Side dishes


Tacos go technicolor with this lively combination of grilled chicken and summer vegetables. If you like yours spicy, add a generous pinch of crushed red pepper to the marinade and a few jalepenos to the salsa. Serve with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, and soft corn or flour tortillas.

Tangy grilled chicken thighs

Serves 6

2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/2 c. red wine vinegar

1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes)

6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

2 tbsp. brown sugar

2 tsp. cumin seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant and roughly chopped

1/3 c. olive or canola oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Trim chicken of excess fat and place in a large, shallow dish (or gallon-sized zip-top bag).

Whisk together vinegar, lime juice, garlic, sugar, and cumin seed until sugar is dissolved. Drizzle in oil, whisking well to incorporate.

Pour marinade over chicken and toss to coat.  Refrigerate for a few hours, turning chicken occasionally so all pieces are well-marinated.

Remove chicken from marinade. Discard marinade. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat, turning halfway through cooking, until done, 12-15 minutes.

Avocado-corn salsa

Lime juice can be a little bitter — a spoonful of sugar helps take the edge off. If you prefer, use cider vinegar instead and leave the sugar out.

Makes about 4 cups, serving 4-6

2 large ears corn, grilled if you like, kernels removed (or 1 1/2 c. frozen corn, thawed)

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

2 red bell peppers, diced small

1 large avocado, diced

1 handful cilantro leaves, finely chopped

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 lime)

2 tsp. granulated sugar (optional)

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Combine corn, onion, peppers, avocado, and cilantro in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together lime juice and sugar until sugar dissolves.  Whisk in oil, then drizzle over salsa.  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.

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This humble, hearty recipe began as an afterthought, thrown together at the last minute to round out a dinner of baked salmon and carrot salad.  I had half a box of orecchiette and a can of chickpeas languishing in the back of the pantry, an overgrown herb garden that needed cutting back, and — despite a nagging feeling that beans and pasta would be too heavy for a warm summer evening — no time to rethink.

Good thing, because the results were refreshingly delicious.  Better yet, our 5 year old (who tends to reject dishes speckled with “little green bits”) cleaned his plate!  And the leftovers, served with a scoop of sweet and tangy carrot salad, made an excellent lunch the next day.

Orecchiette and chickpeas

Makes about 3 1/2 c., serving 4

1/2 lb. orecchiette

15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)

1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh parsley

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh mint

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Cook orecchiette in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just tender.  Drain.

While pasta cooks, whisk together lemon juice, oil, and herbs in a large mixing bowl.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Toss hot pasta and chickpeas with dressing.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.  Serve warm.

This hash goes nicely with everything from salmon to steak.  I like to balance its smoky sweetness and vibrant colors with a side of lemony sauteed spinach.  The recipe makes a lot:  for a hearty breakfast,  reheat leftovers in a non-stick skillet or spread in a single layer on a sheet pan in a moderate oven, and serve with eggs or grapefruit and sliced avocado.

Sweet potato hash

Yield:  Makes about 8 c., serving at least 6

4 good-sized sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ½” dice

6 oz. sliced bacon

Olive oil, as needed

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced

1 tbsp. maple syrup

1 tsp. cider vinegar

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add diced sweet potatoes and cook until barely tender, about 3 minutes.  Drain in a colander, then return potatoes to pot to steam off excess moisture.

Brown bacon in a large, non-stick skillet (or, better yet, use a large pancake griddle, if you have one) over medium heat.  When crisp, remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  When cooled, crumble and set aside.

Pour off and reserve all but 2 tbsp. bacon fat from pan (or discard bacon fat and use olive oil instead).  Add half the potatoes and cook, undisturbed, until bottoms of potatoes are nicely browned, about 7 minutes.  Turn potatoes with a spatula, season generously with salt, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are evenly browned and soft in the middle, 5-8 minutes more.  Remove potatoes to a large mixing bowl and lightly cover to keep warm.  Add 2 tbsp. reserved bacon fat or oil to skillet and cook remaining potatoes in the same manner. (If you have a large griddle, you can cook the potatoes in a single batch.)  Remove second batch to the mixing bowl.

Add 1 tbsp. bacon fat or oil to skillet, raise heat to medium-high, and cook pepper and scallions until just softened, about 2 minutes.  Return potatoes to pan and toss gently until hot throughout.  Stir in crumbled bacon, syrup, and vinegar, and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.

Root vegetable salads are perfect for early spring, when you want something light and fresh but warm weather vegetables aren’t in season yet.  This bright, crunchy carrot salad is made with dried fruit and seeds from the pantry and chives from the garden.  A little bit sweet, a little bit tangy, it’s mildly addictive and very kid-friendly.

Grated carrot salad with orange and honey

Yield:  Makes about 6 cups, serving 6-8

2 lbs. carrots, peeled and grated

Heaping 1/2 c. currants or raisins

Heaping 1/2 c. roasted sunflower seeds

1/4 c. finely chopped, fresh chives

Juice of 1 large orange (about 1/2 c.)

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp. honey

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Combine grated carrots, currants, sunflower seeds, and chives in a large mixing bowl.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together orange juice, oil, vinegar, honey, a pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper until well incorporated.  Toss salad with dressing and let sit, stirring occasionally, at least 10 minutes before serving.

