Friday, August 26, 2011

Simple Sides

I often times like to make a meal out of side dishes.  For a meal, I start with a grain--good bread, brown rice, simple butter and herb pasta, quinoa, cous cous or a baked potato or baked sweet potato.  Then two or three simple veggies and it's a meal.  Depending on what we've had during the day, I may add in a side of beans or bean salad as a protein, and maybe some fresh fruit if I've got it.

None of these is particularly difficult or fancy.  But they are good because they fall in that category of "God makes good food."  I sometimes wonder if God is insulted because we take really good produce and then butcher it with too much fat and salt and mess it all up. So I try to just use a couple fresh, simple ingredients. Put together, they make for some super tasty meals.

Keep in mind that most veggies are good raw.  Just clean and cut.  Kids love to choose and munch, so add three or four different raw veggies on a plate for them to pick.  And do something besides the ol' standby of carrots and celery. Yellow cherry tomatoes, mini sweet peppers, sugar snap peas, snow peas, edamame, kohlrabi sticks, rutabaga, parsnip, turnips, colored cabbages, colored cauliflower (yellow, orange, purple), colored carrots (purple and yellow).  The list goes on and on.  My kids even like lima beans (buy frozen and just thaw).  They eat them up like nuts.

Most veggies are good with a simple steam or quick saute.  Add in a fresh herb, fresh minced garlic or ginger, crushed red pepper.  Toss with toasted pine nuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts or pecans for a different flavor and some added crunch.  Just plain old salt and pepper is good, too. 

Just try to keep it simple and as close to natural as possible.  Be careful not to overcook your veggies since that causes them to lose their great color and texture. 

An example of supper at our house: Flatbread, Steamed Brussels Sprouts with Pecans, Red and Yellow Cherry Tomatoes with Sugar Snap Peas (raw), and Fresh Fruit.

Wash your potato or sweet potato.  Rub outside with olive oil and sea salt.  Bake at 450 degrees for 45-60 minutes until soft to squeeze.
Wash you potato or sweet potato and then wrap in plastic wrap.  Cook in the microwave on high for 7-10 minutes depending on the size of potato and your microwave.
I obviously prefer the baked method with that great, crispy skin.  But I do microwave occasionally for a quick meal.

Slice baby red potatoes in half and boil just until tender.  Strain, add a little melted butter (vegan) and a couple tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley. Salt and pepper to taste.  You could also saute a little minced garlic in the butter before adding it to the potatoes just for a little more flavor.

In a fry pan with olive oil, saute together zucchini spears or slices, a little onion and/or garlic, and some rehydrated sun dried tomatoes.  Saute until zucchini is crisp tender, about 4-5 minutes. I also like to just add a spoon or two of sun dried tomato bruschetta spread instead of rehydrating the tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste.

In a fry pan with olive oil, saute snow peas and slices of red, yellow and/or orange bell peppers (sweet peppers) for just 2-4 minutes.  You want them heated through, but still crisp. Salt and pepper and chives/green onions on top.

Cut fresh carrots into spears or pennies and steam until crisp tender.  Melt a little vegan butter on top and toss in some fresh or dried dill. Salt and pepper to taste. (My daycare kids love these carrots!)

Steam fresh green beans until crisp tender.  Toss with a little melted vegan butter and squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top.  Salt and pepper to taste.  You could toss with toasted almond slices, too, if you like.

Cut carrots and/or parsnips into chunks.  Saute in a fry pan in olive oil until they just start to brown. Add a little veggie broth or water (about 1/4 cup for enough parsnips to cover bottom of pan) and about 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup. Turn heat to low and cover.  Cook about 8 minutes until tender.  Remove the lid and turn heat to high.  Stir until glaze begins to thicken.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Slice mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, squash or whatever you have into large, flat slices about 1/4-1/2 inch thick.  Brush with a little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat until just tender (time varies depending on the veggie).  Sprinkle with fresh herbs--basil, thyme, or mix of Italian seasoning.

You can use butternut, acorn, pumpkin, patty pan or any other winter squash.  I cut them in half and scoop out the seeds.  Then wrap each half in plastic wrap and microwave until soft throughout.  Half an acorn squash takes about 10 minutes, butternut takes about 15, pumpkin depends on the size.  Just go at about 4 minute intervals and keep turning it over so it heats evenly.  Then let it sit in the microwave for 5 minutes at the end of cook time.
When cool enough to handle, simply spoon the flesh out into a bowl and either fork mash or use a blender to mash.  Add a little vegan butter, brown sugar and/or maple syrup while mashing. Salt and pepper to serve.

I think a lot of people don't stir-fry because they think it takes a lot of ingredients.  What we get at restaurants is chuck full of different veggies.  But at home, I often just stir-fry one or two veggies.  I start with a little oil (olive, canola, sesame, etc.) in the pan, add 1 or 2 veggies for just a minute or two, then top with chopped garlic and crushed red pepper.  Good with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, celery, snow peas, tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, green beans, asparagus, cabbage, leeks, even greens like spinach. Try it with fresh grated ginger instead of the garlic for a new flavor.  Keep it simple and quick.  Usually takes longer to clean and cut a veggie than to cook it!  This one is also good for those kids that don't like their food to touch other food.  Stir-fry one at a time in the same pan for 3-4 easy veggies that the family can mix and match.  I do this and serve with brown rice or sushi rolls.

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