Honey Sessions: Restaurateur Bricia Lopez Talks Flavorful Vegetables
Life is better when you live with a really good cook. For those of us who missed the mark on selecting culinarily-inclined roommates and life partners, the next best thing is to become one yourself. That’s where Honey Session Lead Bricia Lopez comes in. The restaurateur (who was born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico) is not only co-owner of the Guelaguetza, a famed Oaxacan restaurant in Los Angeles, and author of the cookbook Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico, she’s also a genius chef who masterfully pulls off one of the most magical kitchen tricks of all: making veggies that kids (and adults) love to eat. “One of the things I’m most proud of is how much my son loves to eat veggies,” she says. Ahead, Lopez shows us her go-to technique for making veggies that pack restaurant-level umami even kids can’t refuse — all in less than 10 minutes time.
You don’t have to have a fully-stocked kitchen to cook like a chef. Ahead, what Lopez calls her “holy grail” kitchen tools for cooking restaurant-quality food at home.
Kitchen towels aren’t just for spillage. As Lopez shows us, they’re also essential for drying veggies. This set of classic kitchen towels is made from 100% Turkish cotton and features a corner loop for easy hanging when not in use.
SHOP: Williams Sonoma Classic Stripe Towels (Set of 4), $9.99 - $19.95, available at Williams Sonoma
“Peppermills are a lifesaver,” Lopez says, because fresh-ground pepper delivers a level of spice that already-ground pepper can’t. This pepper grinder features chic gold accents that help make it cute for the kitchen and stylistically at home on beautifully set tables.
SHOP: Cravings by Chrissy Teigen Tall Pepper Grinder, $15.99, available at Target
Buying in bulk is always a money saver. For her part, Lopez shops for grapeseed oil in bulk, then dispenses it into a dark glass container. This oil bottle is fitted with a handy pour spout, a key feature that makes over pouring a thing of the past.
SHOP: World Market Square Green Glass Oil Bottle With Spout, $4.99, available at World Market
This Mexican version of a mortar is made from volcanic rock and can be used to grind spices, mix guacamole, and serve, thanks to the bowl’s generous 8” diameter.
SHOP: Sur La Table Molcajete, $44.95, available at Sur La Table
Forget the chopping block. These cutting boards are flexible and ultra thin, making them easier to wash and store than traditional wooden boards.
SHOP: Simply Genius (8 Pack) Cutting Boards for Kitchen Prep, Flexible Non Slip, $15.99 - $19.99, available at Walmart
Tired of simple, steamed veggies? Us, too, which is why we asked Lopez to share her no-fail cooking technique for turning basic veggies into a flavor-packed dish. Ahead, see how she brings acidity, crunch, and a touch of salt to enhance the natural flavor of asparagus. (Pro Tip: Top this recipe with a fried egg for an instant breakfast that feels more like bougie brunch.)
Handful of nuts (such as pistachios or almonds)
Dash of Coarse salt
1 bunch asparagus
1 Tablespoon grapeseed oil
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Dried garlic to taste
Fresh herbs (such as basil, mint, and parsley)
Optional: juice of one lemon
Use a pestle and mortar or molcajete to roughly crush nuts (such as pistachios or almonds) with a dash of coarse salt.
Wrap veggies in a kitchen towel (which absorbs more liquid than a paper towel) and pat dry. Be sure to dry stalks thoroughly — this will help prevent scorching oil from splattering when the veggies hit the pan.
Using fingers or a knife, snap or cut off asparagus ends.
Add a tablespoon grapeseed oil to pan over heat.
Once oil is hot, add asparagus to the pan and toss to evenly coat veggies in oil.
Season veggies with salt and pepper to taste.
Add dried garlic to taste.
Add vinegar of your choice (such as citrus champagne vinegar) or juice of one lemon.
Cover pan and steam asparagus for one-to-two minutes.
Remove the lid and top with nuts crushed with coarse salt.
Transfer asparagus to a serving platter and dress with fresh herbs (such as basil, mint and/or parsley) and/or the zest of one lemon.
Stock Smartly: Pots, pans, knives, pestles, cutting boards — with all the tools we seemingly need for a well-stocked kitchen, cooking can get expensive, fast. But according to Lopez, we may not need as much as we think. Her suggestion? Skip the 16-piece sets of cookware (which tend to cost hundreds) and invest in a couple of quality pans, a universal lid, and a chef’s knife instead. “You really don’t need a lot in the kitchen to make it work,” Lopez says.
Avoid The EVOO Trap: “A lot of people use olive oil to pan fry, but it’s best to use grapeseed oil for cooking at temperatures over 400 degrees,” Lopez says. Grapeseed oil has a high smoke point, so it's perfect for stir frying and sautéing. What’s more, it’s rich in good-for-you polyunsaturated fats (thanks to omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids inside) and is thought to lower harmful LDL cholesterol and boost HDL cholesterol (which can boot other types of cholesterol from your bloodstream). Lopez suggests saving olive oil for low or no-heat cooking (think: pestos and dressings) and when oven roasting for a longer period of time. What’s more, she’s careful to store bottles away from the stove when not in use — a trick that will keep the delicate fluid inside from overheating.
Pan Roasting in a Flash: No time to pan or oven roast your veggies? Lopez suggests this time-saving hack: When working with starchy veggies that take longer to cook (like sweet potatoes or carrots), first steam them just until they’re softened before using her pan-roasted technique, outlined above, to complete the cook.
Making Food More Kid-Friendly: Getting kids to eat their veggies and other healthy foods can be, “one of the most challenging things,” Lopez says. Her fix? Invest time and energy into perfecting two or three veggie dishes. “Just like with anything in life, it’s going to take a little bit of work and patience and lots and lots of love,” she says.
Presentation: It’s easy to think: Who cares what food looks like as long as it tastes delicious? But according to Lopez, thoughtful plating is more important than we think: “People eat with their eyes first, then their nose, then mouth,” she says. Use an oblong platter that allows plenty of room for the asparagus to be laid out straight. Once the veggies are plated, top with nuts and freshly-chopped herbs for a dish that doesn’t just taste good, but will look at home on the most meticulously-curated of Instagram feeds.