Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Side Dishes That Don't Suck?

Help me out here (especially you vegetarians).

I've probably mentioned before what a great chef PDM is. He is into "cooking science", or knowing how the chemistry and physics of cooking works. His studies in that area enables him to "wing it" with fabulously successful results. I'm a mere mortal in the kitchen, but still manage to crank out a decent meal or two. Main courses in the Cosmic Cat household are succulent, creative feasts that sometimes border on art. There is but one glaring deficiency: vegetable side dishes.

Yes, I am sick to death of boring, banal sides like steamed broccoli or frozen corn. For all the effort put into the main course, there is a sad lack of attention and creativity when it comes to making side dishes. Once in a while one of us finds a decent recipe that isn't all that much trouble and makes some vegetable magic. When it happens, we "ooh" and "ahh" and think "that wasn't such a big deal to prepare". But our repertoire of those dishes is quite limited.

So I am asking for your help. Share recipes, ideas, sources of inspiration, cookbooks, etcetera. I am not looking for vegetarian main dish recipes. I'm looking for ideas for vegetable side dishes worthy of sitting side by side with PDM's meat masterpieces. Got any suggestions?


wa11z said...


TheWriteGirl said...

oFirst of all, frozen NOTHING. Gotta go with the fresh stuff. Do you have a good greenmarket nearby, or a supermarket with a good produce section?

My current faves are sauteed baby spinach with garlic. Cooks in about 45 seconds. Asparagus in season is always good. I learned a new way to cook it this year. I used to do it in the microwave, which is okay. But my aunt's neighbor, who grows her own asparagus, seasons it with a little salt and pepper, wraps it tightly in foil and cooks it in the oven! I tried it and it's terrific. You don't need to add any liquid at all. It takes about a half hour for roughly a pound.

I like beets, too. I cook them in my mom's old pressure cooker. But you can probably do them in the microwave. String beans with slivered almonds, also easy. Cook the beans for a couple of minutes in the microwave, then add a little butter or olive oil and toss in the almonds, then stick them back in the microwave for another minute.

I don't know if you like broccoli rabe, but it's also on my current hotlist. A guy at work told me the trick to cooking it. You stick it in boiling water for just about a minute, then take it out and rinse it. Then you can saute it with garlice. The blanching in boiling water takes out most of the bitterness.

Oh oh! Then there's butternut squash. I have this great recipe for butternut squash polenta. I just started going through my recipes and I have a bunch of good ones. Let me know if you want some of them.

fermicat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fermicat said...

thewritegirl - your ideas sound promising, although I haven't had much luck making asparagus taste good. The butternut sounds promising (I love roasted winter veggies, but don't have a good recipe for them).

We do have a good farmer's market, but it isn't super close or convenient for us to get to. Mostly we rely on what the regular old grocery store has.

fermicat said...

wa11z - that is our problem in a nutshell. ;-)

LL said...

You can't get asparagus to taste good? What seems to be the problem?

Take fresh asparagus, cut it into pieces, then place it in about an inch of salted water and cook it on the stove until it's just barely tender (al dente if you will). Then drain the water, add 1/4 cube of butter and salt and pepper to taste. Keep covered until the butter melts.

Then there's fried zuchini, or however it's spelled. Take a young zuch, slice it into rounds and set aside. Next melt some butter in a saucepan and crush up one or two chicken bullion cubes in the butter. Put the slices into the pan and fry it up like you would fried spuds, turning them so that both sides get a chance to hit the heat. Don't overcook these either, but serve and enjoy. You can add a little grated cheese on them to melt if you want.

Jim Donahue said...

I am the son of an ex-farmer. Growing up, there were always fresh veggies on the table, and I wouldn't eat them. Perhaps that's because my mother used to cook the living heck out of them, but that's another story.

Anyway, I'm still not the biggest veggie lover in the world, but I have discovered that vegetables are much tastier when either roasted or grilled.

Steamed asparagus? OK. Grilled asparagus? Totally yum.

Steamed cauliflower? Yuck--I hate it. Roasted cauliflower? Unbelievably delicious.

Here's what you do.

Preheat the oven to about 425.

