In my wildest dreams, outdoor dinners would not require any silverware whatsoever. (Okay, maybe I should dream bigger.) Instead, there would be pizza, ribs, and “hand salad” — and this recipe for charred vegetables (excerpted from my new cookbook, The Don’t Panic Pantry Cookbook) would be welcome at the party, too. Served on a platter over a thick yogurt spiced with garlic, olive oil, and good old-fashioned American chile powder, they’re simple to make and even simpler to eat — so simple, in fact, that utensils are completely unnecessary.
Like any other dish best served outdoors, this one relies on a few choice components that bring out the best in one another. The vegetables warm and soften the yogurt, almost melting it, while the yogurt gives the vegetables richness and tang. A grating of good hard, aged cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano (or an aged goat cheese) and a drizzle of oil turn it all into a gorgeous show-stopping party vegetable that is secretly pretty darn nutritious, too. It’s also an all-in-one dish: You just grab a vegetable, swipe it through the bed of spiced yogurt, and pop it in your mouth for a very good time. (To be honest, sometimes I make this for myself and my wife while we decide what to eat for dinner, and then we don’t even get around to eating anything else.)
Almost any vegetable will work here, but I love one that can take a ton of char and still maintain a little crunch on the inside. If you’re lucky enough to find some sprouting cauliflower at a farmers market, you are in great shape, but broccolini, baby broccoli, asparagus, snap peas, or even conventional supermarket cauliflower, cut into longer pieces with some stem still attached, all work really well, too.
No matter what you use, this makes a super-versatile appetizer with cocktails and wine, but also holds up quite nicely with a piece of fish or grilled chicken wings — or, of course, the aforementioned ribs or pizza. (And speaking of which, the remnant spiced yogurt makes an excellent dip for pizza crust.)
Note: For those who don’t have a grill, this recipe has alternate methods using a stovetop skillet or oven broiler. But the main trick is to cook the vegetables as hot as you possibly can, to get as much char as you can. (This would also work really well with a hot pizza oven.)
Charred Vegetables With Spiced Labneh Recipe
For the spiced labneh:
8 ounces labneh or Greek yogurt
1 garlic clove, grated or finely chopped
½ tablespoon dark chile powder
⅛ teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
For the charred vegetables:
1 pound vegetables of your choice, such as baby broccoli or sugar snap peas
Freshly grated hard, aged cheese, such as Parmesan, cheddar, or Gruyere
Step 1: Make the spiced labneh: In a bowl, combine the labneh, garlic, chile powder, oregano, black pepper, and salt to taste. Mix thoroughly, making sure that any corners of labneh have been fully incorporated. Transfer the mixture back to the labneh container (or any sealable container), and let it bloom for at least 30 minutes. It can be kept at room temperature for up to 2 hours, or refrigerated for up to 3 days. If it has been refrigerated, it is best to let it sit out for about 30 minutes before you serve it.
Step 2: Char the vegetables: Right before you start to char the vegetables, set out a serving platter and spread the labneh across it in a fairly even layer. Set it aside while you cook the vegetables.
In a large bowl, toss the vegetables with a thin, scant layer of neutral oil and season them lightly with salt.
Grill Method: Preheat an outdoor grill until it is quite hot. Grill the vegetables until they are blackened a bit on the outside and just barely tender on the inside. If you are grilling smaller pieces, like florets or snap peas, a grill basket is recommended. Once the vegetables are cooked, lay them immediately onto the spiced labneh in a single layer. Some overlapping is not a problem.
Broiler Method: Preheat the broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil. Lay the vegetables on the baking sheet in a single layer. Place the baking sheet on the second-highest rack of your oven, and broil until the vegetables are just blackened, about 2 minutes. Flip them over and blacken them on the other side — but if they are already cooked to your liking, simply take them out. It is best if the vegetables are not overcooked, even if they don’t blacken on both sides. Once they are cooked, lay them immediately onto the spiced labneh in a single layer. Some overlapping is not a problem.
Skillet Method: Place a heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Once it is quite hot, add the vegetables in batches, searing them quickly with as much direct contact on the pan as possible, taking care not to crowd them in the pan. Once they turn your desired color and are just barely cooked through, transfer them to the labneh in a single layer and repeat with the next batch of vegetables.
To finish: Once all of the vegetables are cooked and placed on the spiced labneh, drizzle them liberally with olive oil and top with grated cheese. Season with salt to taste and eat immediately.
From The Don’t Panic Pantry Cookbook: Mostly Vegetarian Comfort Food That Happens to Be Pretty Good for You © 2023 by Noah Galuten. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Photography by Kristin Teig, copyright © 2023.
Noah Galuten is a chef, author and host of the YouTube cooking show Don’t Panic Pantry.