8 Scrumptious Side Dishes ...

By Lyndsie

Scrumptious side dishes turn a great meal into a culinary masterpiece. With the right side dishes, you can turn even every day fare into a gourmet delicacy. It doesn't matter whether you're eating meatloaf or duck à l'orange, the sides make all the difference. They're easy to experiment with, they add extra nutrients, and they make the meal fun, adventurous, and exciting to the palate. I promise that I've made each of these scrumptious side dishes myself, and they went over brilliantly!

1 Scalloped Potato Gratin

I'll be honest, some of the most scrumptious side dishes aren't necessarily super healthy. Don't worry, I've got a mix, but yeah, my first pick is scalloped potatoes – homemade, though, not those high-sodium discs you buy in the box. This recipe relies on fresh ingredients, and if need be, you can substitute for healthier alternatives. I'll be honest, though, I love these potatoes just the way they are! So creamy, so cheesy, so delicious!

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for broiling

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a saucepan, heat up the cream with a sprig of thyme, chopped garlic and nutmeg.

While cream is heating up, butter a casserole dish. Place a layer of potato in an overlapping pattern and season with salt and pepper. Remove cream from heat, then pour a little over the potatoes. Top with some grated Parmesan. Make 2 more layers. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Sprinkle some more Parmesan and broil until cheese browns, about 5 minutes.

2 Roasted Beet, Goat Cheese, and Fennel Salad

Forget about boring, every day salads. If you want to bring vegetables and fresh ingredients to the table, try something new! This salad is practically gourmet; it's like having restaurant quality food at your very own dinner table. The beets and the goat cheese mix together marvelously, and the fennel adds a lovely, crisp touch. Two things to keep in mind: the recipe for the vinaigrette is included on the source page or you can simply use or make your own, and you can easily reduce the recipe so it doesn't make quite so much.

Lemon Vinaigrette
2 large beets (1 pound)
½ teaspoon salt (divided)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper (divided)
2 medium fennel bulbs, cored and very thinly sliced
8 cups torn butterhead (Boston or bibb) lettuce
¼ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese (chevre)
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare Lemon Vinaigrette; cover and set aside.

Scrub beets. Wrap each beet in foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake 1-1/2 hours or until a knife can be easily inserted into beets. Cool 20 minutes or until able to handle. Trim off stem and root ends of roasted beets. Peel and cut into 1-inch pieces.

In a medium bowl combine beets, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette.

In another medium bowl combine fennel, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette.

Line 8 salad plates with lettuce. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette. Layer with beets, walnuts, fennel, goat cheese, and chives.

3 Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Although I love Brussels sprouts just as they are, I was a weird kid and, according to the Better Half, am a weird adult. So, I realize that many children and many adults do not enjoy these little cabbage-like creations as much as I do. If you want to enjoy them or entice your kids into eating them, it's easy: just add bacon!

3 slices bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan
1 shallot, chopped
1 ½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed, small spouts left whole, larger spouts halved
Salt and pepper, to your taste
1 cup chicken broth

Brown bacon in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate.

Add extra-virgin olive oil to the pan, 1 turn. Add shallots to the pan and saute 1 to 2 minutes.

Add Brussels spouts and coat in oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cook Brussels sprouts 2 to 3 minutes to begin to soften, then add broth.

Bring broth to a bubble, cover and reduce heat to medium low.

Cook 10 minutes, until tender. Transfer sprouts to a serving dish with a slotted spoon and top with cooked bacon bits.

4 Rice Pilaf with Raisins and Veggies

Rice pilaf is delicious – in theory. However, if you aren't careful, it can get kind of boring. Fortunately, the base dish also does very well with all kinds of additions, and this is one of the best recipes I've ever tried. Chicken broth and olive oil add a fantastic, layered richness, the onions and celery add lots of texture, and the raisins provide a touch of subtle sweetness. You'll love this!

3 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 stalks celery, chopped
½ large onion, diced
4 green onions, white and green parts separated and sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups uncooked white rice
½ cups golden raisins

Bring chicken broth to boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat; continue simmering while preparing remaining ingredients.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir celery, onion, green onion white portions, garlic, curry powder, and salt in the hot oil until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.

Transfer vegetables to a bowl.
Cook and stir rice in the same skillet until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes.

Stir toasted rice into boiling chicken broth. Reduce heat to medium-low; continue simmering until rice is tender and broth is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Remove rice from heat and stir in raisins, green onion tops, and celery mixture until well blended.

5 Garlic Roasted Potatoes

Potatoes make excellent side dishes, but unfortunately some of them are quite fattening. I love mashed potatoes, but they aren't always healthy – although you should take a look, because there are some fabulous alternatives. If you love potatoes but don't want anything too fatty, roasted potatoes are perfect – and these are better than most!

3 pounds small red or white potatoes
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the potatoes in half or quarters and place in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic; toss until the potatoes are well coated. Transfer the potatoes to a sheet pan and spread out into 1 layer. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking in order to ensure even browning.

Remove the potatoes from the oven, toss with parsley, season to taste, and serve hot.

6 Braised Parsnips, Squash, Cranberries

I love looking for side dishes that contain unexpected ingredients. Like, you just don't see parsnips a lot, and that's a shame, because they're really delicious. They've also got a pretty long growing season, so this particular recipe is ideal during the fall and winter. It's also really easy to make, which is always a plus!

1 medium acorn squash, halved, seeded, and cut into 8 wedges
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices (1 1/4 cups)
1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons canola or olive oil
½ medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon snipped fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup dried cranberries
Fresh thyme sprigs

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. On a large greased baking sheet arrange acorn squash wedges, cut sides down. Roast about 20 minutes or until tender, turning once halfway through roasting time.

In a large skillet cook parsnips, onion, and garlic in hot oil over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in butternut squash, chicken broth, snipped or dried thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, over medium-low heat about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in cranberries. Cook 1 to 2 minutes more or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Serve parsnip mixture over acorn squash wedges. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs.

7 Gourmet Mushroom Risotto

Looking for something seriously gourmet? It doesn't get fancier than risotto. If you've ever watched any Gordon Ramsay show, ever, you might even be craving mushroom risotto by now. It may take some time, but it's very much worth the effort, I promise.

6 cups chicken broth, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 pound white mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 shallots, diced
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat.

Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet, and stir in the shallots. Cook 1 minute. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in mushrooms with their liquid, butter, chives, and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

8 Lemon Veggie Couscous

Couscous makes a fantastic side dish as well, and this one is sublime! It's refreshing, delicious, and amazingly healthy! Better still, because it's so light, you'll be able to serve it alongside practically anything, so you'll definitely appreciate the versatility – not to mention the roasted sweet peppers and zucchini!

1 ¼ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup whole wheat couscous
¾ cup chopped zucchini
1/3 cup chopped red onion
2 teaspoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped jarred roasted red sweet pepper
1 tablespoon snipped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
ground black pepper

In a small saucepan, bring the chicken broth to boiling.

Remove from heat; stir in whole wheat couscous. Cover and let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet cook the zucchini and red onion in hot olive oil over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender.

Add zucchini mixture to couscous along with the roasted red sweet pepper, oregano, and lemon peel.

Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.

Whether you feel like your main course is boring and bland or you want to add to its appeal, placing scrumptious side dishes on the plate is a brilliant idea. The smaller details are often the mark of a true chef, after all. What are your favorite side dishes, and with what main courses?

Sources: foodnetwork.com, bhg.com, foodnetwork.com, allrecipes.com, foodnetwork.com, bhg.com, allrecipes.com, bhg.com

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