The best and easiest side dishes

The best dishes don’t have to be complicated or involve tons of complicated ingredients, and for Pete’s sake, they don’t need to be made in a store.

Here are a few of my favorite simple side dishes, that require very little time and only a few ingredients each. And like nearly everything I cook, they are highly adaptable to whatever is in your kitchen.

Cheesy Greens Gratin

This is a great way to use up those leafy greens you got in your CSA box, or picked up at the market even though you weren’t sure what to do with them. You can use any type of chard, kale, spinach, or other hearty, leafy green vegetable. All of those green vitamins will help you not feel so bad about the three kinds of cheese and cream inside.

  • 2-3 lbs leafy greens (chard, kale, spinach, etc.), chopped
  • 2 cups sour cream or Mexican crema (basically a thicker, saltier sour cream)
  •  1 cup crumbled feta cheese or cotija cheese
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 tbs. butter
  • 1 cup panko crumbs
  • 1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400. Mix together all of the vegetables, cream, cheese, and salt and pepper, and place in an oven-safe glass dish. Mix the panko and breadcrumbs together and sprinkle over the top, and place thin pats of butter over the crumbs.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the crumbs are browned and the mixture is slightly bubbly.

cheesey greens gratin

 

Crunchy Fresh Vegetables with Fish Sauce

This is another one that is *mostly* healthy but can be a little high in sodium if you’re not careful. Fish sauce is an incredible ingredient, because it packs a metric ton of flavor into a few little dashes of liquid. However, it also contains about 70-80% of your daily recommended intake of sodium, so when you add the butter, or the pepper at the end, be sure to NOT add any more salt. It would put the sodium level straight over the top.

And, as with most of my favorite recipes, you can adapt it to whatever fresh produce you have on hand. Personally, I love this recipe best with fresh, crunchy green beans or snap peas, but you can also make it with Brussels sprouts,  broccoli or baby broccoli, or even okra.

  • 2 lbs. fresh, crunchy vegetables like green beans or snap peas
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • cracked black pepper

Trim your veggies and start to melt the butter in a heavy pan. When the vegetables are cooked slightly (about 5 minutes), add the fish sauce and pepper. Serve immediately.

green beans with fish sauce

Stuffed Mushrooms

Two words: People Pleaser. If you’ve been invited to a nice party, a potluck, or even just over to a friend’s house to watch a football game, you should bring these. They take very little time to make, and they will disappear even faster.

  • 15-20 whole cremini mushrooms (about 4 lbs.)
  • 1/2 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp. garlic paste (or 2-3 cloves of crushed fresh garlic)
  • 1 cup panko or other breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Remove the stems from the mushrooms and place, face-up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the onions, bacon and garlic paste, and gently spoon it into each mushroom (You will have extra mixture, so stuff them as full as you can. It’s OK if they overflow a little.)

stuffed mushrooms

Sprinkle grated cheese and crumbs over each mushroom, and drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the whole pan. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cheese is melty, the crumbs are crunchy, and the mushrooms are tender. Serve and eat immediately.

Kitchen Sink Cold Orzo Salad

I really love traditional orzo, made with barley. If you can find that, use it. But if not, any type of orzo (with wheat or other flour) will do just fine. This recipe also needs a spicy cold cut of meat — I used my own homemade pastrami, but feel free to use storebought pastrami (if you must) or any cured, salted meat product, like a cold salami.

Like any other “kitchen sink” recipe, this is with everything but the kitchen sink … I pretty much always have a squash or a carrot or a piece of some sort of vegetable in my fridge. Feel free to substitute what you have on hand.

  • 1 12-oz. package of orzo, cooked to manufacturer instructions and then cooled
  • approx. 1 1/2 lbs. of pastrami or other salty cold cut
  • 3 small yellow squash
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 tsp. dried marjoram
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. spicy mustard

Whisk together the mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and marjoram in a small bowl and set aside. Chop the squash, carrots, and meat.

