Vegetables have diverse and unique flavors on their own. Put on a blindfold and take bite of raw onion, bell pepper, carrot or eggplant and you can almost assuredly identify each by their signature taste. Dry heat cooking techniques (cooking without the use of a liquid) such as baking, grilling, frying and sauteing can rob some of that flavor due to the leeching of moisture from the vegetables during the cooking process. Adding the appropriate seasonings can resurrect those flavors and even enhance them.
Salt is the great flavor enhancer when it comes to cooking. Salt’s affect on food is more related to the human body — specifically the tongue — than any other seasoning. Salt works two ways on food. One way is to aid in reducing any bitterness the food may have. Certain vegetables, such as eggplant, asparagus and broccoli, have an inherent bitterness to their flavor that salt cuts through, making the vegetable more palatable. Salt also has the ability to wake up the tongue. Salt can make the taste buds more sensitive and receptive to flavors; not just salt, but sour, sweet, bitter and savory (sometimes known as umami) as well. Due to most vegetables high water count, salt is easily absorbed during sauteing.
Pepper plants are grown in hot, humid climates and produce berries known as peppercorns. These come in many different colors, with the three most widely used being black, white and green. Oddly enough, they are the same variety, just at different stages of ripeness. Black pepper has an inherent heat that really interacts well with most vegetables, especially ones with mild flavors like squash, zucchini and cauliflower. Grinding black pepper fresh out of a pepper mill is preferable to buying it already ground as it can lose potency not long after being ground. Black pepper is a good choice for sauteing because its flavor stands up to high-heat cooking very well.
While it’s debatable whether it keeps the vampires away, garlic imparts a flavor to many foods, including vegetables, that can rarely be matched. Garlic is a relative of the onion and is grown underground. A head of garlic can be broken into sections, called cloves, which can be sliced, chopped, minced or roasted whole. The most significant characteristic about garlic is that its taste gets sweeter as it cooks and can impart that sweetness to vegetables during the sauteing process. However, garlic can easily turn bitter if cooked too long, so it is advisable to add garlic only in the last minutes of sauteing.
Basil is a member of the mint family that was originally only cultivated in Africa and southern Asia, but now is commonly grown in any temperate climate. There are dozens of varieties, each with a slightly different flavor, although the most common form is sweet basil, which has an almost clove-like scent. Used equally in fresh and dried form, basil’s flavor intensifies during the cooking process and pairs well with many vegetables, such as bell peppers, corn, eggplant and green beans. Dried basil can be added at anytime during the sauteing process, while fresh basil should be added right at the end to help it retain its fresh flavor.
References and ResourcesFishingChef.com; Culinary Information and Q & A's; Dry Heat Cooking Methods for Fish and Seafood; Renee Shelton
Recipe Goldmine: Kitchen Charts - Seasonings for Vegetables
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