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Fear Conquered: Vegetable Sides
See that big succulent roasted turkey? Or that glistening honey-glazed ham? Or, even better, that juicy buttery steak that will just melt in your mouth?
Yeah, none of that excites me. I get excited by sides. That's why you see a big side of roasted root vegetables.
In fact, when I go to a restaurant, I could care less about the steak or the chicken or the fish (or even the pasta entrees). I’m on a quest to discover the best mashed potatoes, the ultimate mac and cheese, the most delectable sweet potato fries, the smokiest baked beans, the perfect coleslaw. Forget the entree - I can make a meal out of sides any day.
Holiday meals with friends and family are no different. Everyone else can drool over the succulent turkey or the juicy burgers, but what I crave are the whipped yams, candied beets, potato salad and fresh-baked rolls. My over-filled plate is always disproportionately crammed with those tasty but under-appreciated sides.
Growing up, my mother didn't have a lot of time for fancy sides - she was far to busy chasing after at least six children and juggling the duties of a homemaker, preacher's wife, homeschool teacher and groundskeeper. Thus, typical sides were simple but nutritious: thawed frozen green beans from her garden (warmed in the microwave), bowls of jarred stewed tomatoes (also from her garden), canned corn (for a little variety) or occasional mashed or baked potatoes. Sometimes there were muffins or biscuits or even pasta. And we always had some kind of salad, either fruit or greens. My mother loved us and wanted to be sure we were well fed.
And while her simple sides certainly did their requisite job of filling our stomachs with nutritious vegetables and the occasional starch, I always craved more. I craved sides like those served in the restaurants we so infrequently visited. I wanted butter and cheese on my mashed potatoes, I wanted muffins crowned with beautiful peaks and sweetened with sugar and I wanted salt and butter in my corn. Quite frankly, I craved delicious sides to help me forget the unexciting entree proteins.
Skip forward a few decades and I find myself facing the same challenge my mother surely encountered (only she had six children underfoot). How does one transform healthful hum-drum sides into healthful delicious sides?
Honestly, I don't have one good answer. But I have learned a few tricks, especially when working with vegetable sides.
- Never overcook vegetables. Not only are mushy vegetables disgusting, they've also lost much of their nutritional value during the (over) cooking process. I always remove a vegetable from heat slightly before it's perfectly cooked - the residual heat within the vegetable will finish the job.
- Season with salt. Vegetables have a tremendous amount of flavor, but they really do need salt to help it along. Once I started seasoning my vegetables with kosher salt, I was amazed at the difference in flavor.
- When in doubt, roast. Forget pots of boiling water, microwaves or fancy steamers. Roasting almost any vegetable concentrates the inherent flavors and at high temperatures will even caramelize the natural sugars within the vegetable. You may be surprised how delicious simple roast vegetables can be.
- Mix it up. And I'm not talking about those bags of frozen vegetables in the freezer isle. Pairing two or more vegetables together can lead to an entirely new experience - like corn paired with bell pepper and onions or radishes paired with beets. If you're bored with your vegetables, start experimenting.
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|Combine the dijon mustard, honey and vinegar in a medium measure.|
|Whisk in the salt and cracked black pepper.|
|Gradually whisk in the olive oil until the vinaigrette thickens and the oil is emulsified.|
|Prepare the root vegetables. I sometimes use golden beets (pictured above) instead of red.|
|Combine the chunked vegetables in a large bowl.|
|Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables and toss with your hands to coat.|
|Transfer the vegetables to a large oven-safe roasting pan and roast uncovered for 50-55 minutes at 475F, stirring once.|
|Remove the vegetables from the oven and stir once more; allow the vegetables to rest for 5 minutes before serving.|
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Roasted Root Vegetables with Vinaigrette
Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: 55 min
- 3 medium carrots, chunked
- 2 medium parsnips, chunked
- 2 medium red onions, peeled and chunked
- 2 medium beets, peeled and chunked
- 1 medium turnip, chunked
- 4 teaspoons dijon mustard (recommend Grey Poupon)
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 475℉
- For the vinaigrette: In medium measure, whisk together the mustard, honey, salt, pepper and vinegar until smooth; slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking vigorously - the vinaigrette will emulsify the oil and gradually thicken
- Add the chunked vegetables to a large bowl and pour over the vinaigrette; toss to thoroughly coat the vegetables
- Transfer the vegetables to a large, oven-safe dish and roast uncovered for 50-55 minutes, stirring once, until the beets have softened; remove the dish from the oven, stir the vegetables again and let rest for 5 minutes before serving
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Hungry for Tips?
- Family Fun: If you've got family or friends hanging around the kitchen, involve them in the fun. This is a great recipe to make as a group because everyone can take a task: one person makes the vinaigrette, another peels all the root vegetables, another dices and slices. Within 10 minutes (and undoubtedly a few chuckles along the way), everything's ready to pop in the oven.
- Leftovers: These roasted vegetables can be easily transformed into more than just a side dish - I love to turn them into a sandwich (a spread of homemade mayonnaise over whole grain bread with a melt of cheese), a simple crostini under the boiler or even as a pureed soup (with a little added stock and seasoning).
- Resting: If possible, let the vegetables rest for the recommended time given in the recipe instructions. As the beets rest, they will continue to cook and soften without ever approaching mush.
- Size and Shape: The roasting times are only estimates as different sized chunks of vegetables will require different amounts of time to cook and everyone has a different preference for softness in vegetables. As you approach the end of the roasting time, check the vegetables and adjust the roasting time as required.
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