Flexible Summery Sides
I think by now you can see the trend which I am developing for this July summer series. I've covered beverages, salads, sweet treats, and today I am focusing on side dishes, so I hope I'm satisfying reader requests. While the main component of a dish is the first thing most people think about — that is the protein, like fish or chicken — the secondary question is always the side dish. However, if you are an off-the-wall cook like me, I always think of the sides first since I am vegetable-centric and then think what I would like, whether poultry, fish or meat, once or twice per week on what I call my "indulgence days". Full disclosure: I am a practising flexitarian, not sure if I have mentioned this before. I couldn't go full-on vegetarian so I have found a happy balance that works for my personal dietary needs. Regardless of labels, find what works for you. I kept a food diary for a while and it taught me what was best for my health. I am still a work in progress but slowly learning how I react to different foods.
My side dishes are those that can be eaten by themselves or paired with something else. I like to have the flexibility and mouth-feel satisfaction. I do not count calories like some; maybe I should, but portion control and knowing that the ingredients are fresh and healthy is fine enough for me. I am not a fanatic about diets. Food for me is a pleasure, but I have to be sensible as well, as I am trying to lose some weight to be healthier. It's not uncommon for me to make a dinner of simple sides and just put them together on a plate pretending that I am at a restaurant where I've ordered different sides. Yes, I am one of those who will order more than one appetiser for variety and not bother with the main dish. Regardless of your preference or dietary profile, side dishes are really what accentuate a meal. It can be a simple sauté of the freshest green vegetables, or steamed mixed vegetables to a medley of grains, legumes and carbohydrates.
Right now we have some wonderful foods in season. Nothing beats the flavour of Jamaican tomatoes. They may not be fancy-looking but they are bursting with flavour. I adore the creaminess of avocado or "pear" as it is affectionately known locally. String beans, okra, zucchini, yellow squash, beets, sweet corn and eggplant are also making appearances now that summer is here. Today my recipes feature some of these vegetables and I have also shared how you can change them from a summery side dish to a light main meal that is perfect for this hot season. These are very simple recipes. The key to good food, in my humble opinion, is to make dishes that do not intimidate even the most amateur cook. It's also good for food to be fresh. Happy cooking!
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Avocado and Tomato Salad
I am so excited now that avocados are coming into season. They are one of my favourite foods and when my tree begins to bear I am in heaven and know that summer has truly arrived. I eat them on their own, make guacamole, chilled soup, put them in my smoothies and, of course, they feature in my salads. You can have a lovely easy salad when you simply pair them with sun-ripened tomatoes. This makes a nice side dish for some grilled chicken. If I want this salad to become a main meal, most likely I will add some grilled tofu or cheese for protein.
1 large avocado, peeled, seed removed and sliced
1 large salad tomato, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly cracked good-quality sea salt
Arrange avocado and tomato slices on a plate.
Sprinkle over some freshly cracked good-quality sea salt and drizzle with oil.
Potato and String Bean Salad with Herb Vinaigrette Dressing
I'm not a huge fan of mayonnaise all the time, so here is a lower fat alternative to the same boring potato salad. String beans are often cheap, likewise potatoes. This potato salad is light and a perfect side dish or as part of a summer buffet. I love to do this with new or baby potatoes but didn't get my hands on any, so good old Irish potatoes are fine, even if they don't have the same visual appeal. To make it a main meal I may add tuna or leftover grilled chicken.
1kg/2lbs Irish potatoes, washed and
scrubbed of grit, cut into large chunks
200g/ 1/4 lb string beans, trimmed
2 stalks escallion, roughly chopped
Handful of your preferred soft mixed
herbs, roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil potatoes in salted water for about 25 minutes. During the last 3 minutes add string beans
Drain potatoes in a colander.
Remove beans and plunge into icecold water to retain colour and crunch, remove and drain on paper towel.
Prepare vinaigrette with cane vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste, whisking until emulsified, then mix in the herbs.
Place string beans and potatoes in a bowl with chopped escallion.
Pour over herb vinaigrette and allow potato salad to soak up the flavours and chill for at least an hour before serving.
Zucchini and Mushroom Sauté
I love pairing mushrooms and zucchini together for a side dish to go alongside grilled meat or fish. It's quick and healthy. Another option is to toss these vegetables with some pasta and garnish with Parmesan cheese.
2 medium zucchinis cut into chunks
1 pack of mushrooms, wiped of grit and cut into thick slices
Salt and pepper
Olive or vegetable oil
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and when the oil comes to temperature add the zucchini and mushrooms.
Sauté for roughly 5 minutes and then season with salt and pepper to taste.