Side Dish Secrets

Jan 16, 2019 | Cooking Tips

There is a trap that we all fall into with side dishes. We prepare them one way for so long that we forget there are other ways. We become numb to their flavours and we bore our palate. It’s easier to not think about it and just cook things the same way over and over.

Today, we are going to get out of that slump. We are going to look at some common side dishes and different ways that we can jazz them up.

You might be sitting there thinking; “Why?”. Well, don’t you deserve it? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few tricks up your sleeve? Wouldn’t it be awesome to not just eat the same thing over and over? I think so. If you do too, than let’s get to it.

Green Vegetables

Broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, can all be pretty much treated the same way. The cooking times will change but other than that a method that works for one will work for the other.

Now, the first two things I have to say are pretty basic. Number one, don’t over cook them. Cook the vegetables only until they are tender but still have a bit of bite. Mushy vegetables aren’t fun.

Number two, season them with salt and pepper and grease them up with butter or olive oil. If you do nothing else from this post, do this.


A bit of lemon juice or even vinegar can make the flavour of green vegetables pop. However, if you are going to add acid to them, it has to be after they are cooked. If the acid is added to soon it will turn them from bright green to a grey green colour.

So, if you have some steamed green beans or asparagus, or any other green vegetable add a bit of olive oil or butter. Season with salt and pepper. Finish with juice of half a lemon.

Along with the oil and lemon hard cheeses like parmesan and asiago go really well with green vegetable. You can grate a bit of cheese over them after they’re cooked along with the lemon and olive oil.

Slightly toasted sliced almonds or hazelnuts can also be added into the mix along with the cheese, oil, and lemon. Doesn’t that already sound amazing?

Any one of this addition ingredients can be added individually to green vegetables. However, working in tandem they add a lot of depth of flavour for minimal effort.


One way to cook vegetables is to steam or boil them. This is probably the most common way, but it isn’t the only way. Roasting vegetables in the oven draws out their natural sweetness and intensifies their flavour.

Roasting can be done with any vegetables. The process is really uncomplicated. Toss the vegetables with a bit of oil, salt, and pepper. Spread them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cook them on 400°F for 20-25 minutes for most green vegetables and 30-40 minutes for carrots and the like. They are done when they are tender.

Additionally, the same principles apply with roasted vegetable as they do with steamed vegetables. Lemon, oil, salt and pepper, cheese, and even nuts.


For whatever reason, carrots seem to be a bit of a conundrum to people. They peel them, cut them, and boil the living hell out of them. When this happens, the carrots become soft and limp. They loose their flavour and often become bitter.

Like green vegetables, the first thing with carrots is stop over cooking them. And to season them with salt, pepper, and butter. Always!

Okay, when it comes to carrots a large portion of the nutrients are found in the peel. So, by removing that you are essentially throwing away a lot of the beneficial bits of the carrot. Having said that, of course you can peel them if you like. I’ll leave that up to you. Honestly, sometimes I peel them and some times I don’t.

Just like with green vegetables carrots do very well with roasting. Smaller carrots can roasted whole while larger carrots should be either split down the middle or cut into smaller pieces.

Carrots go really well with herbs like thyme, rosemary, tarragon, and parsley. If roasting the carrots toss them with oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary or thyme then roast. Alternatively, you can add rosemary or thyme to the cooking water. Fresh parsley should be added to the carrots after they are cooked.

There is a classic preparation for carrots that is called “Carrots Vichy”. Essentially, carrots vichy and carrots that are cooked in a light syrup of water, sugar or honey, vinegar, and tarragon. That syrup is reduced down and served over the carrots. It sounds amazing because it is.

All you have to do to make carrots vichy is peel and cut your carrots like you normally would and put them in a pot. Put enough water in the pot to just cover the carrots but no more. Now add 1 tbsp of vinegar (White Wine Vinegar preferably) 1 tbsp honey or sugar, 1 tbsp of butter, 2 sprigs of fresh tarragon and bring to a boil.

Once the carrots start to boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the carrots are cooked and the liquid is a syrup consistency. Season with salt and pepper and serve the carrots with the syrup over them.


There are so many different preparations for potatoes that it is impossible to list them all here. So, I’m going to focus on two main things. Mashed potatoes, and roasted potatoes.

Mashed Potatoes

There is a lot that can be done to jazz up mashed potatoes. Obviously milk or cream and butter goes along way. These should be heated up prior to being added to the potatoes so the potatoes don’t loose their heat. Also, salt and pepper. Always salt and pepper.

When it comes to mashed potatoes there’s really only three things that you change. The type of liquid added (milk). The type of fat (butter). And you can add additional ingredients. Let’s break this down.


Obviously milk is pretty standard. Heavy cream can add a nice richness to the potatoes but it’s not something you want to eat every night. Buttermilk can add a nice lighter flavour.

Hot chicken stock makes a great addition and replacement for the dairy in mashed potatoes. It makes for much lighter potatoes.


Butter is without a doubt the most common addition here, however it is not the only one. Olive oil works well as does rendered bacon or chicken fat. Sour cream can also act as a replacement for the butter and will add that nice fresh sour cream flavour.

If butter is the fat of choice it can be added as is, clarified, or browned by cooking until it turns a nutty brown colour.

Additional Ingredients

Herbs of any kind can be added to the potatoes. Thyme, chives, and parsley are what I prefer. Just chop them up nice and fine and then mix them in while you are mashing the potatoes.

Garlic makes a great addition to mashed potatoes but people seem to be confused as to when to add it. I peel a few cloves of garlic and throw them right in with the potatoes as they are cooking. Then, I mash the garlic right into the potatoes. You get the subtle garlic flavour but none of the harshness that you get from raw garlic.

Roasted garlic is also very good in potatoes and would be added after they are cooked.

Bacon and almost any kind of cheese can be thrown in there too. Why not?

(for really smooth potatoes use a vegetable ricer rather than a masher)

Roasted potatoes

A no fail method that I got from a restaurant I used to work at is this…

Take baby potatoes, cut them in half if needed. Put them in a pot and cover them with cold, salted water. Put the pot on high heat and wait for it to boil. As soon as it boils, drain off the water and toss the potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and chopped rosemary.

Spread the potatoes out on a parchment lined sheet pan and roast at 400°F for 35-40 minutes or until the potatoes are golden brown on the outside and soft in the middle.


In the interest of brevity I am going to talk only about basmati rice. First of all, the standard cooking process for basmati is 2 parts water to 1 part rice. To that add a bit of butter or oil and salt and pepper. Bring the rice to a boil over high heat. Put a lid on the pot, turn the heat to low and let simmer for 17 minutes never opening the lid. Remove the pot from the burner and let sit for another 17 minutes again not removing the lid. Now, fluff with a fork and enjoy.

Cooking liquid

The water can easily be subbed out with chicken, beef, vegetable, or mushroom stock depending on what you’re doing. Coconut milk can also replace all or some of the water.


1 bay leaf and two cloves add a very nice flavour to a small pot of rice. As does any kind of herb.


Pre-additions are items added prior to cooking. Mushrooms can be added as can onions, garlic, carrots, chilies, tomatoes, and celery. All of these ingredients will add a unique flavour to the rice. They should all be cooked prior to being added to rice.


Things that can be added after the rice is cooked include citrus zest and juice. And soft herbs like cilantro, and parsley.


I hope that this helped you see that vegetables don’t have to be boring at all. With a few minor adjustments, basic vegetables and side dishes can be made into something that people will remember and ask about.

Just remember, it doesn’t take much effort to do anything I just talked about. It mostly just takes a little forethought and care.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!