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

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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 Epicurious.com 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.

            1. If you like onions this recipe is great. So simple and tastes like it has way more ingredients than it does.


              1. I live in a mild climate area and grill outside about half the days of the year. Grilling is a good option for veg. In addition to the other ideas here, try okra. Great grilled with a bit of salt and olive oil. Grilled tomatoes are a nice addition to many of veg. Grilled zucchini and tomatoes are one of my favorites. Using a fish grate on half the grill makes it possible to do two things at once.

                As far as a starch item. Pasta with quick sauce is always an option. Garlic, pepperoncini and olive oil. Goes with everything. At the risk of chowish ire, I also like the Archer Farms risottos at Target, at least the mushroom and red pepper varities. Good and super easy.

                1. Thanks for the ideas, this should certainly liven up our weeknight dinners!

                  1. You need to discover rice. Red beans and Rice, Saffron rice with peas or other veggies, rice seasoned with chicken broth. It will take 20 to 25 minutes. Even Rice a Roni can work. You also need to learn to like easy veggies -- fresh brocolli in the microwave with butter; green beans, zucchini cooked in thin tomato sauce with basil (open a small can of tomato sauce or diced tomatoes to do this), mushrooms, brocolli rabe or leafy greens (not collards) sauteed quickly in olive oil and garlic (think escarole, spinach). Most of these things aren't dense and can cook as quickly as your canned veggies heat up. Cauliflower can be steamed with butter and cheese in the microwave in five minutes. Short of doing this, look at those steamer veggie bags in the supermarket -- however, the only frozen veggie I cook is peas, so I won't recommend them over fresh. I wouldn't hold that against you, however, and admire your wish to improve your meals.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: RGC1982

                      Quinoa is even faster (15-20 min) than rice and is healthier, with lots of protein in it. When we get into a side dish slump, I just go to the bulk bin aisle and get a cup of a different grain. Quinoa cooks up fastest, if you're in a hurry. Just be sure to rinse it first (it has a natural but bitter coating) and saute in a bit of oil before adding the liquid.

                    2. Canned anything= YUK! If ya gotta go simple, I use frozen. I buy bags of frozen peas, corn, spinach. the boys fav is corn and peas with melted butter and a dash of fresh crushed black pepper.

                      Mashed potatos are so simple! If you are in a rush, cube them about 1/2 cubes and boil till soft <about 10-15 mins> then mash with butter, a bit of cream and salt...fast and easy!

                      There's this stuff in a jar called "better than bullion" it is soup base without the MSG cubes have. it comes in chicken, beef, vegetable and even lobster flavor. I use that for most of my sauces and gravy...also very fast prep time.

                      you can saute any vegetable with some minced garlic and it makes a wonderful, healthy, tasty side.

                      please, throw away the cans! <grin>


                      1. ) Cook frozen chopped spinach, drain, mix with 1 tsp each curry powder and garlic powder, salt to taste, and 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, while hot so everything melts. 2) Cut a bit of the stem end out of whole tomatoes, fill hole with crumbled cracker, bake along with rest of meal. 3) Apple salad: cut-up apple, celery, and red grapes with mayonnaise; walnuts optional. 4) Peas (try the new frozen Steam-Fresh) and rice mixed 1/2-1/2 and served with grated Parmesan. 5) Canned sauerkraut mixed with cooked noodles and some caraway seed. 6) Cream sauce with a lot of cheddar cheese in it mixed with cooked cabbage or cauliflower and browned in oven. 7) Zucchini sliced, stir-fried in olive oil, served with Parmesan and wedges of lime. 8) A can of creamed corn, 1-2 eggs, a cup of milk, seasoning to taste, bake = corn pudding. 9) Pre-shredded coleslaw cabbage stir-fried then steamed for a minute with sherry, soy sauce, and a bit of sugar. 10) Pickled beets: cook fresh beets then bring to boil some vinegar, sugar, and pickling spice, pour over beets, refrigerate for a week. 11) Homemade applesauce: peel and core McIntosh apples, add a LITTLE water, simmer about 5 minutes, add sugar, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg and mash apples coarsely with potato masher. 12) Cooked carrots sauteed for a minute with butter, brown sugar, and curry powder.