Being a child of the 70s and 80s, I can attest that many a Sunday dinner had mashed potatoes as a side dish. That is not a bad thing, but it does make mashed potatoes less exciting. Sure, you can top them with butter or gravy, but it is also fun to try different side dishes alongside my braised short ribs or roasted pork loin.
Of course, Sunday dinners are all about a hearty meal that may require a little more cooking time and may be a bit more indulgent than a weeknight dinner. We need sides that have a little something extra to them.
Let’s go Mediterranean
We are starting with something totally different than basic mashed potatoes- pearl couscous. This grain is the star of many a Mediterranean side dish. Heartier than typical couscous, it has a nice amount of toothsomeness. Plus, it works well at absorbing flavors.
So, what should we do with this pearl couscous? You could serve it as is, just cooked and covered with butter or extra virgin olive oil, but why not add more flavor? There are so many things you can do to make it extra special. Definitely start with sauteing some garlic and onion. This may be enough. However, you also can add more: diced tomatoes, cucumber chunks, fresh parsley, lemon juice and lemon zest. Think about the flavors and textures, and you’re sure to find a great side dish.
A pasta that looks like rice
You know what I’m writing about- orzo. When you first encounter it, you might think that it is a really plump grain of rice. Once you bite it you definitely will recognize that it is a form of pasta. Just like the pearl couscous, you can serve orzo as is, cooked and topped with butter or olive oil. Again, I am going to throw out a few suggestions for how to make it even fancier.
Once your orzo is cooked, think about the main dish that you are pairing it with. What sort of flavor profile are you trying to match. For orzo, I tend to lean toward ingredients that make me think of Italian dishes. Fresh basil is almost always on my list, as well as some locally grown tomatoes, and maybe some chunks of fresh mozzarella. Tossed together you have a side dish that not only is hearty but also is full of bright flavors.
The creamiest side of all
No, I am not referencing mashed potatoes that are whipped well. I am talking about creamy polenta. It is simple to make but deserves the spotlight at dinner time. Requiring only five ingredients, if you do not count salt and pepper, it is an easy recipe that wows.
While for the first two side dishes I thoroughly encouraged adding other ingredients to make the pearl couscous and orzo more exciting, for polenta I take the exact opposite approach. Keep it simple.
The beauty of this creamy polenta recipe is its simple richness. Use whole milk as the recipe directs to have a side that is unctuous. Be sure to add the parmesan as well. That adds a nice, salty, nutty bite to this dish.
As you think about all three of these side dish recipes, you may feel conflicted as to which ones you should make. I will help with that decision. You really should try all three. As each has a totally different flavor profile and texture, each really would pair well with different entrees.
I’ll help you start your thinking about those menus:
- Garlic and rosemary coated pork loin would pair well with the Mediterranean style pearl couscous.
- Grilled strip steaks would benefit from all the flavors and ingredients in the Italian style orzo.
- Roasted chicken and creamy polenta are dishes that were meant to be served together.
- Then, figure out a simple green salad or vegetable to accompany each, and your menu is ready.
No need to polish the silver or get out your fancy tablecloths. Just start your menu planning for your next big Sunday dinner. It will be time well spent in your kitchen when you sit down to eat one of these amazing meals, especially when you share it with friends and family who are dear to you.