Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The side dish. I feel this is one of the greatest conundrums for the at home cook. When M and I were first cooking together the prospect of making more than one thing at a time was too overwhelming. We ate a LOT of one dish meals, looking for especially vegetable heavy versions. Regular readers will note that we still eat many things that could be considered one dish meals, but we almost always also have a side dish of fruit or vegetables. Our main goal for side dishes is to round out the meal. If we have a heavy dish (lasagne), we aim for a light side (salad with a garlic-y dressing). If the main dish is very light (pasta with sauteed greens and garlic) we often have a protein-rich side (warm white bean and red pepper salad). That way everything balances and you don't have to get all your nutrients out of one recipe. Also, M and I like colorful plates and side dishes really can add to your "palette". That said, for all of you out there who are just beginning to cook or don't like it as much as we do, free yourself from the feeling that you have to have a side dish or two every night. You really can make healthy and wonderful one dish meals.

But for those of you who have the time or the inclination (or the simple need to increase the amount of fruit and vegetable in your diet), here are some ideas that make our side dishes relatively easy.

1) When you make a dinner you like, write on the recipe what you ate with it. That way the next time you make the main dish, you don't have to come up with a new accompaniment. I have even been known to write things like, "This is great with frozen broccoli."
2) Think simple. Vegetables are very good steamed or sauteed (add garlic, shallots or onion to add complexity and a bit of flavor if desired). Fruit, when ripe, is wonderful washed and sliced, period.
3) Develop a repertoire of easy "sauces" and dressings you can make quickly and from memory - no need for recipes. A few follow this list of ideas.
4) Similarly, develop a stock list of recipes you have with certain types of food that you can make quickly and from memory.
5) Embrace some convenience items. Michael and I love sliced hearts of palm and quartered artichoke hearts. These items come in cans, and so only need to be opened, drained and rinsed, and sliced to serve. We often will make little composed salads of hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, and grape or cherry tomatoes. It doesn't even need dressing! Also,do I even have to mention the wonder of bag salad? No, not as environmental, but very easy. We typically home make dressings (see below), but I freely admit to having a couple bottles in the fridge for crises.
6) There are some great baked side dishes that are simple and can be baked at the same time as casseroles. Baked tomatoes, potatoes, and many kinds of roasted vegetables (Green beans, carrots, beets, peppers, onions, both summer and winter squashes, sugar snap peas, blends. Toss with oil, salt and pepper and a bit of balsamic). Easy to prepare and no extra time to cook.
7) We've barely touched on starches, but if you're really in a bind and need a fast starch, I love frozen jasmine and brown rice. Microwave for three minutes and serve. We don't do this often, but, in a pinch, it's great

Easy sauces and dressings

1) Most vegetables are wonderful lightly sauteed in olive oil. Once they're cooked to your tenderness preference, toss with salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Yum.
2) A basic Dijon vinaigrette (1 T olive oil (we use extra virgin, but regular is fine), 1 T water, 3 T red wine vinegar, 1 t Dijon mustard, salt and pepper) is wonderful both on cold salad greens and hot vegetables (green beans and carrots both leap to mind)
3) Balsamic dressing (2 T olive oil (not extra virgin in my opinion), 3 T balsamic, salt and pepper) is amazing on salad, especially on peppery greens like arugula.
4) One of our favorite salad dressing is what we call garlic dressing. It's the same Dijon vinaigrette from above (with or without the mustard to your preference) + 2 minced or pressed small cloves of garlic. Shake well and you'll keep the vampires away!
5) Mediterranean foods benefit from sides tossed with extra virgin olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Don't even make a dressing, drizzle and shake the above onto hot or cold vegetables. Yum.
6) Mexican foods are great served with salad (greens or a mix of avocados and diced tomato) sprinkled with lemon juice and salt. That's it! We also often toss greens with a salsa verde dressing (1 T salsa verde, 1 T canola oil, 1 T water, 1/2 T lime juice, 1/4 t ground cumin,salt and pepper to taste).
7) The cucumber salad. Yes, amazingly easy and versatile. Peel (or peel in stripes) a large cucumber (regular or English), slice or chunk, place in a bowl, and sprinkle with salt and rice vinegar.
8) Plain yogurt mixed with a little honey and gently stirred into fruit salad is revolutionary. Alternately, the same mixture can be used as a fruit dip if you want to be a bit more involved than plain fruit.


1 comment:

Ryan said...

That is a really good post! I will admit I am mainly a one-pot cook as well, as you can see on my blog! But I do love to have some veg on the side, usually just steamed or raw as a salad. I am going to use some of your tips in the future!