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Recipe Spotlight

Level Up Any Vegetable with This Simple (Vegan) Topping 

Make it in a minute flat.

Published Jan. 6, 2023.

You just cant beat roasting for cooking most vegetables: It develops sweet, nutty, browning and gentle crispness with very little fuss, allowing you to focus on the other parts of your meal. So when it’s time to dress up crisp-tipped broccoli, beautifully browned Brussels sprouts, or savory green beans with a finishing element, the last thing you want is to spend time making a sauce or vinaigrette that will only sog things out.

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Instead, our endlessly creative Deputy Food Editor Andrea Geary suggests a dry topping, which will add flavor and texture without ruining any crispness as a liquid finish would. It comes together in only a minute—talk about bang for your buck—and happens to be vegan, too, so it’s sure to please everyone at your table. 

Andrea’s unique topping is centered around nutritional yeast, a golden, flaky nonleaving form of yeast with a cheesy, nutty flavor. It’s supersavory due to its high level of glutamic acid, the main chemical compound responsible for boosting the umami taste in food.

Mildly sweet, dense, and creamy sunflower seeds give the mixture a bit of crunch (they can be quickly toasted in the microwave; see instructions below). Heady smoked paprika supplies a distinct smoky taste and aroma, and grated lemon zest sharpens all of the flavors with a citrusy punch.

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This is the book for anyone looking for fresh, modern ways to add more vegetables to their diet—which is just about all of us. And this exciting guide could have come from only Cook’s Illustrated.

Simple Smoky Sunflower Seed Topping for Vegetables

Making this topping is as easy as combining the ingredients in a spice grinder and whizzing them to a coarse powder. If you don’t have a spice grinder, a mortar and pestle works just as well.

Makes about 3 tablespoons

2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds, toasted

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Using spice grinder, grind all ingredients to coarse powder.

To serve, sprinkle one-third of topping onto platter. Transfer vegetables to platter, sprinkle with remaining topping, and serve.

If you’re hooked on this topping, you may also enjoy our Skillet-Roasted Broccoli with Sesame and Orange Topping or Skillet-Roasted Broccoli with Parmesan and Black Pepper Topping.

How to Toast Seeds in the Microwave

We’ve always toasted small amounts of seeds and nuts in a skillet on the stovetop, but the method requires a watchful eye and near-constant stirring to avoid burning. But there’s another option: using the microwave. 

Here’s the method: Place the ingredient in a shallow microwave-safe bowl or pie plate in a thin, even layer. Cook on full power, stopping to check the color and stir every minute at first. As the food starts to take on color, microwave it in 30-second increments to avoid burning.


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