17 Reasons to Burn Your Veggies
Photo by Farideh Sadeghin

17 Reasons to Burn Your Veggies

Just don't burn your house down.

Kill your darlings. Destroy your idols. Burn your veggies. Grill your fruits. Let’s get over the idea that vegetables have to be served pristinely, steamed delicately and plated spartanly with “just a touch” of olive oil and salt. Let’s wake up to the idea that fruits don’t have to be served whole and alone on a plate like Alice Waters’ peaches to have their flavor appreciated. Food can be so much more interesting if you expose it to some flames. Your new best friend is going to be a little something called the Maillard reaction, and what a productive friendship it will be. Turn your gas burners up high. Light your grill. Crank the broiler up. You’re gonna burn this shit down. (But don’t really. Cook responsibly.)


Burning the chilies in this recipe hopefully won’t produce such strong capsaicin fumes that your neighbors think a chemical attack happened in your kitchen. But don’t be shy about putting chili to flame, either. “Burn the shit out of the chili over coals or direct flame,” ACME chef Mitch Orr says. “And I mean it, burn the shit out of them.” Whatever you say, chef.

Everything’s getting toasty in this salad—the cucumbers, the hazelnuts, the halloumi. But making sure you get nice dark grill marks on the cukes is what adds a nice smokiness to this otherwise fresh and herby salad.

This salad is a riff on esquites, which is an off-the-cobb riff on elotes, the utterly craveable Mexican street snack on a stick. Be sure you get a good char on the corn kernels, because that’s what balances out the salty tang from the cotija and the sweetness from the candied pepitas and orange-honey-cumin dressing.

When these sweet potatoes hang out for a while under the broiler, their edges get a nice even char but their insides stay soft and creamy. Tossed with honey, brie and a generous amount of red chili flakes, these are a serious improvement on your average sweet potato fry.

The only time you’ve probably ever seen avocados served hot is as a soggy, sad excuse for a fry. (Something that soft doesn’t hold up to deep frying very well, guys. It’s common sense.) But this beauty holds it’s shape in its skin while you char some pretty grill marks into it. And this ponzu sauce will keep in the fridge for weeks, for all your other garnishing needs.


Charred cabbage and smoky, tangy hot sauce-soaked bread crumbs. This is an insanely addictive side dish that might actually overshadow the rest of your meal.

Fiddlehead ferns are such an ephemeral ingredient, only available for such a short time, that it makes sense to really go wild with how you prepare them. Here, chef Ryan O’Donnell fries some in tempura batter, then quick pickles the rest and chars them up on a grill, letting them unfurl slightly for a pretty impressive presentation.

Sometimes zucchini can be a little boring and watery, no matter how close to peak season it is for this summer squash. Liven things up by drying things out a bit over hot, spent embers after you’ve done some more grilling.

With the sweet caramelization you get from the char on these fresh apricots, combined with the creaminess and tang of the goat and ricotta cheeses on top of a crispy crostini, you’ve got a perfect (and wildly simple) appetizer.

Almost everything is subjected to extreme heat in this dish from London-based Turkish chef Hus Vedat. The lamb is grilled to a perfect pink doneness, the Turkish pepper and tomato are left on an open burner to char, and the eggplant is blackened so thoroughly the flesh virtually melts away from the skins to make a yogurt-and-spice-infused spread.

Roasting these beets first gives them an already-delicious sweet and earthy flavor; by grilling them too, you add another layer of caramelized sweetness.


Let chef Elise Kornack convince you that the humble cabbage can actually be transformed into something so delicious, you might consider it the star of the meal. All through the power of the char.

Not every food that’s sliced an inch thick should be called a steak, let’s be clear. But these watermelon steaks, grilled until just lightly golden and caramelized, are complex and spicy-sweet for an update to a summer time favorite.

This charred broccoli with savory breadcrumbs and briny anchovies will make you forget all about putting up a fight with your mom over this veg at the dinner table when you were a kid.

Chef Jacob Nemmers of New York’s Estela calls for high-quality pork for this dish, and these charred leeks and carrots are exactly the kind of high-quality side worthy of a prime piece of meat.

Former Mission Chinese chef Angela Dimayuga gets a little elaborate with garnishes and gribiche in this dish, but the charred yu choy (you can substitute baby bok choy) is the star here.

Caramelized onions are the epitome of the sumptuous deliciousness that comes from a low and slow Maillard reaction in a vegetable. Get a similar effect in about a quarter of the time by charring a yellow onion in a screaming hot, dry cast iron skillet. Plain old baked potatoes and sour cream can’t hold a candle to this dish.