Side dishes have been on the sidelines for too long.
Cookbook author Tara Mataraza Desmond noticed that while talking to friends about Thanksgiving a few years back.
“I was making a turnip and rutabaga gratin, right before Thanksgiving, emailing some friends and asking what they were making, and no one was talking about the turkey; it was all about the sides. That threw a spotlight on the fact that sides have a major part of the meal, but by virtue of the name, ‘sides,’ seem secondary,” said Desmond in a phone interview from her home in Philadelphia.
Desmond, who cooks for her husband and three children, started planning her home-cooked meals from the side, instead of from the main dish, and ended up writing “Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal” (Andrews McMeel Publishing LLC, 2013).
“I think it’s an obvious but often overlooked way to approach a meal. Go at it sideways. Start with a colorful, flavorful side dish, and plan the meal from there. It not only strikes inspiration in you as a cook, it makes meal planning easier.
“It’s so much simpler than starting with a chicken, and trying to construct a meal from it. Think about summer’s backyard grilling — it’s all about the sides, and then you throw something on the grill,” Desmond said.
She’s right. Summer meal planning may start with something from the farmers market or backyard garden that’s fresh, or from an urge for potato salad. “Choosing Sides” includes a classic vintage potato salad with a mayonnaise dressing, plus a non-mayo Red Potatoes with Cider Mustard and Candied Bacon (see recipe).
“My husband is not a creamy potato salad guy. He doesn’t like mayo, and I love it, but a potato salad is an American classic, no matter what, and is a great side all year. I knew that sour, sweet, crunchy combo in a vinegary red potato salad would be a favorite. I created it for my husband and anyone else who doesn’t like mayo,” Desmond said.
Desmond observed that making side dishes a priority makes sense if you eat less meat, (her first cookbook was “Almost Meatless,” Ten Speed Press, 2009), cook some of the ancient grains that have become popular (e.g., quinoa, faro, bulgur), or subscribe to community-supported agriculture (CSA) and get a farm share box full of vegetables each week in the summer and fall.
“It’s increasingly common that people are getting big, bulk boxes of food, and if they approach their meal from that box, it’s a lot easier to create a balanced plate.
“People are becoming more enthused about food, and don’t just want a singular hot and steamy ingredient sitting beside a hunk of meat on the plate. We want something exciting and delicious on a Wednesday night,” she said.
“Choosing Sides” makes it easy to branch out into more interesting side dishes than the usual salad, potatoes, bread, buttered noodles and steamed broccoli, carrots or green beans that many of us return to, time and again.
Side dishes can be simple or complicated. “Choosing Sides” has a chapter devoted to weeknight dinners that are easy and quick side dishes for busy evenings, plus chapters for holiday feasts and intimate gatherings that require more effort.
Desmond includes charts with suggestions for main-course pairings, which comes in handy if you often find yourself wondering, “What goes with that?”
If you know you’re serving beef, for example, she lists dozens of side dish recipes in the book that would work, from Chipotle Black Beans to Broccoli Sesame Crunch (see recipe).
If you find a side dish recipe in the book that sounds delicious, you’ll be pleased to see that each recipe has a list of “alongside” suggestions for the kinds of foods that would complement it.
For Ginger Honey Carrots (see recipe), Desmond’s “alongside” list recommends five-spice rubbed roasted chicken, tofu-fried rice or lamb and chickpea curry to spark the cook’s imagination.
“My biggest thing in creating this cookbook was to help people achieve a balanced, delicious plate by coming up with beautiful side dishes that also help improve nutrition,” Desmond said.
Local restaurants and grocery take-out counters have caught on to the allure of great side dishes.
Executive chef Chris Tate at Scanlon’s Restaurant inside the Athletic Club of Bend prides himself on side dishes that make meals memorable, like his Warm Grain Salad with Pakistani Curry Spice (see recipe). It is also served over spinach salad as a more elaborate side dish.
