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Monday, March 4, 2024
March 4, 2024

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Bored with traditional holiday sides? 3 ways to mix it up

Experiment using something different in side dishes


Holidays are a time of year for entertaining and family gatherings with food taking center stage.

Dishes can be wonderfully traditional or you can mix it up with a new twist on the classics. I love side dishes and often make a meal out of the various side offerings at a holiday table. The creativity, variety and choice of flavors make side dishes a great vehicle to try something new.

Most of us prepare the traditional entrees, such as roast turkey or ham or possibly a beef tenderloin, but the sides are where you can kick it up a notch and experiment with something new. I tend to lean toward texture and color to add pop to my holiday sides and enjoy trying different herbs, spices and nuts to create delicious results.

An added benefit of side dishes is that most can be prepared ahead and either frozen or refrigerated with just a quick heating before serving. I recommend doing as many dishes as possible ahead of time for a stress-free holiday.

Try the following ways to mix up your sides for the holidays and enjoy your time with friends and family.

Add texture

I always have a variety of nuts and dried fruit on hand to add crunch or chewiness to a rice or grain dish. I love almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and cashews.

The best way to store nuts is in the freezer to ensure freshness. Remember to toast them in a dry skillet to bring out the nutty flavor.

Dried cranberries, currants, raisins and apricots are all wonderful and add a touch of sweetness as well as color. Adding thinly sliced scallion, shallots or finely diced red onion is another way to get some added texture and flavor to your side dishes.

Spice it up

Indian spices are wonderful with just about any dish as they add depth and warmth, especially in the colder months. Cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, mustard seeds and ground ginger are great with roasted vegetables, grains, beans and sautéed vegetables.

I often add toasted spices to mashed potatoes for an extra kick. Sumac is a spice that has gained popularity and has a citrus flavor that works well with any vegetable or bean spread, such a hummus.

Vegetables and starches, including potatoes, are well suited to roasting, pureeing, sauteing and grilling. I find it fun to try a new method of preparing your standard side dish, such as pureeing your vegetables, for a beautiful presentation. There’s the added bonus of being able to prepare them ahead. Parsnip, butternut squash and pea puree are delicious.

Try something new

There are so many vegetables, grains and carbohydrates, why not try something new this year?

  • The roasted fennel and carrot recipe here is a great example. Fennel lends itself well to a number of preparations, such as roasting, grilling, steaming, pureeing and thinly sliced in a salad. With its unique anise flavor and versatility, I use it regularly in all kinds of side dishes.
  • Cauliflower mashed “potatoes” could be your new go-to dish for the holidays. Flavor it with butter and milk or cream, and you’ll never miss potatoes.
  • Try sweet potato oven fries. Simple to make and good for you as well, these vitamin packed spuds are perfect to include in your repertoire.

The following recipes are versatile and easy to prepare ahead. All three dishes can be made the day before and heated before serving for about 10 to 15 minutes, covered, in a serving dish.

The rice can be made with a variety of grains from quinoa to couscous. Remember, you can create your own wonderful side dishes by mixing it up and choosing an ingredient that you may not have used before.

Roasted Fennel, Carrots And Shallots

Yield: 6 servings

Roasted vegetables can be made with your favorite veggies, such as Brussels sprouts, zucchini, mushrooms, cauliflower and red peppers. The caramelization that happens when you cook vegetables not only is delicious but makes for an appetizing presentation. You can use any toasted nut for this dish such as almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts.

2 large fennel bulbs, stalks removed, halved, core removed

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds on the diagonal

8 medium shallots, peeled and halved

1 head garlic, peeled and cut in half lengthwise

1 tablespoon thyme, chopped

2 teaspoons rosemary, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Slice the fennel bulbs into 1/4-inch wedges and transfer to a large bowl. Add the olive oil, carrots, shallots, garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper and toss well. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Spoon into a serving dish and scatter the pine nuts over the top and serve.

Acorn Squash Wedges With Parsley Walnut Pesto

Yield: 8 servings

I make this dish often as an entree when I want to serve a meatless meal. You can substitute any nut for the walnuts, such as pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts or pistachios. Basil is commonly used for pesto and can be used if desired.

2 medium acorn squash, halved, seeded and cut in 3-inch wedges

Olive oil for drizzling

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 cups Italian parsley, stems removed, washed

½ cup walnut pieces, lightly toasted

2 cloves garlic, peeled

⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup olive oil

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Transfer the wedges of squash to a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 40 minutes. Set aside, covered with foil. Lower the oven to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, combine the parsley, walnuts, garlic and Parmesan in a food processor and blend until smooth, add the oil slowly with the machine running and season well with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon some of the pesto into each wedge of squash and return to the oven. Bake for about 10 minutes until the filling is hot. Transfer to a serving dish and serve warm.

Wild And Brown Rice Pilaf With Cranberries, Almonds And Parsley

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

This is one of my favorite side dishes for any time of the year. The combination of brown and wild rice makes for a wonderful chewy, nutty flavor. The addition of the toasted almonds, slightly sweet cranberries and fresh herbs makes this dish a hit. You can also substitute rice with a variety of grains, such as quinoa, bulgur to couscous.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 cup short grain brown rice

51/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup wild rice

1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted

1/3 cup dried cranberries

3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

1 tablespoon thyme, chopped

4 scallions, thinly sliced

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Sauté the onion until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the brown rice and sauté 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add two and a half cups of the broth and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Cook until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the wild rice, a pinch of salt and the remaining three cups of broth in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and cover. Lower the heat to medium and cook until tender, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Allow both rices to sit, covered for about 5 to 10 minutes, off the heat. Drain the wild rice if needed.

Combine the almonds, cranberries, parsley, thyme and scallions in a serving dish. Add the warm rice and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.