Break up a cauliflower into its florets. Put them in a big plastic bag with salt, pepper, and rosemary to taste, and coat with olive oil. I don't have an exact measurement, but the surface of the cauliflower should have a light coating. Shake it all up.

Dump the cauliflower on to a nonstick baking sheet so the pieces aren't touching. Roast till the pieces are a light golden brown, about 20 minutes, flipping them halfway through.

You will thank me.

Jim Donahue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Donahue said...

Oh, and there's a great, easy zucchini recipe in one of the PBS cooking show host Lidia Bastianich's (sp?) books that involves cooking it in a pan with some balsamic vinegar. I'll look it up on the weekend.

trinamick said...

LL is on the right track with the fried zucchini. Boullion cubes? I haven't tried that, but it sounds good. It also works well to fry eggplant in the same way, or even green tomatoes if you like a little tart. We peel the zuchs or eggplant and then coat them in egg and cracker crumbs. Simply excellent.

I'm a fan of sliced cucumbers as well. We peel them, slice 'em in rounds, and pour vinegar over them and a little salt to soak. Then we pour most of that off after awhile, and mix in sour cream and 1/2 & 1/2. Salt, pepper, enjoy. My mom adds sliced onions & tomatoes to hers, but I think that ruins it.

I have a couple of easy veggie dishes that I make that actually don't suck. I'll see if I can find the recipes.

Dave said...

More of a salad/appetizer/antipasto, but:

Put a slice or two of proscuitto on a plate. Slice a tomato (wonderfully ripe is essential)over it. Put a couple of raw Vidalia onion rings over it. Slice or crumble mozzarella over it. Sprinkle with capers. Drizzle light balsamic, or not, vinegrette. Enjoy.

magnetbabe said...

These are my two standard veggie recipes:

(1)(a)Blanche fresh broccoli (2-3 stalks) in boiling water or chicken stock.
(b) Saute fresh chopped garlic (about 4 cloves) in 1 tbsp olive oil mixed with 1 tbsp sesame oil
(c) When the garlic is close to browning, add broccoli along with about 1 tsp red pepper flakes. If you happen to have a fresh red pepper already roasted this is excellent but the flakes are really good too.
(d) add salt and pepper to taste.

(2) (a)Blanche about 1/2 pound green beans.
(b)Saute them with 1 chopped shallot and a couple cloves chopped garlic in just enough olive oil to coat the pan.
(c) After sauteing add a handful of almond slices (pine nuts taste better with this, but are sometimes hard to find or too expense), about 1 tsp fresh chopped thyme, and some butter.

My dad gave me both these recipes. They aren't the healthiest but the fat is mostly all unsaturated and you can play around with the oil amounts.

trinamick said...

Here is the one that even I can't screw up. Of course, I use fresh veggies, but the result is good either way.

1 can French style green beans
1 can white (shoe peg) corn (whole grain)
Drain juice from above and put in 9x13 casserole dish, beans first, then corn.

Sprinkle 1/2 c chopped onion over above, then 1 can water chestnuts (drained & slivered). Over this add 1 c grated cheese.

Mix 1 can celery soup & 1 pint sour cream together and spread over top.

Topping: 1 stack of Ritz crackers (or club crackers) - use rolling pin and mash fine. Melt 1 stick margarine and mix with crackers. Put topping over all.

Bake 400 degree for 40 minutes.

I'm sure this probably isn't the healthiest dish, but it helps you forget that you're eating veggies.

fermicat said...

Wow. Thanks to everyone for their contributions. I knew I could count on y'all for some fresh ideas.

ll - I'm not sure why I can't make asparagus taste good, but I will try your suggestion. That zucchini recipe sounds good, too. We've had some good success simply cutting it up and grilling it with our steaks.

jim - that cauliflower recipe sounds like it is worth a try. PDM doesn't like it, but maybe this will change his mind. Looking forward to your other recipe. Veggies cooked to death? That happens with a lot of the southern cooking I grew up with as well. Bleah.

trinamick - your cucumber recipe is a new twist on what I usually do with them. I like marinated cukes, but have never tried the sour cream and 1/2 and 1/2 thing on them. Your baked recipe just HAS to be good. I usually don't do casserole type things because it is just the two of us, but there is no reason why I couldn't freeze half.

dave - I like it already and I haven't even tried it yet!

magnetbabe - I will try your standards and let you know what I think. They are healthy enough, I think. Certainly better than french fries and whatnot. Ingesting a little oil is a good tradeoff for eating more veggies.

magnetbabe said...