“A side dish should accent the flavor of the main protein or food you’re accompanying it with. It shouldn’t just be on the plate for looks. The side dish can help round out the flavor profile of the whole meal. Like a piece of grilled chicken is a neutral flavor, so the side dish should balance that and contribute to a feeling of, ‘Wow, that’s a great dish.’ It should create a food memory,” Tate said.
When Tate started working at Scanlon’s about three years ago, he said the food was richer and heavier than it is now.
“We’re connected to a health club, so I started from scratch and rebuilt the menu around a healthier food lifestyle: more Mediterranean, and more healthy alternatives. Our Warm Grain Salad is good with a hamburger or as a side for a grilled piece of fish. Side dishes, even when they’re healthy and low in fat, can be the star of the plate sometimes,” Tate said.
Devore’s Good Food Store on Bend’s west side is Central Oregon’s oldest natural foods store, featuring organic and locally sourced items. Mary and Bob Devore will celebrate 37 years in the same location in May.
Devore’s take-out deli is well known for its wide variety of side dishes, including salads, soups, dips and spreads and casseroles (the key lime pie and other homemade desserts are not to be missed either).
Katie Hahn Klaassen is Devore’s production manager. She shared Devore’s Coconut Rice Salad with Cashews and Mangoes (see recipe), telling us it’s a great side dish, cold or warm.
Klaassen is a food science major from Central Washington University who also attended the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Cambridge, Mass. She told us what she thinks makes a great side dish.
“The biggest thing is balancing the plate with textures and flavors. If you have something that’s rich or fried, you want to pair it with a side dish that’s bright or tangy to cut that richness. Same with texture: If you have a smoother texture on your main, make a nice, crunchy side. Our coconut rice is a bold-flavored side, so it’s best with a paired down, or more basic main dish. Olive oil and salt and pepper on grilled chicken or a pork chop would go really well with it, or a simple garlic, tamari, black pepper marinated tofu — something simple. You wouldn’t want a bunch of flavors fighting with the rice salad,” Klaassen said.
So, let’s give the sides a little more love and attention. You’ll boost the flavors, textures and nutrition of your meals and have more fun cooking, too.
— Reporter: email@example.com
Warm Grain Salad with Pakistani Curry Spices and Spinach Salad from Scanlon’s Restaurant
Makes 6 servings.
Pakistani Curry Paste:
3 roasted, peeled, seeded jalapeno peppers
1 yellow onion, chopped finely
1 TBS peeled, finely chopped fresh ginger
1 TBS finely chopped fresh garlic
2 TBS water
2 TBS olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ C dry white wine
Add jalapenos, onion, ginger, garlic and water to a food processor and blend until smooth. Put the olive oil into a heavy bottom saucepan over high heat, and then add the paste and cook until soft, about 8 minutes, stirring constantly, and then lower the heat to medium.
To the curry paste in the saucepan, add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and cardamom, and stir until the spices are toasted and mixed in well. Add ¼ cup white wine to deglaze the pan, loosening any “fond” or browned bits of food remaining in the pan. Remove the curry paste mixture from the heat and set aside.
Whole Grain Mix:
½ C bulk kamut (high protein wheat kernels)
½ C bulk spelt (a grain with a nutty flavor)
½ C bulk farro (a grain in the wheat family)
Cook each grain separately in a pan, covering the grains with water. Boil until they are soft to the bite, approximately 25 minutes each. (Farro takes the longest of these three grains to cook.) Drain the grains in a colander and allow to cool, and then combine them all.
Note: You can substitute other whole grains: quinoa, gluten-free amaranth, brown rice, for example. You can also cook the grains a day ahead and store them in the refrigerator.
