Something On The Side

By / Food / December 2nd, 2009 / 2

Sometimes I think I’ve lived my whole life as a side dish. I’m neither light enough to be the appetizer nor meaty enough to be the entrée — and I’m most definitely not sweet enough to be dessert.

If I were in a sitcom, I’d be the wise-cracking, slightly wacky next door neighbour — Ethel rather than Lucy, Rhoda rather than Mary, Kramer rather than Seinfeld. Slightly plump, rumpled and frazzled, and always funny.

My second banana suspicions were confirmed when I joined community theatre. I was universally cast as the silly sidekick. Either the feisty Ado Annie in Oklahoma, the flittering stripper Tessie Tura in Gypsy and the bowlegged, pipe-smoking Mammy Yokum in Lil Abner. And so it goes.

Sidekicks are friendly, thoughtful and dependable. They show up when you need them, and usually with a few choice punch lines. They add spice, and that’s a good thing.

Ever notice how the audience bursts into applause when the sidekick enters? That’s the beauty of it. Sidekicks always steal the show.

Chipotle and Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Serves 4 – 6

Add more or less milk, butter and chipotle to this beautiful red-orange dish. Freeze leftover chipotle and adobo sauce for future use. For wasabi mashed potatoes, simply substitute wasabi paste for the chipotles.

2 1/2 lbs mashed potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1 tsp salt

3/4 cup milk

2 tbsp butter

1/2 to 1 tsp minced chipotle pepper with adobo sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Minced cilantro for garnish

1. Place potatoes and garlic in large pot of water. Bring to a boil. Add salt. Boil, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain.

2. In large mixing bowl, beat potatoes, garlic, milk, butter and chipotle with mixer. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro.

The potatoes are great with meltingly tender pork roast and a butter-soft Chardonnay.

Grilled Tomatoes with Herbed Sour Cream

Serves 4

This is a delicious side to a grilled steak dinner. Use whatever herbs you have on hand. You can also substitute crème fraiche for the sour cream. Leave out the anchovy paste if you don’t have it, but it does add a mysterious depth of flavour if used.

1/2 cup sour cream

2 tbsp milk

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp anchovy paste

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 tbsp chopped fresh chives

2 tbsp olive oil

2 large tomatoes, cored and halved crosswise

1. Preheat grill on high.

2. In small bowl, mix sour cream, milk, mustard, anchovy paste, lemon juice, salt, pepper, parsley and chives.

3. Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil. Grill, cut side down, until softened and charred, about 8 minutes. Serve with Herbed Sour Cream.

Tomatoes and sour cream can be a tricky combination. Uncork a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and enjoy.

Baked Brown Rice with Porcini Mushrooms and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Serves 4 – 6

The easiest side dish in the world is a baked and fragrant casserole of rice with vegetables. This recipe calls for dried porcini mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes but you can try it with fresh sautéed mushrooms and diced cooked bacon, too. Brown rice can be finicky — keep an eye on it and be sure the rice is tender before serving.

1/3 cup dried porcini mushrooms

1 1/2 cups hot water

1/3 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and finely snipped

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup brown rice

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1. Place porcini mushrooms in small bowl and pour hot water over them. Let stand 20 minutes. Scoop mushrooms out of soaking liquid and finely chop. Strain soaking liquid through cheesecloth or sieve into a bowl. Add enough water to make 2 1/2 cups. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

3. Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add onion and cook until nearly softened. Add garlic and cook until both onion and garlic are slightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add rice, stirring to coat. Add mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, mushroom soaking liquid with water, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.

4. Transfer rice mixture to 8-inch square baking dish. Cover with foil and bake in oven until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed, about 40 minutes.

A well-rounded Burgundy or Rioja would complement this dish.

Sweet Potato Chili Fries

Sweet potatoes are so adaptable —so try curry or Chinese five-spice powder in place of the chili powder. This dish works well with sautéed pork chops or chicken breasts.

3 sweet potatoes

1 tsp chili powder

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tbsp olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 425˚F.

2. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Cover with parchment paper and spray again. Cut each potato into 8 wedges.

3. In large bowl, mix chili powder, salt and pepper. Toss potato wedges with chili mixture. Drizzle with olive oil and toss again.

4. Arrange potato wedges on pan in single layer. Roast until tender, turning once, about 30 minutes.

Try a full-bodied, spicy red such as a California Zinfandel.

Thai Cucumber Salad

Serves 4 – 6

It’s best to slice the cucumber on a mandoline or box grater to ensure paper-thin slices. This is a sweet and sour side dish with a red pepper kick, excellent with chicken or pork satay.

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 large cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

1/2 cup red onion, minced

Combine sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper flakes in a medium bowl. Add cucumber and onion. Chill.

As far as I’m concerned, Thai food always calls for a Gewürztraminer, but you can also try a dry Australian Riesling for a change.

House Vinaigrette

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Great drizzled on greens, potatoes or grilled steak!

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

3 tbsp minced shallots

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

Whisk all ingredients except olive oil in a large bowl or whirl in blender. Slowly whisk in olive oil.

If serving the vinaigrette on a salad, go with a Riesling or Pinot Grigio.

Cheesy Flatbread

Serve alongside grilled chicken salad.

2 pitas, unsplit

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat broiler to high.

Arrange pitas on a prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Cut into wedges.

If serving with grilled chicken salad, open a Cote de Beaune, Macon or Chalonnais.


Quench Food Editor, Nancy Johnson, minced, sliced, chopped, sautéed and sipped her way through George Brown College’s culinary program with a focus on food writing and wine. Nancy cooks by the code her Italian grandmother taught her: For the best results, always use the freshest, best ingredients. She writes for Ohio-based Wine Buzz Magazine and recently published a short story in Woman’s World Magazine. She is always on a diet.

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