium or firm tofu. I mean, I think one might be able to do it. I just, you know, maybe use an eighth of what is called for, and then just blend it really well. I think it would probably require, you know, a good blender like a Vitamix—something in that range. You know, I think at this point I visit my parents in Huntsville, Alabama, I travel around the country, and the interesting thing is, even at conventional supermarkets, you’ll find things like silken tofu. And, you know, you could go to the “ethnic” aisle and find a number of these ingredients that a decade ago you'd have to go to some specialty supermarket or health food store. I’m definitely thinking about all over the country, what people potentially have access to. And so I wrote that [recipe] pretty confident that most people would be able to find silken tofu in their town or city.

Kristen: Do you think this would work well with a variety of other vegetables?

Bryant: You know, to be honest with you, I haven't even thought about using it with other vegetables. I mean, I'd be interested to try with fennel, you know, just like taking some fennel, blanching it to soften, and then letting it sit in the marinade. I think that could work. The tricky thing about a dish like this is it needs to be firm enough to stand up to the heat of a grill and to actually be able to sit on the grill and be easily manipulated. But also has to be something that would absorb the marinade pretty easily. I imagine you could use a range of ingredients. Now that I'm thinking about it, what if you took a parsnip, then blanched it, and let it sit in there... I think that's gonna be my challenge over this apocalyptic period. We’re going to try some winter vegetables, and just play around with it.

Kristen: Yeah, I'm wondering, too, about taking this basic principle of blanching, then marinating, then grilling. And if people couldn't find tofu or didn't have it at home and wanted to try this technique, just like winging together some other kind of marinade, whether it was [tofu] or not, do you think that just this general kind of process is something that you'd recommend people try out?

Bryant: For sure. I mean, I'm a big fan of blanching vegetables and then kind of further working with them. So, for example, whenever I'm doing a vegetable stir-fry, I'll just quickly blanch them in some heavily salted water first for about 30 seconds. Drain them and then I'll do the stir-fry. I just find that it absorbs whatever marinades or sauces once cooking it in much easier after that process. And I think there are a number of techniques one might use. So, for example, when thinking about substituting that silken tofu, the thing that comes to mind quickly is maybe taking, like, some almond milk or oat milk or something of that nature, and then boiling it on low heat to reduce it. So maybe reducing it by half to thicken it and then using that in place of the tofu. I mean, I think the main thing is that lemon-pepper wings are typically served with ranch dressing. And so I just thought that would be fun to have the dressing be creamier to kind of play off of that aspect of the dish. And so I think that's mostly what I'm looking for, is just something to give it some kind of creamy feeling. At this point in the game, I'm much less judgmental and I don't have as much of an aversion to using some of the store-bought products. So I think they're probably like some vegan creams or vegan sour creams or something of that nature that you can use as well. The Miyoko Cheese Company, they're doing some brilliant vegan cheeses and vegan butters and other products. So I'm a little less strict about those things now because I think qualitatively we're in a different place than we were a decade ago.

Kristen: Okay, and full disclosure, I do not have a grill, nor do I have a grill pan at home. So I'm going to try broiling these to try and get some of that char. I threw a little foil onto my sheet pan just to try and protect it from trying it too much. But do you feel okay about that substitution?

Bryant: Yeah, that's a great alternative. The two things that I've done in lieu of going outside and putting it on the grill in my backyard are roasting it in the oven, which I think is great. I think using some type of foil or a Silpat, or some type of parchment paper is probably a good idea. And then the other thing is, we have this amazing All-Clad Panini Pan that it's pretty much all-purpose. But we often make panini sandwiches for our kids. And I just put that on really high heat, turn on the fan, and then I'll just char it really quickly on that. And that worked really well as a substitute also. I think as you said, it's kind of like playing around and just seeing what works and then going from there.

Kristen: This is The Genius Recipe Tapes. We'll be right back.

Kristen: I do not have the new book here that this recipe comes from. Do you have it? Aha! Could you just tell us a little bit about this book?

Bryant: Yeah. I'll tell you about my book. I had an amazing book tour we were starting and everything just kind of fell apart and it got canceled. But I'm here. (laughs) And I'm excited. I'm glad that we got, you know, the chance to just start the momentum. It started in January when I co-taught this class at UC Berkeley with Alice Waters, and that was just like a great kind of kick-off. And we got a chance to go to about seven cities before everything shut down. But this book, I've been working on it for the past three years. And I just feel like it's really my attempt to get people eating vegetables again. I often say that I could make a lot of arguments for embracing a vegan diet for economic, environmental, ethical reasons. When it comes to health reasons, I don't know if a vegan diet is a perfect diet for anyone. I don't know if there's any one perfect diet. But I do know that we can all stand to eat more vegetables, more fruits, more legumes and grains, and just real food. And that's what this book is about. It’s focusing on vegetables. I wanted to give people a book where you could take it to the farmers market, or you could just go to the farmers market and see what’s most beautiful.

Kristen: Even at this moment with restricted groceries, it's got this delicious technique that could be applied to a bunch of different things. But it's going to be that much better when we can all be going out to the farmer's markets and grocery stores as freely as we would like to be doing right now.