Complete the Warm Grain Salad:
1 TBS olive oil
½ of the curry paste mixture you already made
2 TBS orange juice concentrate
½ C golden raisins
Warm olive oil in a large, heavy bottom pan, then add half of the curry paste and increase the heat to high. When the curry paste is hot, add the mixed grains and stir. When the grains are hot and starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, stir in the orange juice concentrate and golden raisins. Cook until liquid is absorbed, and add more salt to taste. Serve as a side dish or on top of spinach salad (see recipe).
Scanlon’s Spinach Salad
Makes 6 servings.
3-4 C fresh baby spinach
Dressing of your choice: (Scanlon’s uses a vinaigrette made with toasted sesame oil)
4 C sauteed mushrooms (sliced crimini and shiitake)
Pumpkins seeds (1 TBS per salad)
Cherry tomatoes, halved (4-5 halves per salad)
Goat cheese (1 TBS, crumbled, per salad)
Dry-roasted peanuts, rough chopped (1 TBS per salad)
Fresh cilantro, chopped
Shallots, fried (Slice shallots thinly, dust them in rice flour, fry in hot olive oil for 2 minutes until browned and crispy, then drain on paper towels)
Toss spinach with dressing, and top with any of the options that appeal to you: sauteed mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and peanuts.
Add the warm curried grains on top of the spinach salad, and then garnish with cilantro and fried shallots.
— Scanlon’s at the Athletic Club of Bend, 61615 Athletic Club Drive, Bend, 541-382-8769, www.athleticclubofbend.com
Coconut Rice Salad with Cashews & Mango from Devore’s Good Food Store
Makes 4 side dish servings.
1 C basmati rice
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
1⁄3 C diced red onion (about ¼ onion)
¼ C cilantro, chopped
4 green onions, sliced
½ C roasted, salted cashews
1 mango, peeled and diced
1 C coconut milk
2 TBS fresh lime juice
1 TBS Sambal Oelek (chili sauce)
1½ TBS sugar
1 TBS minced fresh ginger
1 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
In a saucepan, cook the rice with 1½ cups of water on the stovetop for about 20 minutes, or cook it in a rice cooker. Chill the cooked rice. Wash and prepare the vegetables. Add the veggies, cashews and mango to the cooled rice.
In a small bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. Pour the dressing over the rice, stir to combine, and then season with more salt or sugar to taste. It’s best chilled, but is also a great side dish served warm (reheat it just before serving).
— Devore’s Good Food Store, 1124 N.W. Newport Ave., Bend, 541-389-6588, www.devoresgoodfoodstore.com
Red Potatoes with Cider Mustard and Candied Bacon
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
If you’re looking for an alternative to creamy potato salad for a change of pace or to pacify mayo skeptics, look no further. This sweet and sour melange is crowned with shards of salty, sugary candied bacon and can be served hot, warm or at room temperature.
— Tara Mataraza Desmond
2½ lbs red potatoes (8 or 9 med), quartered and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper (about 20 grinds)
6 slices thick-cut bacon
2 TBS dark brown sugar
1 sm yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 1 C)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ C apple cider vinegar
3 TBS water
1 TBS pure maple syrup
1 tsp whole grain or stone-ground Dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 400.
In a large mixing bowl, toss the potatoes with the olive oil, half of the salt and half of the pepper. Spread them out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Reserve the bowl.
Cover another baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit it. Set the bacon strips on the sheet, evenly spaced. Distribute the brown sugar across the slices and rub the sugar into one side of each.
Put the baking sheets in the oven on separate racks. Cook the bacon for 15 to 20 minutes, or until crisp. Take care to not overcook because the sugar will burn. Take the bacon out of the oven and move the strips to a paper towel-lined plate to cool completely. Carefully lift the parchment paper and pour the melted bacon grease that pools on it into a small bowl or empty jelly jar. Scoop out 2 tablespoons of the grease and add it to a large saute pan. Store any remaining grease for another use.
Continue roasting the potatoes for 30 minutes longer, until tender and just starting to brown a little. Flip the potatoes over using a spatula once or twice.
