When my wife and I are getting the weekly shopping list together, it is so easy to figure out what we want for entrees. Chicken cutlets? Sounds good, write it down. Shrimp? So easy to make! No brainer. Ok, now side dishes. Ummm. Let me think…
Coming up with delicious and easy side dishes is the problem. And people tell me quite often that that is what they struggle with, too. We want something different usually, but not complicated either.
I’ve made a list of 5 side dishes that are delicious, easy and not your typical veggie or starch. But they are simple enough to make any night of the week for any meal. The holidays are coming up, so, make some room on the festive table for these. They also work great for a special occasion!
1-Potato and Fennel Bake
So simple, yet so delicious. Fennel is a licorice flavored vegetable that some people think that they don’t like. If you try it raw, it has a very pronounced licorice flavor, but when cooked, it gets way toned down and becomes nice and sweet. It is a perfect match for creamy potatoes.
I slice up 1 potato per person and a whole head of fennel with a mandoline slicer. It takes seconds to do and ensures that all the slices are the same so everything cooks at the same time. Spray some foil with cooking spray and then line the foil with a layer of potato followed by a layer of fennel. Hit it with some cooking spray again and then add salt and pepper to taste.
Pop it in a preheated oven set to 375 for about 20 minutes and it’s done. Literally seconds of work for a side dish that you will make time and time again.
2-Pan Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Crispy Fried Shallot
I always like Brussel sprouts, but I didn’t fall in love with them until I tried them pan roasted for the first time. You will notice that pan roasted theme if you pay enough attention to this blog. To me, it’s the only proper way to cook vegetables. Instead of boiling them and tossing them with butter, which is easy and tastes good enough, try pan roasting them. You will intensify and bring out the sweetness in the Brussel sprouts. Boiling them gives them a somewhat cabbagy and sulfuric aftertaste which some people really don’t like.
I also love them topped with some crispy fried shallots for another depth of flavor. It is an extra step that you might not want to bother with, but I like doing it this way since it makes them a little special and not your average side dish.
I would get the Brussel sprouts frozen. Getting them fresh and then cleaning them one by one can be a real hassle. And I don’t notice any reduction in flavor or texture when you use frozen. Put a saute pan on high heat with about 1/2 inch of water. Add the Brussel sprouts in a single layer and when the water comes to a boil reduce the heat to medium low and cover. Cook until the water is evaporated, then add a tablespoon of oil and season to taste. Cover again and toss around every few minutes until you can pierce them easily with the tip of a paring knife. Place them in a dish and get your shallots going.
While the Brussel sprouts are cooking, peel and slice your shallots. Put a medium sauce pan on medium heat with about 1/2 cup of olive oil. Add your shallots and cook them lightly until they look translucent about 3-4 minutes. Then remove them from the oil and put them on a paper towel and bring the heat up to high. Put the shallots back in the pan and cook again, really frying them this time until they are golden brown. Remove them from the oil and place them on a fresh paper towel and let them drain. Season with salt.
Then just plate up your sprouts and cover with the fried shallots. If you got frozen Brussel sprouts then the whole process should take about 15 minutes.
3-Grilled Zucchini with Lemon, Parsley Vinaigrette
If you are already cooking some meat or chicken, or whatever on the grill then make some space for this zucchini side dish. Or if you aren’t cooking on the grill then use a handy grill pan, which still gives a hint of smoky flavor. My favorite way to cook zucchini is to grill it. It gets a hint of sweetness plus a slight charred flavor that can’t be beat. And this lemon parsley vinaigrette really livens up the flavor.
Slice your zucchini into 1/2 inch rounds or strips while your pan heats up on a medium flame. Then just spray the pan with cooking spray and lay one layer of zucchini down and then cover with the spray on top. Cook them about 2 minutes before flipping them over. Cook another 2 minutes then turn them 90 degrees for another 2 minutes, then flip for the last 2 minutes. That will get you some restaurant quality grill marks as you can see in the picture!
While they cook, I add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of good quality olive oil, 2 tablespoons of parsley and salt and pepper into a Chef’n Veggie Chop. Give it a few good whirls and your sauce is done in just seconds. When the zucchini is done, just spoon it over the top.
I timed this one from when I started cutting the zucchini to when it was done in 10 minutes. I like the zucchini to not be totally soft. A bit al dente in a way. Not crunchy at all, but not falling apart either.
Anyway, 10 minutes and you have a light side dish.
4-Roasted Mushrooms with Herbs and Garlic
If you are struggling with time on the weeknights when you need to get dinner on the table, but, also don’t want another mundane side dish, then this is the dish for you to try ASAP! It’s another recipe where you take a few seconds of prep to make a side dish that tastes complicated. Like the potato an fennel mentioned earlier in the first post of the list, you will love just popping this foil wrapped goodie in the oven with no fuss.
Just slice up some button or cremini mushrooms, or whatever mushrooms you like and set aside. Then finely mince a clove of garlic. I like fresh thyme with mushrooms, but use whichever fresh herb you like for this one. Make sure it’s fresh herbs, though, so you get a bright flavor from them instead of a more earthy flavor from dried.
Take a sheet of foil and add your mushrooms, garlic, thyme, a tablespoon of olive oil and season to taste. Fold it up into a rectangle making sure it is pretty well sealed and pop in the oven at 375 for about 20 minutes.
When you take them out of the foil, make sure you do it over a dish or bowl as it will have some juices in there. It even makes it’s own sauce! Plate it up and pour the juices over the top. I like to drizzle a little good extra virgin olive oil over it.
5-Turkish Style Spinach
You may have noticed a trend in all of these side dishes. No meat. No dairy. That isn’t because I am a vegan. It’s just that a lot of Mediterranean cooking doesn’t need any. This is a perfect example of that. If you treat the vegetables simply, they taste great without the addition of any meat or cheese.
This recipe is simple, and I made it even simpler by using good quality frozen spinach. No washing or de-stemming. I started by sautéing a half a white onion chopped roughly in a sauté pan with some olive oil. Once it was mostly cooked, I added 1 clove of garlic sliced and about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. I mixed everything up a bit to cook the paste in the pan and then added the thawed spinach to the pan with salt and pepper and about a teaspoon of ground coriander. I love the lemony brightness of coriander with this spinach dish, but you could grate a bit of nutmeg in if you prefer that.
While that was cooking I put a small pan over medium heat and dry toasted 1/4 cup of pine nuts. You don’t need any oil in the pan or anything. Just toss them around every 30 seconds or so until you notice them turn a golden brown. It shouldn’t take more than 3 minutes. Then just plate up the spinach and sprinkle the pine nuts over the top. I timed this from when I started cutting the onion to when it was plated and it all happened in 12 minutes.
It just goes to show you that you don’t need to do anything complicated to put something different on your table. With 2 pre-school aged kids of my own, plus work and shopping and everything else that life throws at you, I know how difficult it is to have to cook for a family. So, I kept that in mind when coming up with these recipes. I wanted to make sure even a busy parent can come up with something different and delicious without adding any stress to your day. Quite the opposite, you will feel happy having something out of the ordinary for a nice change of pace.
As usual I ask that you share this on your favorite social media site. I’d like to add Yummly to the list, too, if I may. I can hear you groan now! Not another social media site! Yes, but this one is just for recipes. It’s sort of like Pinterest but only for food. I added a button to the side bar on the left to Yum these recipes if you so desire.
Let me know if there is anything else that you are struggling with in the kitchen and I will surely do my best to help out. As I said, I know the struggle. I’m here to help!