Cook Like a Pro: Hunter Fieri Shares 5 Tips for Leveled-Up Plant-Based Dishes

With Spring in the air, we turned to culinary celebrity, ZENB Plant Council member, and host of ZENB’s WHAT PLANTS CAN DO documentary, Hunter Fieri, to give us some tips on how to take plant-based dishes to the next level.

Hunter Fieri in blue button up collared shirt, pointing at the camera with a knife, in front of silver refrigerator with a box of ZENB Penne Pasta and Red Bell Pepper Gourmet Sauce and white bowls of ingredients to the left

As we look to warmer weather, I always get excited about what that means for me in the kitchen. Different flavors, textures, combinations, colors … all new options for me to play around with as I combine my year-round kitchen staples and the freshness of the season to take dishes to new heights.

Lately, I’m loving ZENB’s new Pasta Agile as an option for any rice or pasta-inspired dish. It cooks in under three minutes with no need to drain (aka, fewer dishes to clean up!), and it’s great for when I’m hosting and need to whip up something that’s easy to make, but that my guests will also think tastes amazing.

Whether creating an amazing pasta dish or using a veggie as your base protein, plant-based cooking doesn’t have to be intimidating! Fusing new flavors and techniques with fresh ingredients, you can create the perfect dish that exceeds even your own flavor and texture expectations. Don’t shy away from refueling your body with the nutrients it needs because you’re not sure how to raise the bar on your plant-based recipes.

Here are 5 tips for leveling-up your plant-based dishes:

Charred red bell peppers roasting over a flaming grill
    1. Incorporate a Smoking Element: Vegetables really take on the flavor and fragrance of a smoker, so this is a very natural and easy way to elevate their tastes. Smoking in cooking is one of my favorite things to do and I believe almost anything can be smoked. Plus, it’s a great element to add to your culinary techniques. It builds a beautiful crust, giving you amazing texture, and of course bomb flavor. If you don’t have a smoker, grilling is another great way to step up your game. It gets you a gorgeous char, and amplifies the flavor profile of whatever you’re cooking.

      White spoons with various spices, lined up at top of picture with decorative green herbs and flowers at bottom of picture, all on a black stone surface.

    2. Season Well: The more seasonings that you have, and the more combinations you try out, the more dishes you can add to your rotation. Many vegetables, including the yellow pea that ZENB Pasta is made from, are the perfect vehicle to create multi-dimensional flavor combinations. Don’t shy away from trying something new! Season with authority! Season well! Regardless of what you are making, proper seasoning is crucial. Taste your ingredients first and recognize what they offer. Understand the spices you want to use and how much is necessary. If you don’t know how much to add, do a little at a time. It’s important to constantly taste and season as you cook. This helps you develop layers of flavor and present a real-deal dish.

      Man in a black plaid shirt and black hat hugs a woman with blond hair and a pink long-sleeved shirt with a woven purse on her shoulder, while standing in front of a farm stand with fresh produce under a red umbrella.

    3. Support Your Local Vendors and Farmers: This feels good when you do it, AND tastes good! I always try to support my local vendors and farmers wherever I can – vegetables, fruits, meats and more. Aside from the fact that I love supporting those in my community, there is no better place to get fresh ingredients than right around the corner.  You’ll even find products that aren’t offered in major grocery stores. While these products are often pricier, it’s usually worth it for the flavors. I encourage you to purchase ingredients from local vendors, mom-and-pop shops, and farmers. It’s the best way to get the best, freshest ingredients.

      Man in chef’s coat holding a large brown wooden pepper grinder in front of silver appliances in the background.

    4.  Make Your Own Fresh Ground Pepper: I know what you’re thinking – you already have black pepper in your pantry and it’s easier to use. But TRUST ME when I say that this is how I level up every dish of mine. I always keep black peppercorns in my pantry and use different methods of cracking them up, depending on what I’m making and how strong I want the flavor. A hand-cranked mill always works, so does cracking them under a rolling pin. There are ton of methods that people find helpful, but the end result always is a punch of heat, a variation of coarseness to your liking, and a really fresh aromatic flavor. Try it and let me know what you think! Pro-Tip: toast the peppercorns a little before grinding them. It really accentuates their aroma.

      Women in white top and beige sweater cutting lemons on a wooden cutting board, with clear bowl of lemons and mason jars to the left.

    5. Salt and Acid: These are two primary flavors that I think about every time I cook vegetables or meat, and you should too. Juices like lime and lemon, tomato-related flavors and vinegars are really strong flavors that will add acidity and really level-up your dish – when seasoned with the right amount of salt. I personally love the Pasta Agile with lemon zest and vegetables sprinkled throughout. The key is salt and acid! Salt and acid! We say this in the kitchen constantly. These are your ride or die ingredients so remember that you need salt and acid to properly balance your dishes. Especially when dealing with something bitter, acid is your best friend. Don’t forget - this goes back to seasoning with authority, TASTE, and bringing in the acid. We’re not shy in the kitchen!
    Dubbed the “Prince of Flavortown,” Hunter Fieri is a culinary television personality, best known for his appearances on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy’s Grocery Games, and Tournament of Champions. A rising television star and training chef, Hunter’s knowledge of cuisine and appreciation for an elevated food experience has been part of his fiber for as long as he can remember. Hunter graduated from The University of Nevada, Las Vegas where he majored in Hospitality Management, preparing to enter the culinary industry alongside his father.

    If you’re ready to get cooking, take a look at our collection of over 150 plant-powered recipes. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest for daily kitchen inspo!

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