While the potatoes cook, heat the bacon grease in the large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 7 minutes, until softened and starting to turn blond. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Pour in the vinegar, water, maple syrup and mustard and whisk to combine. Heat the mixture for 1 minute and then turn off the heat, cover and set aside.
When the potatoes are done, dump them back into the large mixing bowl and pour the warm vinegar mixture over the top. Add the remaining half of the salt and pepper and toss to combine. Let the warm potatoes soak up the vinegar for about 30 minutes.
Transfer the potatoes to a medium platter. Crumble the bacon across the top and serve.
If you plan to make ahead, let the potatoes and vinegar cool and then refrigerate in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature or warm in the microwave and sprinkle the bacon crumbles on top just before serving. The bacon crumbles can be refrigerated in a resealable plastic bag for up to 2 days.
— “Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal,” by Tara Mataraza Desmond, Andrews McMeel Publishing, www.andrewsmcmeel.com, 2013
Broccoli Sesame Crunch
People grow up having broccoli boiled and steamed and boring. I wanted to create something interesting, so people would say, “Wow, broccoli is more than meets the eye.” Blanching and shocking the broccoli — boiling it briefly and then bathing it in cold water to halt the cooking — is the key to making it bright green and crunchy with the slightest tenderness in its bite. Alternatively, you can steam it briefly until just barely fork-tender.
2 lbs broccoli crowns, stem ends trimmed
2 TBS miso paste (mild white or other variety)
1 TBS low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil (light or dark)
2 TBS rice vinegar
½ C thinly sliced scallions (2 or 3 lg scallions)
2 TBS toasted sesame seeds
1 C roasted salted cashews
Cut the broccoli into bite-sized florets and slice the stems into ¼-inch pieces. Fill a large saucepan with water, salt it generously, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli and blanch it for 2 minutes (it will be overly soft and soggy in the salad if you blanch it any longer). Drain and dunk it in a large bowl of ice water or run very cold water over it until it is completely cool. Shake the colander of any excess water and then leave the broccoli to drain for at least 15 minutes. (Skipping this step guarantees a watery pool of vinaigrette at the bottom of the salad bowl when you serve it!) The blanching, cooling and draining step can be done up to a day ahead.
Whisk together the miso, soy sauce, sesame oil and vinegar, breaking up any miso clumps. Once the broccoli is sufficiently drained, transfer it to a serving bowl, pour the miso mixture over it, and toss several times to dress it with the liquid. Add the scallions, sesame seeds and cashews and toss again to combine. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days. If you make the salad ahead, add the sesame seeds and cashews just before serving so they retain their crunch longer.
Ginger Honey Carrots
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Cooked carrots like so many other throwback side sides too often suffer cooking abuse, jostling around in bland, boiling water until mushy soft. Scraped out into a seeping watery pile next to wrinkled green peas, an orange mound of humongous carrot coins is a sad sight. But this preparation does right by the sweet, earthy root, coaxing its sugars with a quick saute and then cloaking the cuts in a sweet and spicy simmer sauce. Fresh ginger packs a punch that heat seekers will love.
1½ TBS honey
1¼ C water
2 tsp rice vinegar
½ tsp kosher salt, plus salt to taste
1 TBS unsalted butter
1½ lbs carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 (2-inch) chunk fresh ginger, peeled and grated on a microplane or very finely minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Whisk the honey, water, vinegar and salt together in a small mixing bowl and set aside.
Heat the butter in a medium deep saute pan or medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and saute for 5 minutes, until they start to release some water and the outsides become just slightly tender. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for 30 seconds.
Pour the liquid over the carrots and bring it to a boil. Cover the pan and decrease the heat to medium-low to simmer for 5 minutes, until the carrots are mostly tender when pierced with a knife. Remove the lid, return the heat to medium-high, and boil the liquid and carrots 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the liquid is nearly gone.
Season to taste with more salt and the pepper as needed. Served immediately.