For flavor and compliments, pay attention to the vegetable side dish

You can’t blame the cook for paying most of his/her attention to the protein portion of a meal. It is the major draw, the item around which the rest of the meal is planned.

When asked, “What’s for dinner?” nobody answers, “Peas.” because the main highlight is usually a meat dish and it names the entrée: “We’re having meatloaf.”

But meat rarely stands alone. A plate is balanced when the meat or fish or eggs or any mostly protein food is accompanied by a side of vegetables and, often, a starch.

So, since they’re an important contributor to a delicious meal, take the time to dress up the sides with these easy recipes and watch a spark of delight run ‘round your table.

BACON-WRAPPED GREEN BEANS

A new presentation for an old favorite

1 lb. fresh or frozen whole green beans

6 slices smoked bacon

5 C water

Preheat oven to 350. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil and blanch the beans for 5 to 7 minutes until barely tender. Drop beans into a bowl of ice water to cool; drain and set aside. Cook bacon until it is translucent but not browned and drain on paper towels.

Divide the green beans into six portions. Wrap each portion with a bacon slice, securing with a toothpick. Bake in the oven 10 to 12 minutes or until bacon is crisp. Turn the wrapped beans over when nearly done in order to crisp the underside bacon, if needed. Serves 6.

TIP: Experiment. Replace green beans with the top half of slender stalks of asparagus. Or combine beans and asparagus in the bacon wrap.

SPICED GLAZED SWEET POTATOES

Upgrade this already popular potato

2 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 6 medium)

3/4 stick butter or margarine

1/4 tsp. each ground allspice and cinnamon

1/8 tsp. each ground nutmeg and ground ginger

3/4 C each maple syrup and packed brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cider vinegar

Salt and white pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400. In a baking pan, bake yams or potatoes for 45 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a knife. Remove and cool. Reduce oven temperature to 350.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter or margarine and add the spices. Saute for 1 minute to blend flavors. Mix in the syrup and sugar and cook, stirring, until sugar is fully melted. Stir in vinegar. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper. Set aside.

Peel, then slice the cooled potatoes into a buttered baking dish. Pour the glaze over them and toss to coat all the slices. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until heated through. Serve warm and garnish with parsley or chives. Makes about 6 servings.

DILLED CUCUMBERS

How to make cucumbers saucy

3 large cucumbers, peeled and seeded

1 1/2 Tbls. chopped fresh dill OR 2 tsp. dried dill weed

1/4 C half-and-half or light cream

1/3 C plain yogurt (can use light yogurt)

Salt and pepper to taste.

Cut the cucumbers into half-inch slices. Combine them in a large bowl with remaining ingredients. Toss to coat. Chill in refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours. Serve in a side dish and garnish with dill or parsley. Makes 6 or more sides.

TIP: If you like, spice the cool taste of cream and cucumber with a touch of red onion slices to add complexity and depth.

— by Jean Redstone

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