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Help me with one of my New Year Resolutions - Expand my side dish/starch horizons beyond potatoes and rice and boring green veggies

I need inspiration to tackle this one. I LOVE mashed potatoes and I LOVE good jasmine rice. I don't always cook that as my sides, but I do find that when I'm doing unplanned meals, those are my go-to starch sides. I want to try to start cooking some different things. So how about some ideas so that I can incorporate them in my menu planning, and that way, if they're on the menu, I'll be more likely to cook them.

Ditto for veggies - my vegetable dishes, if not planned in advance, tend to be more of an afterthought, instead of really good. So throw some of those out there for me too, if you don't mind.

Thanks chowhounds!

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  1. I like to make a mixed grain salad (barley, quinoa, wheat berries, brown rice--all, one or two, or just one of these) with chopped cukes, scallions, black olives and a good vinaigrette. Takes a little longer than rice, but I make a big batch to serve warm once, then have leftovers to reheat or serve cold.

    Vegies...I like to mix up the green ones with an occasional serving of cooked carrots (I always forget how much I like them--toss in some fresh dill or a little caraway), a nice dish of roasted tomato (cooked with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper), roasted cauliflower, eggplant patties or eggplant layered with tomatoes, onion and baked...does that help?

    1. I agree with Elizzie, roasted cauliflower is wonderful.

      Also, instead of mashed potatoes, you can mash cauliflower. Cauliflower gratin is wonderful, as is zucchini gratin.

      Sauteed mushrooms with some fresh thyme is a great side for meats.

      How about lentils as a side dish? Or a garbanzo bean salad. I also like a baked polenta, or a creamy polenta.

      Couscous is a nice side, and can be combined with a number of different things (herbs, goat cheese, lemon zest). It's also very easy and quick.

      I like orzo too. I use it two different ways: as a hot side dish with peas and mint, and as a cold side dish with feta, tomato and fresh basil.

      If you like Middle Eastern food, try tabbouleh. Bulgur wheat with mint, parsley, lemon, tomato and olive oil.

      Corn fritters.

      Sometimes as a side, I'll toss bowtie pasta with a little olive oil and parmesan cheese.

      How's that for a start?

      1. Have you ever tried kasha? It's used like a grain but is botanically a grass. In Eastern European cooking it is often mixed with fried onions and bow tie noodles. Whole wheat noodles are another good side dish. You should also give the winter squashes a try. Butternut and acorn squash roasted and dusted with brown sugar, or mashed like sweet potatoes are wonderful. A nice thing you can do on the spur of the moment with your green vegetables is to add a handful of your favorite toasted nut to the dish. We also like to steam our broccoli with a little candied ginger in the pan.A little garlic and oil makes spinach, broccoli rabe and escarole sing with Italin accents.

        1. How about oats or barley? Mom's Scottish, and we used to eat steel-cut oats with dinner, also known as skirlie. The recipe is something like this (Mom's recipe is more like "add chicken broth until it looks right"), but I wouldn't use anything like that much oil:

          4 oz fat or 4 tablespoons of oil
          (traditionally a good flavoured dripping or beef suet would have been used)
          2 onions, finely chopped
          1/4 cup chicken stock or water
          1 3/4 cups steel-cut oats which may be lightly toasted (NOT rolled oats!)
          Salt and pepper to season

          Melt the fat or heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and cook until soft and golden. Add the oatmeal and mix in well. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the stock and allow it to be absorbed by the oatmeal.

          1. These are exactly what I had in mind! I'm taking notes! Keep 'em coming! And thank you!

            1. caprese is always a good one.

              asparagus roasted with olive oil, topped with fried shallots.

              roasted red pepper, onions and tomatoes can be a great start to a delicious RRP & Tomato soup

              An easy way to make a french onion soup is to take a onion, put a pat of butter on it, add a veggie cube and cook, then add some additional broth. delicious. I use this one for camping.

              roast an acorn squash and add honey and butter. i used to loathe squash until i tried it this way. i found out i don't like brown sugar much.

              hope these help.

              1. I have been making a lot of Couscous. Everyone loves it.

                I also love to make Polenta.

                Vegetable Gratin, made with Spinach,Zucchini,or Butternut Squash, is delicious.