Gently toss the cooked and cooled orzo with the vegetables and meat, and coat the entire mixture with the dressing. Pour slowly so you don’t drench the salad. Chill for an hour and serve cold.

orzo salad

Drunken Yams

No explanation is needed. Instead of just roasting your sliced potatoes, sweet potatoes, or yams, give them a shot or two of your favorite dark liquor.

Bourbon is recommended, but another type of whiskey, Scotch, brandy or rum will do just fine. If you REALLY want to kick it up a notch, sprinkle a bit of sriracha over those boys, too.

 

drunken yams

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October Unprocessed: Quinoa Salad

October is a great time to be unprocessed. Most stores still carry the last of the summer produce, and the pumpkins, squashes and gourds of all types are plentiful.

This challenge is a great opportunity to try new recipes and new ingredients, especially when you can substitute new, healthy ingredients for processed ones. One of those ingredients for me is quinoa … I really enjoy it and want to find more ways to use it. For the second week of the challenge, I combined several different quinoa salad recipes, plus improvised with what was fresh in this week’s CSA box.

Quinoa Salad

  • 4 cups quinoa, cooked and cooled to room temperature
  • 1 can of tuna in water, drained
  • a bunch of fresh sunflower greens, chopped
  • a bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 5-6 large mushrooms
  • about a pound of fresh Brussels sprouts (10-12 heads), halved
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Warm Quinoa Salad

While the quinoa is cooking and cooling, roast the mushrooms and Brussels sprouts over high heat with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar until the vegetables are nicely browned. Allow them to cool and slice the mushrooms.

Toss the quinoa with the tuna and feta cheese, add the roasted vegetables (as well as the juices that came from the roasting pan), carrots, and fresh greens, and mix well. Season to taste and top with sliced avocado.

 

quinoa salad recipe card

Chef Katherine’s show-stopping sprouts – 3 ways

For anyone who doesn’t like brussels sprouts, this recipe will change your mind. Forget your childhood memories about being forced to finish every last bite, about the bitter bite of the sprout, probably boiled or steamed so as to remove all possibility of flavor.
 
How, you ask, would one make a vegetable so reviled into something spectacular?
 
Same way we make everything spectacular; we fry it and then cover it in bacon. Then drizzle it with some love in the form of balsamic vinegar and good port wine.
 
 
For those who don’t eat meat or would like a vegetable dish that’s not quite so … shiny … I also developed two vegetarian and likely healthier alternatives. I did three versions: the original Bo Beau recipe; one with sesame oil, mushrooms and scallions; and another with a delicious pomodori al forno.
 

Try your own variations of this recipe!

 
The recipe comes from Chef Katherine Humphus at Bo Beau Kitchen +Bar in San Diego, where she serves this crispy sprout recipe every day. It’s one of their most popular dishes and is my favorite of everything I have tried there. Chef Katherine was kind enough to share the recipe with me!
 
Chef Katherine Humphus’s Crispy Brussels Sprouts
 
  • 1 cup sprouts, trimmed and quartered
  • vegetable oil for sauteeing
  • 1 tbsp pancetta, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • tbsp shaved parmesean
Crip pancetta and remove from heat; set aside. Heat two inches of oil in a skillet to 375 and fry sprouts for 30 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon, toss with pancetta, salt and pepper, and plate with balsamic port reduction (recipe follows) and parmesean.
 
 
 
Balsamic port reduction
 
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup port wine
 Place in small saucepan and reduce over medium-high for about 15 minutes until the consistency of maple syrup.
 
 
I also did two vegetarian versions of this whopper.
 
Don’t like bacon? (Then get off my page! Ok .. kidding …)
 
 
Try sauteeing a few mushrooms and chopped scallions with some sesame oil, and toss that with the crispy sprouts instead.
 
 
How about a rustic, summery feel?
 
Try roasting tomatoes with basil and garlic and tossing the mixture with the sprouts. (Note: both variations were drizzled with the balsamic/port reduction.)