Most people think first of the entrée when planning a meal, but a good side dish can make or break a meal! Side dishes can be hearty or healthy, hot, cold, and just about anything you can think of. Pasta, rice, legumes, vegetables, fruit - they all make fantastic side dishes that complement a variety of meats and seafood.
Tips for Side Dishes That Make the Meal
Whether you are looking for easy side dishes for parties, light and healthy side recipes, comforting companion dishes to go with dinner, or side dishes for kids, there's no question that they are an important part of everyday eating. Some simple tips and ideas can help you master this essential.
Know What Pairs Well Together
From unusual side dish pairings to classics like macaroni salad and baked beans, knowing which flavor combinations work well together can help you create an unforgettable meal. From a nutrition perspective, you'll want to make sure that you have the major food groups included with all your dishes. Often, choosing a side dish that contrasts with the main dish can make the combination work, such as a light salad to balance fettucini alfredo. Sometimes comfort food combinations (like meatloaf and mashed potatoes) fit the bill - but make sure to still round it out with something lighter to keep the meal from being too heavy. Traditional pairings, such as rice and beans, can also help influence your choices. However, being open to new flavors and trying new combinations can help you come up with something incredible to put next to your main dish. Create non-traditional type side dishes like stuffing or fresh fruit to add variety to your weekday meals, too.
Try Various Cooking Methods
There are lots of options to cook a side, so don't be afraid to experiment. If you usually sautée vegetables, try them on the grill for a twist. Braise or bake something you usually just cook quickly on your stove top to give it a different taste and texture. Switch up the routine to keep it interesting - roast potatoes with herbs in the oven, try pureed fruits for dessert, or use a pressure cooker to quickly serve up street corn, steamed cauliflower or delicious root vegetables. Don't forget the slow cooker! Slow cookers aren't just for the main dish; you can create a variety of side dishes and casseroles in one, too. A slow cooker can also help you make easy side dishes for pot lucks as well.
Add New Items to Your Traditional Side Dish Recipes
If you have a favorite side dish recipe but it's getting old, try adding a new ingredient, or swapping out some of the ingredients for ones with a different flavor. For example, try adding dried fruit, nuts, or chopped vegetables (such as green onions, garlic, broccoli, or others) to your next batch of rice or quinoa. It will give the dish extra punch and texture. Toss swiss chard into your next pasta salad for crunch and color, or try a unique dumpling recipe, like dumplings with wild rice and mushrooms. From cranberry rice to mushroom orzo, there's no limit to what you can try.
Learn to Cook New Sides
Don't be afraid to try new items you haven't cooked before, either. A few simple tips on how to cook millet or farro, for example, can open up a new world of recipes to add to your arsenal. If you've never made risotto or couscous before, give them a try. Consider foods and flavors from other cultures, too, like stuffed grape leaves, tempura batter, falafel, or yakisoba.
Dress Up Your Dish
Little additions can give your side dishes extra pizzazz. Try adding a few fresh or dried herbs to scalloped potatoes or steamed vegetables for extra flavor. Add sauces to your side dishes to create elegant additions to the meal, and add a bit of fresh lemon, lime, or orange juice to fresh vegetables to bring out their flavor and color. Cook or dress your pasta with flavored oil, such as garlic oil, to take it from bland to outstanding.
Try New Side Dish Recipes
The world of side dishes is bursting with possibilities, so don't be afraid to try new recipes! There are options for every possible diet, lifestyle, and flavor preference, from baked potato casserole recipes to homemade applesauce. Whether you're in the mood for a refreshing Texas pea salad or a savory corn pudding, the options are endless.