Bryant: For sure. I realize we’re so privileged in Northern California, specifically the Bay Area, to have a farmer's market pretty much every day of the week. But I do realize that in other parts of the country, that's not a reality that people have. In fact, I realize that in many parts of the country, there are communities that don't have access to supermarkets quickly. And there are a lot of barriers for people just being able to get fresh produce in general. So I did write this trying to keep one eye on those realities, and a lot of these things, obviously, I'd prefer if people got them from a farm or from a CSA program, or from the farmers market. And there are so many of the recipes in here that if you have access to a conventional supermarket, you can make most of the recipes in here. Writing books is always about thinking about these aspirational ideas about how I want people to cook. But I also understand the reality that many people have in terms of geographic location, in terms of time constraint, in terms of the rigors of daily life. And so it's all about kind of balancing those things for me.

Writing books is always about thinking about these aspirational ideas about how I want people to cook. But I also understand the reality that many people have in terms of geographic location, in terms of time constraint, in terms of the rigors of daily life. And so it's all about kind of balancing those things for me.
Bryant Terry

Kristen: Well, I think this hit that note perfectly because as a mom of an almost one-year-old who has not a lot of time to cook right now, I found it very accessible, but also aspirational in that it was something I had never done before, and I got really excited to do myself.

Bryant: Mmhmm. And there are a lot of cool recipes in here. Like when you're well, I'm assuming your kid’s eating solid foods now. A lot of them, they're certainly made for adults, but they were inspired by the type of things that we might feed our kids when we first started them on solid food. For example, there's this charred lemon and broccoli spread in here, and that's the type of thing—these kinds of ingredient-driven, simple recipes where the kid gets to actually enjoy the full flavors of the vegetable without it being kind of adulterated by other stuff. So the book was really dedicated to my daughters. I feel like if they like the recipes in here, I think most people would. Not a kid's book, but I did want this array of vegetables and different, diverse ingredients to appeal to them and most kids. And I think ultimately that's what this book is about. It's about bringing families together. I hope the whole seed-to-table process, people have room at home to grow food, that they're actually planting food and growing their food at home. But if not, tapping into whatever local food sources, getting the whole family involved in choosing what's freshest, and then coming home and eating together.

Kristen: I really appreciate that aspect of your book too because I end up feeding my daughter a whole lot of really boring steamed vegetables and she’s on to me with it. So being able to incorporate new flavors is something that I'm really trying to do.

Bryant: Awesome, best of luck with that.

(Bryant and Kristen laugh)

Kristen: It doesn't always work out.

Bryant: Yeah, no I know. Trust me.

Kristen: Can we talk a little bit about the soundtrack that goes along with this cookbook?

Bryant: Yeah. So one of the signatures to my work is I typically include a suggested song with every recipe and I went to step further in Vegetable Kingdom by actually providing a whole playlist at the beginning of the book with all the songs so you could see them in one place. And if people have access to Spotify, you can actually go and search for The Vegetable Kingdom Playlist. And so it has all the songs in the book on a playlist that you could listen to when you're cooking and hanging out with friends, eating. Not to brag on myself, but it’s interesting because I didn't put the playlist together with the eye of a DJ, in terms of all the songs blending into each other. It was really driven by what recipe, how the recipe might have inspired a song, or how the song might have inspired the recipe. And so it was kind of hodgepodge in that way. But when I listened to it, I was like, this is actually a really good mix that kind of flows together nicely. So I think people are gonna enjoy that.

Kristen: Thank you so much. We're in such a rut with the music that we're listening to. So I will be listening to that tonight.

Bryant: Cool, okay.

Kristen: Alright. Bryant, thank you so much for all of this background and all these pointers for helping me cook this right now and helping everyone at home cook it. I hope you stay safe out there and get lots of good things to eat in this very odd period of our lives.

Bryant: Thank you. That's actually been my one kind of creative outlet is making these elaborate meals for my family. Food has been keeping me sane. I wish you all the best in Brooklyn and just count our blessings. That's what we're definitely doing. As inconvenient as this could be, I know there are a lot of people who've been struggling. And this moment is just gonna exacerbate those struggles. So I try to hold that and give thanks.

Kristen: Yeah—well, thank you so much.

Bryant: Thank you. Take care.

Kristen: (voiceover) Thanks for listening. Our show was put together by Coral Lee, Gabriella Mangino, Alik Barsoumian, and me, Kristen Miglore. You can find all the Genius Recipes, videos and stories on our site, Food52.com. And if you have a Genius Recipe that you'd like to share, please email it to me at [email protected]. For example, are you looking for any holiday Genius Recipes? Or do you have any beloved recipes you want to send me? If you like The Genius Recipe Tapes, be sure to rate and review us. It really helps. See you next time.

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judy October 28, 2020
Good story. I was hoping for the recipe as well. Food 52 has become less about recipes and more about food stories like this, and shopping. Too sad.....
Brinda A. October 28, 2020
Hi there—the recipe was featured a few months back in our regular Genius Recipes column. You can find it here: https://food52.com/recipes/82794-vegan-asparagus-lemon-pepper-marinade-recipe