Side Dishes

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sesameoilI don’t consider myself a good cook, but I have spent some time around good cooks while they’re doing their thing, so I’ve picked up some really great tips over the years. One of the best things I’ve learned is to always have roasted sesame oil on hand. It can make some really ordinary foods really great and is helpful when you're in a time crunch for dinner because so much of what you can do with it is quick and easy. I will give you examples!

First, baby bok choy. You just add a little sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce into a bowl of baby bok choy, toss, and put on a baking sheet to roast at 400F. Cook until the leaves are crispy and brown and you have a great, tasty side dish. You can also do this with broccoli.

Next, green beans. This is a two-step process because you need to blanch your green beans before sauteeing. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil, add a pound of green beans (stem ends removed) and boil for about two minutes, or until bright green. Then drain and immediately put them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. While they’re cooling, add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and 1 teaspoon of minced garlic to large saute pan and heat over medium until it becomes fragrant and hot (about 3-4 minutes). Add the beans and cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently. Add a splash of soy sauce at the end (or salt).

Finally, noodles. Get some thin udon or thing rice noodles or spaghetti (1/2 or 1 pound) and prepare as directed. Drain and remove to a bowl. Add 1-2 tablespoons (depending on the amount of noodles) and toss to spread evenly. Season with gomasio (sesame salt) or kosher salt and toasted sesame seeds plus garlic powder (use sparingly). I like using the gomasio because it adds some interest to the noodles.

I’m not ashamed to say that I could make a meal off these three things together (and maybe some dumplings). You can find toasted sesame oil (and gomasio) in the Asian section of the grocery or at the international market. Be sure the bottle indicates it’s toasted (should have an amber color, not gold). Sesame seeds should also be toasted (save the untoasted for buns). Sesame oil also great as a salad dressing by itself or in a vinaigrette.

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This potato salad is based on a recipe suggested to me by a Twitter friend who works for the group that publishes FarmFlavor.com, which is affiliated in part with the Tennessee Farm Bureau. The website is full of great, well-tested recipes with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients. It's got a nifty search engine that lets you search by meal type, theme, cooking method, or ingredient. So when I asked for favorite potato salad recipes, it wasn't hard for her to find this one. The original recipe calls for bacon, but she mentioned that she'd made it without and it was still very good.

And she was right; it's fantastic. Even better, I was already planning to use Yukon Gold potatoes and I could see that this would also be a good way to use the garlic scapes I'd just cut from my garden (though a couple of weeks later than I should have). Of course, you can make it as it appeared originally or use my recipe (with changes) below or get creative on your own. But do be sure to keep the lemon and basil; I think they were the key to making this potato salad unique and very tasty. It was so good that my mother-in-law asked for some of the leftovers!

ps--I decided to call it "Herb Garden Potato Salad" since I could actually use herbs grown in my own garden!

herb_garden_potato_salad

Herb Garden Potato Salad
adapted from FarmFlavor.com
serves 6-8

Ingredients:
3 pounds potatoes (we used Yukon gold, red and blue potatoes)
1 cups onion, finely chopped and lightly sauteed with a little olive oil
¼ cup fresh chives, finely minced
¾ cup fresh basil, chopped

Dressing:
½ cup mayonnaise
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅓ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons garlic scapes, finely minced
¾ teaspoon salt (I used smoked salt)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Place unpeeled potatoes in a large 5- to 8-quart pot. Cover with cold water and place over high heat. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Once water boils, remove cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15 to 25 minutes depending on size. Check frequently to prevent overcooking.

Drain potatoes and set aside to cool. Once potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size pieces, about ½- to ¾-inch chunks, and place in large bowl. Add onion, chives and basil. Toss very gently to combine.

In a separate bowl, make the dressing: whisk together mayonnaise, oil, lemon juice, mustard, garlic scapes, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over potato mixture and lightly toss with a large wooden spoon, taking care not to break too many potato chunks.

Chill in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container.

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Sometimes, my dinners aren’t well-planned as they are created from the necessity of using what’s in the fridge or pantry that needs to go.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized that I still had some Rancho Gordo rice beans (they’re small, white beans that look like fat grains of rice) that needed to be finished up. I cooked them for dinner (in the Crock Pot) but I just didn’t love them. Despite hours of cooking, they were still a bit tough for my taste. So I put the leftovers in the fridge while I tried to figure out what to do with them. And that’s when I remembered that the texture was similar to garbanzo beans, so I figured I could substitute them in a white bean puree (like a hummus) recipe. So there was my base.

I also had some organic spring asparagus in the refrigerator leftover from my mom’s visit. We didn’t eat it and it was not going to last much longer, so then I had my side dish.

Now, what to serve as the main? What would go great with that rice bean puree? Hen of the woods mushrooms! I picked some up at the local international market (Whole Foods carries them, too; they are also known as maitake mushrooms or signorina) and I had my meal planned and got to use up what I needed to from the refrigerator.

I wasn’t really planning on sharing this, but the picture I posted on Instagram got quite a few interested comments, so here it is! Though for the puree, I suggest using cannelini beans rather than rice beans. First, you can find canned cannelinis fairly easily and second, even dried rice beans are difficult to find. The really important part of the puree—in my opinion—is the thyme. It gave it a really nice flavor. I also used it for the mushrooms and they only needed a light sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Here's the recipe for white bean puree (but use vegetable broth! I like Better than Bouillon) and also the instructions for cooking the hen of the woods mushrooms. For the asparagus, just lightly coat the cleaned springs in olive oil and roast at 400F until just tender (check after 5 minutes; don't overcook because no one likes a shriveled sprig!). Finish with a light sprinkle of salt.

Here's the not-very-good photo of the result. It was far more delicious than it appears!

henofthewoods