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May 21, 2008 07:33 PM

I'm in a slump for side dishes, Help!

I rarely have a problem coming up with a main course for dinner, but too often I find myself just heating up a can of veggies or heating up some frozen fries because I'm at a loss for a side dish. Do you have any simple, quick, go to side dishes that you often use for your weekday meals?

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  1. Sauteed greens are always quick and easy. Spinach/chard/kale for a more neutral flavor, radish/mustard greens or arugala for a more bitter flavor. Add in a splash of acid (vinegar of some kind or lemon), plus nuts, fresh or dried fruits, and seasonings.

    Speaking of radish greens, I'm always a fan of braised radishes. Just sautee a bunch (with or without greens) for a few minutes add herbs, garlic, etc, then add a 1/3(ish) cup of stock or other cooking liquid. Let it reduce, and presto.

    If you're looking for starches on the side, polenta is quick, easy, and reusable. Once you make it the first time (creamy, warm), you can use the leftovers reheated, served cold, or bake or fry it for a more solid, bread-like side.

    Good luck!

    1 Reply
    1. re: lex clibanus

      I do a lot of sauteed spinach with fresh garlic. I also sautee/stir fry a lot of mixed veggies, greenbeans, zuchini, carrots, broc, cauliflower and in many combinations. I have been craving things like scalloped potatoes and some baked, small potatoes. Last suggestion. I have been steaming long veggies like asparagus and green and yellow beans in a cored slice of yellow or green squash with a piece of rosemary or basil, looks cool. How about some molded rice dishes?

    2. Pan fry ripe tomatoes (cut in half or quartered) in bacon fat or olive oil or butter, whatever fat you like, sprinkle with a little salt before serving. I pan fry the tomatoes about 3-4 minutes per cut side.

      Green beans: boil for 3-4 minutes (maximum). Drain, put in a generous pat of butter (say about 1-2 tablespoons), mix it up, then sprinkle with fleur de sel or sea salt. All I do to prep the beans is rinse them and chop off the tips, but you don't even have to do that.

      Small new potatoes: Wash, then boil until tender, about 20 minutes with a sprig of dill in the boiling water. Drain, add generous dollop of butter, and fleur de sel or sea salt. (dill optional, but it adds a lovely flavour to the potatoes).

      These three side dishes sound too simple, but they are wonderful to eat, especially if the vegetables are fresh and beautiful. They don't take very long to prep and make, and will certainly be better than frozen fries and canned veggies. Nice vegetables are best treated simply. Key: don't overcook them, and be generous with salt and butter! You can find any vegetable that looks nice in the store, and do a simple saute or boil, and it is going to be tasty.

      1. serve a salad w/ a simple vinaigrette.
        Asparagus is at its peak right now; just steamed w/ butter is yummy.
        I like roasted potatoes, especially new potatoes -- scrub, cut in half and put in pan at 400 degrees w/ whole peeled garlic and some thyme -- just throw in whole stems or some dried, covered for 20 mins and then turn and uncover. These can sit if need be.
        Rice is always good and easy.
        Couscous -- especially the large Israeli -- oil in pan w/ chopped onions, then couscous, then stock or water, cover and cook. You can add some zucchini or sun dried or regular tomatoes.
        Sauteed greens, or spinach w/ cream.

        1. I love roasted vegies, all kinds are fantastic - I change it up a lot. Sometimes just lemon juice and olive oil, s&p - other times balsamic, olive oil, s&p or olive oil, s&p and fresh shaved parm at the end. Oh, and I change up herbs too - I love paprika or cumin. My favorite has to be brocolli, but I also love the peppers, cabbage is great roasted, cauliflour, tomatoes (cherry or grape), asparagus, zucchini, summer squach - go wild with roasting. Doesn't take long either. Make too much and puree it for a nice soup for the next day. I love added surachi to my soup for zip.

          1 Reply
          1. re: lexpatti

            Lex, I too love roasted or grilled veggies. Now that spring is here, we have been firing up the grill and while the protein is cooking, thrown on some colored peppers, red onions, portobello mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, leeks, whatever. Olive oil is a must but variety can come in different flavored vinegars - red wine, sherry, white wine, champagne, dijon mustard or herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary, etc). Leftovers are great as fillings for frittata or quiche.

            Have been making a spinach strawberry salad with red onions and bacon or crumbled cheese with a sherry vinaigrette.

            Corn is just starting to come into our area and I love roasted corn on the grill. We use leftovers in corn pudding, spoon bread, corn salad, or corn/tomato salsa.

            We try to limit carbs, but pasta is a huge side dish for us during the week. We make a killer Alfredo with butter, Parmesan Reggiano, and some half & half or whole milk. Couscous because it is so ridiculously simple, is a great weekday starch as well. I cook it in chicken broth and season with sauteed onions, roasted garlic puree, toasted nuts and parsley.

            Have been on a peas and pearl onion kick lately as well. Frozen peas taste great and you can poach them in whole milk, butter and season with a little nutmeg.

            It's artichoke season! Bought 4 for $2.50 last week at the market. Just steamed up a big batch and we will be having them cold for a few days with various dipping sauces.

          2. Our backup standby esp if company is of the meat and potatos type is Near East rice pilaf to which we had maybe 3/4 cup of frozen peas during the last 10 minutes of cooking. When I grocery shop I buy whatever veggies look good and are a decent price. With two little granddaughters coming to dinner every Thurs night we tend to just steam vegetables or boil briefly. Last week I made orzo with corn, roasted red peppers and roasted red onion. Can't remember what else besides a little olive oil and fresh parsley. I get Cooking Light magazine and have file cards listing the recipes I want to try. Sometimes I'll find something on when I have a particular ingredient. Because we try to eat healthy we also buy mixed varieties of brown rice (Lunberg is good) which we find tastier than just plain brown rice. Again, we might add some green peas or I'll add sauteed chopped onion, mushrooms, whatever to leftover rice to make our own version of fried rice. Peel sweet potatos, cut into skinny wedges, toss with olive oil, S&P, and roast in the oven. You might also try different herb/spice blends. I'll also cook half cauliflower and half white potatos, mash with milk and add a small handful of shredded swiss cheese. Acorn or Buttercup squash can be cooked in the microwave very quickly (6 minutes), halved or quartered and served with butter. I liked to season my serving with a maple sugar and pepper blend. I think your solution to more interesting sides will start with seeing what's good at the market. I think it's important to use as much fresh vegetables as possible and you don't have to fuss with them.