How Bobby Flay Builds A Vegetable Spice Rub

Vegetables are among nature's most healthful foods. With the ever-growing popularity of the plant-based diet, endorsed by celebrities from Beyoncé to Benedict Cumberbatch (per Parade), every veggie from leafy greens to root vegetables can be a trendy influencer. But oftentimes, in the context of the meaty standard American diet, vegetables are relegated to the fringes of the plate — at best, side dishes, but never the centerpiece of the meal. Fortunately, for the aspiring herbivore (or veg-curious foodie), there are plenty of ways to start rightly treating vegetables like the superfood superstars they are.

Celebrity chefs are here to help, sharing their favorite ways to prepare produce and highlighting its diverse flavors, textures, and colors. One champion of the growing things is Bobby Flay. While he's world-famous as a master of grilled meats, he prepares vegetables with the same expertise and respect — even putting spice rubs on them! For the uninitiated, spice rubs are defined by BBC Good Food as blends of spices, herbs, salt, and even sugar used to season food. BBC also explains that while marinades are great for big cuts of meat, they're unsuitable for vegetables, so massaging on that mixture (hence the name "rub") is the way to go. Here's how and why to spice rub your veggies like Chef Flay.

An interplay of wet and dry ingredients

In an interview with Bon Appétit, Bobby Flay said that he "probably season[s] 60 percent more than the home cook" because "food needs it." And vegetables are no exception. Flay told BA that he seasons them with a spice rub to enhance flavor and create a texturally appealing crust without having to spend time waiting around for the effects of a marinade to set in. On Terranea Life, Flay praises rubs for all his grilled dishes — vegetables included — and explains that they're most effective when using herbs, spices, and mustard or horseradish to make them multi-dimensional. So what does Flay put in his rubs?

Per Food Network, he's definitely fond of mustard powder, Spanish paprika, and hot peppers like chile de arbol, ancho, and cayenne. His rubs don't require "fancy" ingredients, either; regarding his classic recipe, the chef himself says you'll likely have all you need in your spice cabinet already: with cumin, oregano, salt, and freshly ground black pepper among them. A Food Network article divulges that chipotles are his favorite pepper, so why not try the canned ones in adobo sauce for an extra fiery rub? Per She Knows, he also keeps red and green curry sauce on hand, and has a special fondness for anchovies. All of these things would work wonders in creating an impactful rub for otherwise mild vegetable dishes.

Using spice rubs in vegetable dishes

Bobby Flay told Bon Appétit that one of the things he likes about rubs is that they can be applied immediately prior to cooking, something that can save valuable prep time. It also helps that this allows you to make rubs ahead of time and store them in jars for future use — eliminating the need for rummaging through your spices to find all the components you need each and every time. 

BBC explains that the strongest flavors in rubs come from ingredients with the most aroma to them, including garlic powder and rosemary, and that the addition of sugar aids in forming a caramelized crust. Salt, as BBC says, is not necessary with all the taste sensations you've got going on. A properly-applied rub will elevate the food it's on, not mask its natural flavor and texture.

If you never thought about adding spice rubs to your vegetables, now is the time to try. They work great in Bobby Flay's grilled broccoli rabe with grilled pepper relish and orange-glazed grilled acorn squash, as well as recipes like Ree Drummond's grilled cauliflower steaks or Alex Guarnaschelli's broiled cauliflower steaks with parsley and lemon. The best part about rubs is that they can be tweaked according to your tastes — make them hotter or sweeter, omit salt if necessary, or try experimenting with unique flavor pairings like ginger and eggplant and allspice with thyme. So go grab a few of your favorite spices and turn the humblest denizens of your crisper drawer into a chef-worthy meal.