Boulanger is French for “baker.”  This classic, peasant casserole of potatoes and onions is so named because it was traditionally cooked overnight in the residual heat of a baker’s oven, after the day’s bread was finished.  Unlike other scalloped potato dishes that are soaked in cream and smothered with cheese, boulangere potatoes are relatively light.  Cooked in stock with just a touch of butter, they are earthy and sweet, simple yet immensely satisfying.  You can add a sprinkling of finely chopped, fresh thyme or an ounce or two of diced pancetta to the onions, if you like, but I prefer them plain.

Boulangere potatoes

Yield:  Serves 6

2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for the baking dish

2 yellow onions, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced, lengthwise

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper

2 lbs. potatoes (I like Yukon gold), peeled and very thinly sliced

1 c. very hot chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbsp. butter (or use dairy-free Earth Balance Buttery Sticks or Spread), cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Warm a large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions start to brown, about 8 minutes.  Season lightly with salt, reduce heat to low, cover pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft and tender, about 20 minutes more.

While onions cook, peel and slice potatoes.  Generously oil a 2 qt. gratin or casserole dish.  Arrange a portion of the potato slices in the bottom of the dish, overlapping slightly in an inward spiral until the entire bottom is covered.  Season liberally with salt and pepper, then scatter some of the caramelized onions on top.  Continue layering potatoes, seasoning with salt and pepper, and scattering with onions.  Finish with a layer of potatoes.  Pour the stock over the top — it should be level with the top layer of potatoes — and dot with butter.

Cover dish with foil and bake 40 minutes.  Uncover dish and bake until potatoes are tender and top is browned, at least 40 minutes more.  Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

This is my all-time favorite family dinner.  Not because it’s the most delicious or quickest meal I cook, but because nobody complains about it.  Even the one who habitually glares at every plate like I’m trying to poison her can’t muster a grimace.  And why would she?  Scallion pancakes are everything kids love:  mildly flavored, wedge-shaped, and dippable.

This version of the Chinese restaurant favorite is surprisingly easy to make at home and, less surprisingly, much healthier than take-out.  We like them with a huge plate of raw and steamed vegetables (carrots, red peppers, snow peas, and broccoli are good) and a tangy sauce or two for dipping.

Scallion pancakes

Yield:  24 wedges, serving at least 4

1 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 c. white whole wheat flour

1 c. warm water

3 – 4 tbsp. canola oil, for brushing and frying (or use toasted sesame oil for brushing)

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

4 scallions, tender green parts only, thinly sliced

Measure flours into a large mixing bowl and stir with a wooden spoon.  Pour in water and stir again until dough comes together into a shaggy ball.  Turn dough out on a clean counter and knead until smooth but still tacky, adding a bit more flour if necessary to prevent sticking.  Lightly oil bowl, then drop in dough ball and turn once to coat.  Cover bowl with a clean dish towel and set aside to rest for at least 20 minutes.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured counter and roll into a long rectangle of roughly 12 x 20-inches, dusting with additional flour as needed to prevent sticking.  Brush surface of rectangle with oil (canola or sesame) and sprinkle evenly with salt and scallions.  Starting at one of the longer edges, tightly roll dough into a rope.  Divide rope into four equal lengths.  Tightly coil each rope into a spiral, tucking open end under to make a round shape.  Flatten each round with your palm, then, adding flour as needed, roll from the center outward in all directions to make a flat pancake roughly 9-inches wide and 1/8-inch thick.  Lightly flour each round to prevent sticking, and stack between pieces of wax paper.

Warm a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Drizzle in just enough canola oil to thinly coat the bottom of the pan.  Lay one pancake into the hot skillet and cook until lightly browned on the bottom, 2-3 minutes.  Flip and cook another 1-2 minutes.  Remove to a cutting board and slice into 6 wedges.  Keep warm in a towel-covered bowl or plate while you cook the remaining pancakes.  Serve hot.

Soy-ginger dipping sauce

3 tbsp. tamari or other soy sauce

2 tbsp. rice vinegar

2 tsp. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. finely grated, fresh gingerroot

Whisk all ingredients until sugar is dissolved.

Ersatz duck sauce

1/4 c. apricot preserves (look for one without high-fructose corn syrup)

2 tbsp. rice vinegar

1/4 tsp. finely grated, fresh gingerroot (or more, to taste)

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan or microwave-safe bowl.  Whisk well and remove from heat.  Cool to room temperature.  (If your preserves are very chunky, you can puree your sauce for a smoother texture.)

I’ve made this enormous, easy, and addictive pickled salad twice already since the new year began, in an effort to make good on a resolution to eat fruits and vegetables at every meal.  It’s an old recipe of my grandmother’s that I remember fondly from my childhood, with just a few alterations (fresh green beans instead of canned, bell peppers in place of jarred pimentos).  We like it for lunch, with just about any kind of sandwich.

Overnight vegetable salad

Yield:  A week’s worth, for at least two people

1 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces

2 c. frozen peas

2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 red bell pepper,  diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 sweet onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1-2 jalepenos, seeded and finely diced

1 15-oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

3/4 c. white or apple cider vinegar

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp. paprika

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Blanch green beans in boiling, salted water until just tender, 3-4 minutes.  Meanwhile, measure peas and corn into a colander set in the sink.  Drain green beans into colander with peas and corn.  Rinse with cold running water to stop cooking.  Drain well.

Combine all vegetables and kidney beans in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together vinegar, sugar, oil, and paprika until sugar dissolves.  Pour dressing over vegetables, tossing to coat.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours, stirring occasionally.

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