Glazing Roasted Vegetables Makes Them Even Better

Here's a simple trick for elevating already delicious roasted vegetables.

©. casanisa

We've been talking a lot about roasting vegetables around here, and it's not by accident. One of the greatest strategies for eating more plants for a more climate-friendly diet is having really great ways to cook vegetables—and roasting is surely one of the best.

Why Does Oven Roasting Work So Well?

The oven's dry heat leads to caramelization, a browning reaction brought about by the natural sugars in the vegetable. Vegetables with a higher protein content may also benefit a bit from the Maillard reaction, the type of browning that happens when amino acids are thrown into the mix (though much more common in things like roasted meat, dark beer, and bread crust, rather than over-roasted vegetables, but still). Whatever the chemistry, the oven's ability to coax and transform flavors and textures in vegetables makes them more complex and more of an event.

Preparing the Vegetables for Roasting

For delicious roasted vegetables, the preparation is just as important as the cooking method.

Glazing and Seasoning

One trick I have always loved for winter squash and underground vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, beets, onions, et cetera) is tossing them in a little maple syrup (along with olive oil, sea salt, and spices). I know, we are not supposed to be adding sugar to things, but I am a fool for the sweet-salty-spicy trifecta, and love to draw out the sweetness of sweet vegetables even more – it also adds to that magic of caramelization, hurray. Roasted vegetables are already delicious, but the addition of some syrup bumps them up a notch. I didn't realize that I was effectively "glazing" them until I read Micheline Maynard talk about glazing roasted vegetables in The Takeout. I was like, oh yeah, of course! She also adds Brussels sprouts to the mix – I add balsamic to them, but why not something sweeter?

Depending on the vegetable, you can spice it with anything from cayenne pepper, black pepper, turmeric, ginger, and nutmeg to some more exotic options, like those which Maynard recommends: Aleppo pepper, Chinese five spice, za’atar, or sumac. I always use Maldon sea salt for its small explosions of salt that are never too salty. Maynard suggests a number of syrups – maple, corn, cane, simple – but I use the least processed, only maple. (Honey is delicious, but not vegan, alas.)

Coating With Oil

A thin covering of oil is important here as well. As Harold McGee describes in On Food and Cooking (2004 edition, page 286), for two important consequences: "The thin surface layer of oil doesn't evaporate the way the food moisture does, so all the heat the oil absorbs from the oven air goes to raising its and the food's temperature. The surface therefore gets hotter than it would without the oil, and the food is significantly quicker both to brown and to cook through. Second, some of the oil molecules participate in the surface browning reactions and change the balance of reaction products that are formed; they create a distinctly richer flavor." See? Even science says it makes it taste better.

Basic Recipe for Glazed Roasted Vegetables

Try this simple recipe the next time you decide to cook your vegetables in the oven:


  • 4 cups of vegetables (winter squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, Brussel sprouts, etc) chopped to about walnut-size. Brussel sprouts can be whole or cut in half; carrots are lovely whole or cut in halves or quarters lengthwise depending on their diameter
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 - 2 tablespoon spices (see above)
  • A few pinches of sea salt, to your taste

Cooking Instructions

  1. Preheat the over to 400F degrees.
  2. Choose your pan: Glazing can be a bit messy. I use an unlined light-colored half-sheet pan and a little elbow grease afterward to clean it. A dark-colored or cast iron pan may brown the vegetables too much with the added syrup. Maynard recommends lining a pan with foil; I believe parchment with a brushing of oil would work as well.
  3. Mix everything together in a mixing bowl and toss until the vegetables are evenly coated, spread them on the pan, and put them in the oven. (Don't clean the bowl yet.)
  4. Roast for 15 minutes and give them a stir; roast for another 15 and test. They should be browned, with some darker edges, and tender in the middle. Some vegetables will take longer – so check and stir every 15 minutes. Try to avoid too many charred bits because they can go from caramelized to bitter pretty quickly.
  5. I like this tip from Maynard: When they are done, slide them from the pan back into the mixing bowl and toss them with any leftover glaze; and if there is anything left on the pan, scrape that in too. Let them sit for five minutes in the bowl before serving.

You can halve this recipe, but I always make a big batch since they make delicious leftovers later, added to green salads, grain salads, pasta dishes, casseroles, under eggs, purred into soup (I am leaving that typo!), added to vegan stews or chili, mashed into a dip, on top of pizza, or one of my favorite ways, straight from the fridge with my fingers.