                1. You can roast pretty much any veggie and it'll come out great.

                  Veggie sides:
                  broiled tomatoes (halved crosswise and topped with breacrumbs/parmigiano)
                  "mushy peas" (thick sweetpea purée)
                  fennel salad (thinly sliced with lemon juice and a pinch of salt)
                  spaghetti squash with pesto

                  Starch sides:
                  barley pilaf
                  grilled polenta - you can buy the tubes to save time
                  rice noodles - soak then sauté with garlic, etc.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: piccola

                    Agree on the roasted veg - just cut stuff up and add olive oil, salt, pepper, maybe a bit of lemon juice or a cut up onion and let it roast away. Some faves: zucchini, parsnips (seriously! great), sweet potatoes, cauliflower (nice with cumin), baby bok choy (a drizzle of sesame oil on these when finished makes for a great side for asian dishes), and of course asparagus. All wonderful and super easy.

                    1. re: LulusMom

                      I really dig parsnips, too. Roasting also does wonders for okra, lima beans and frozen corn.

                      1. re: piccola

                        Huh, okra! I've never roasted that before. So you buy fresh okra and just trim off the end bit? Roast it in olive oil, I assume? Any particular spices that you like to use, and about how long does it take? I love okra, but have never cooked it myself, and this sounds like a good way to try.

                  2. Mmmm, polenta. Grilled, sauteed, creamy...I've made little batons of oven fried polenta using the tube stuff or leftovers, which reminds me about oven fries (sweet or white potatoes), mashed sweet potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, beets, rutabega....

                    1. Seems to me I got mashed potatoes with mashed leeks added somewhere.

                      1. Rice noodles. Mung bean threads. We keep these cooked, in plastic bags, in the refrigerator. They make a grand base for dishes where we might have used egg noodles or regular rice or potatoes.

                        Try rice flake - find it in Thai groceries - in soups. A marvelous addition --->http://www.foodsubs.com/NoodlesRice.html

                        1. Couscous has been mentioned. But there is also Israeli couscous, which is totally different from the Moroccan type. You can treat it as you would rice.

                          In the veggie category, braised leeks make a tasty side dish. Very simple. Chop the white part of the leeks. Place in a pot with some wine and a little butter. Simmer until tender.

                          A root vegetable puree is another good side dish. Chop some onion. Saute in oil in a saucepan. Add chopped sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, & parsnips. Saute briefly, then add stock or water to cover + s&p to taste. Bring to a boil, then simmer until vegetables are very soft. Puree in a food processor, return vegetables to the pot, add a little heavy cream & butter, and heat through. You can also add spices like cinnamon or cumin.

                          1. steamed artichokes are to me a very simple, yet elegant, offering that makes me feel special.

                            second the recs for sweet potato fries, or consider turnip fries (if you're looking for less cals and carbs)

                            also second the recs for couscous and barley... i've been doing a couscous salad with basil arugula, the little round onions, sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, currants, olive oil, lime juice and seasoned vinegar... so good and refreshing

                            love spaghetti squash, delicata, and butternut squash... the latter are great mashed with butter and cinnamon, the former great with parmesan cheese and butter.

                            i've made a few veggie terrines in the past month, varying the veggies that get layered, and it keeps for a few days in the fridge, so it serves several meals... especially good with a nice loaf of sourdough.

                            i like broccoli and spinach souffles as well.

                            maybe also crepes as a more elegant starch/serving platform?

                              1. Standard starches at chez Sharuf are
                                --mashed black beans
                                --baked yams
                                --buckwheat noodles (soba)
                                --winter squash

                                1. i second israeli couscous, which can also be found labelled fregola (i think italian, maybe sardinian? who knew). in case you are not familiar with it, it is quite different from normal couscous. instead of the usual pasta granules, they are about the size of lentils. i like their texture so much more, and they absorb a lot flavors from meat drippings, etc. i also second spaetzle. but i'm also quite fond of quinoa, which was mentioned above in a mixed grain idea. i like it a lot on its own. it's tender but toothsome, and almost pops in the mouth, like tobiko (without tasting of fish roe, of course. just a nutty, grainy flavor). i think it tastes great in salads, and it cooks a lot faster than most whole grains.

                                  1. I get the heels of loaves of bread from what a bakery used for sandwiches - 25 cents for a huge bag. I'd make huge batches of stuffing, it reheats really well. My neighbors told me a couple days ago to try it with nutmeg and horseradish.

                                    1. I like quinoa a lot better than I do brown rice. It's tastier, has better texture, more protein and leftovers makes really great fried rice.