Oh, I almost forgot. With the beans, squeeze a lemon wedge over the whole thing right before serving. It balances the whole thing out well.

fermicat said...

Lemon... check.

trinamick said...

That recipe freezes really well too. Grandma Moses gave me that recipe and she makes up several and freezes them and then takes them to her Auxiliary dinners.

Beth said...

Fermicat, I think the secret to good veggies is roasting. Roasting brings out the flower. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, put on pan in hot oven (about 400 degrees) and 10 minutes later, veggies are done and delicious.

Fresh isn't always practical or good (especially off season), but wow, veggies are just usually boring. I always steam them, dress them (with a bit of balsamic vinegar dressing) and then shave a bit of real parmesan over the top. This is especially awesome with broccoli and green beans (frozen). And frozen is also one of the best ways to get veggies because they're frozen while they're fresh.

Sure, fresh is best, but if it's not in season, blech.

Anyhow, a place I love to look for new recipes is I tell you, that place is chocked with good stuff. Anything by Paula Deen is delicious. High fat, but good.

Beth said...

Oh, and I registered and posted at SFSD.

So cool to find others who love "Pushing Daisies." I'm going to do that tag over the weekend also ... or maybe tonight.

fermicat said...

trinamick - we don't have a huge freezer, but it is nice to have a few meals in there for when you just don't feel like cooking but are too tired to go out.

beth - I love roasted winter veggies. And look forward to seeing you over at SFSD.

LL said...

Well fermi, you'll have to let us know how it all turns out. ;)

Dave said...

Congrats on whupping my team. And I lost a dollar bet to a friend.

fermicat said...

LL - If I ever cook again, I'll let you know... :-) We've eaten out every night this week!

We (meaning PDM) cooked some kickass brats on the grill today for the game watching party. The only veggies were some onions in sauce with the brats and the usual gameday sides of cole slaw and potato salad.

Dave - I certainly won't be bragging about this one, but a win is a win and I'll take it.

Beth said...

I just read my earlier comment. Flower?!? I have friggin' flowers on the brain. I meant flavor.

Oh, and I was working on the meme now, but I'm unsure of how to do it. Do I just cut and paste everything you have for your post?

Jim Donahue said...

Lidia Matticchio Bastianch's zucchini recipe was more complicated than I remembered, so I won't type it in here. But if you're in library and want to look it up, it's on p. 250 of her book "Lidia's Family Table."

fermicat said...

beth - I knew what you meant. :-)

jim - good to know!

fermicat said...

beth - yes, cut and paste, as long as that can preserve all the linkage.

tiff said...

A little butter, a little salt, and you're ready to cook asparagus in a skillet. Sautee for about 5 minutes total. Done, and Yum. Be sure ot snap the bottoms off hte stems before cookling, because htey get tough.

Butternut squash, mashed, with sauteed onion, cumin, and a dab of cinnamon. Maybe even some red pepper. Oh, and a little fat-free half and half if you want to up the richness.

Sauteed zucchini, garlic, and onion, with basil pesto.

Roasted tomatos dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Cold peas, peanuts, and ranch dressing mixed togather. Seriously.

I have more, because I lurve me some veggies. Just ask!

fermicat said...

tiff - thanks for those good ideas!

BC said...

Im hungry now. :D

I love making vegies with a butter garlic sauce. And that zuchini is soooo awesome. I also add flour and bread crumbs to it before I fry it. And I LOVE brussel sprouts with hollandaise (sp) sauce.

fermicat said...

BC - even more to love!

Thanks everyone, and keep 'em coming!

Kathleen said...

Thanks for asking for recipes, Fermi. I have copied them all down as well.

I usually just steam my veggies in the microwave, because I actually like the taste of veggies, generally. No salt, no butter, but as I hate cauliflower, I never cook it. I'm looking forward to the roasted version.