This post was written by Sarah of SmartBitches

This week, I’m busy, Hubby is super busy, and it’s cold. When I did our rough menu sketch (as opposed to the plan that Angie does) wherein I list the main dishes we have ingredients for, and the side dishes I have on hand, I found that I’m way into my winter side dish menus.

Most evenings during the week, Hubby and I eat separately from the boys. While I love having family dinner, and we make deliberate plans to do so every Friday night, during the week, we never know what time Hubby will be able to leave his office, so I feed the dudes and then plan dinner according to Hubby’s ETA. Most weeknights I bake or he grills a piece of meat or fish, and I make a side to go with it. Because we’re eating dinner so late (usually 8pm or later), we don’t eat very much, so most of the time, we have an entree and a side dish, possibly two if we have both a vegetable and a grain.

Here’s a profile of our weeknight side dishes: we try to eat somewhat healthily, but also quickly.

Grains: Couscous is awesome for a side dish: it cooks so quickly and it makes for a filling base for a piece of chicken with sauce or alongside some fish. It’s not heavy and there are some funky flavors out there. The Hodgson Mill whole wheat couscous rocks, in our opinion. Especially the mushroom flavor. There’s another one, onion, I think, and it was blandy mc bland.

Near East is the other couscous brand you’ll see a lot of in terms of seasoning packet boxed sides. Their Whole Grains mixes are a little on the salty side, but holy hell are they filling. The pecan one is SO good, holy smoke. And we always have leftovers. Seriously. SO filling. And crunchy. And good.

Beans: Yes! The musical fruit! We have a few cans of beans in the house at all times, as they are the basis for many of my winter recipes, and because I love to eat beans. They’re high in fiber, and later, they help keep the bed warm. KIDDING! Beans in cans are super fast but also super holy hell high in sodium and other weird salty things. So the first rule of canned beans is: “Rinse the ever loving hell outta them.”

You can rinse them and heat them with a little sauteed onion and garlic, and drizzle the mix with olive oil and cumin or red pepper for hotness, or, if you like the liquid the beans come in when they’re canned, you can simmer that down until the liquid reduces, which makes for a very thick and very flavorful side dish. But that liquid is near syrup consistency so beware – it takes a little time to reduce down.

Quinoa: It’s not a grain. It’s a protein with amino acids, and added deliciousness! I buy quinoa in bulk at Whole Foods and put it in my new addiction, the Oxo pop top container. My pantry is slowly filling with these things. We were given a set for Hanukkah. My love for the Oxo pop top storage set knows no limits, I tell you.

Quinoa is very easy to cook: use a 2:1 ratio – 2 cups liquid to 1 cup quinoa. 1 cup of dry quinoa makes about 2.5 cups of cooked awesomeness. I usually use one cup of water and one cup of chicken broth, and simmer for 15 minutes. The tiny little quinoa grains look like they are unspooling when they’re cooked – there will be a little white tail hanging off each one, like it’s a tiny thread bobbin and it’s coming unraveled. It’s got a nutty flavor, with a chewy, dense texture, and I really like it. Awesome alongside just about anything, and you can season with salt or Lawry’s or Season-All or diced chives or scallion slices or whatever the hell you want. Toasted almond slices are good mixed in, too.

Crudite: When we’re really pressed for time, and it’s 8:30 and we’re starving, while whatever we’re eating heats up on the grill or in the oven, I peel and slice carrots and celery and do miniature crudites with ranch dressing – or our current favorite, parmesan peppercorn dressing.

I do like salad, but sometimes, I don’t have time to make a good salad – I like ’em intricate and with lots of different tiny features, like a well-rounded billionaire tycoon. So sliced carrots and celery with a tiny bit of dressing for dipping makes us very happy. Eventually there may be celery swordfights. I am not responsible for the consequences.

Sugar Snap Peas: These are a total indulgence when I see them in the grocery store. They’re expensive, because they’re pre-washed and have the strings removed and you can eat them out of the bag – so we do. I don’t even cook them.

I serve them cold – often with quinoa – and they are so good and so sweet and so awesome… and again, expensive. But in the middle of winter, crunchy sweet green vegetables that taste like summer make me a happy, happy girl.

Really, really happy.

Green Beans: Again, buying them bagged, washed and trimmed is more expensive than buying them raw in a big handful in the store, but often this time of year the green beans in the store that aren’t pre-bagged are wrinkly, sad, scrawny things, and these are almost always bright green and fat little tempting snappy things.

My quirk: I like them raw. I actually loathe most cooked vegetables, in fact. String beans, lima beans, green peas, carrots, celery… I much prefer them raw. I won’t eat them cooked on their own as a side, even candied or flavored with a sauce. I’ll eat them in soups or stews, but as a cooked side, no thanks. I want raw. So I steam the beans for Hubby and eat mine cold and crunchy. A bag like this one will give us two dinner’s worth of sides, so it’s not hideous in terms of expense – not like the sugar snap peas of temptation and allure, above.

So there you have it: my weeknight side dishes. This week, we’re making parmesan-crusted chicken breasts, grilled chicken marinated in garlic lime, grilled salmon, and something baked that I haven’t determined yet – that is, if Hubby is home for dinner. He’s got a busy month ahead of him, so I might end up making dinner and leaving it warm for him. That’s another good thing about most of these sides: they reheat very happily an hour or a day or two after they’re cooked.

Except for the raw beans. They stay raw, thank you.

Happy eating!

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