Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Midweek Food Musings: Side Dishes in the Best Supporting Role

As someone who could easily survive on side dishes, I’d be the first to tell you that these smaller plates can and should be big players in any dinner. After all, what you select to serve on the side plays an important part in many aspects of your entertaining.

Baby Mixed Green Salad Adds Great Colors--and Flavors!
Let’s say, for example, you’re hosting a dinner for a bunch of carnivores, but have a few vegetarians in the mix (this is my typical Sunday crowd!). Most recently, I’ve had a few gluten-free eaters, and vegans, so I’ve used my sides as a way to cater to those who might not go—for whatever reason—for my baked ziti (with sausage), or my glazed chicken. So I’ve made dishes like fresh sautéed spinach with toasted pine nuts, lemon zest, fresh lemon juice and raisins (dreamy stuff!), and roasted root vegetables, fresh tomato and basil salad, and more.

In thinking about sides, consider that they’re more than just options for those who might not go for the “main attraction” of your meal; they also need to complement, in terms of color and flavor, your star. Basically, you want everything to look good on the plate—so you need to think about not only flavor, but other key aspects of presentation: color and texture.

AND speaking of color and texture, I had the immense pleasure last night of watching the fabulous film adaptation of Laura Esquivel’s amazing book, Like Water for Chocolate.  Dear friends, if you haven’t seen it, and are as big a food, family, and love lover as I am—and I know many of you are—I encourage you to see this 1992 film. (Actually, if you’re in the area—on March 21st, at 11:15 am, at WCC’s main campus, we’ll be watching it and I’ll be leading a post-viewing discussion!)

The reason I mention it, is because, wow, the presentation of all the food is amazing.  Did you see the plates of Codornices con pétalos de rosa? (Quail with rose petals?) Ah…dreamy, not to mention the amazing effect that it had on the guests.  

(Big sigh...)
Back to the side dish/presentation thing, I’ll share with you one of my favorite salads. This one—also easily adaptable—could be the star of a lunch as well as a dinner side.

Mixed baby greens 
Toasted cashew nuts
Sliced Cucumbers
Orange or clementine segments

Mix together—top with drizzles of olive oil and Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar (my favorite, lately!)—or a white balsamic. Serve immediately. 

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