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Vegetable sides - beginning with petits pois à la française

"Great side dishes can really elevate a meal – and let’s be honest, when they’re good, they’re often the best bit; the thing you go back to for seconds and thirds." Ed Smith/The Guardian

I have come to realise that I am very lazy when it comes to vegetable sides. Unless the meal is an all-in-one pot kind of affair, which includes a whole lot of vegetables, I realise I don't really serve a lot of vegetables. I take the lazy way out and do like the French and just serve a green salad after we have eaten our main dish. That said there will always be some kind of carbs - potatoes, rice or pasta usually, but sometimes it's a pastry, even more occasionally some couscous or bread, but the vegetables are generally missing. And I feel very guilty about this.

Of course I do try to have at least one vegetarian meal every week, and we are blessed with an absolute bounty of dishes to choose from by all the wonderful vegetarian cooks out there. Indeed even the non-vegetarians are either writing a book on vegetables these days, or writing more vegetable than carniverous recipes in each cookbook. And I do love to experiment with these dishes. They often introduce me to new flavours, new ingredients, and really, really interesting ways of cooking them. But then they become the main dish. Definitely not a side.

However, more generally we eat some sort of carnivorous dish accompanied by some kind of carbohydrate, followed by a green salad. But no sides. If the carbohydrate is potatoes, then I do have a number of different ways of cooking them, but they are limited. I mean I know a few others, and 'of' even more, but I tend to stick to the tried and true - boiled, gratin, roast.

Yesterday, for some reason I decided that not only was this very unadventurous but it was also really not good, because it probably means we are not getting our quota of however many vegetables we should be having a day. So - new resolution - which may quickly be ignored - to provide at least one side when there are no vegetables in the main dish itself.

I say just one, because, let's face it, lovely though it is, the green salad is the easy way out. If you have put a lot of effort into your main dish then you might not have the will to make a complicated side dish. So what I am looking for here is the quick and easy, not the elaborate.

It doesn't have to be complicated does it?

"life’s too short and simply cooked seasonal vegetables are too good to obsess over five different and showy sides. But I do think that one, maybe two of the main attraction’s accompaniments should be interesting. This might simply mean adding a splash of balsamic to the cherry tomatoes you’re roasting, or sprinkling a handful of herbs or toasted nuts on top of boiled and buttered vegetables. Though you could sometimes go a step further, and swap basic mashed potato for a lavish and creamy celeriac and chilli gratin, or give even more attention and care to your braised fennel than you do the baked bass it’s going with." Ed Smith

And that's just a very few ideas. Roasting - so very many possibilities there - just toss your vegetable in something and, as Ed Smith says, sprinkle something on top. Boiling - boil in something other than water, or add something to the water. Toss the finished product in something, sprinkle something on top. Grill, stir fry, barbecue - toss in something, scatter or drizzle with something ...

The dangers are two-fold. One that you need to spend a whole lot more energy on finding an appropriate recipe, or thinking one up, and then on preparing it. Two that the sides will clash with the main dish. the sides are there for support not to be the star. I, for one, hate having a plethora of different tastes on one plate. Those vegetable sides, though hopefully delicious, won't be so delicious that they detract from your main dish. No, I think if you are going to put a lot of effort into lots - or even more than two vegetarian dishes, then it's better to serve them as a first course mezzo spread. Or even make a whole meal of it - girl dinner! Thought that has to be really simple doesn't it? Mind you these days, you might have a dip in the fridge, maybe even some falafel or leftover roast veggies - so maybe it could be a girl dinner.

Anyway I'm going to begin tonight because I'm going to try those fish goujons of James Martin that I have mentioned a couple of times now, with his tartare sauce to dip them in - plus the oven-fried potatoes I'm going to make, and finally a little bit more elaborate, but not too distracting dish of Petits pois à la française à la Nigella Lawson - which I have made before and which were pretty good. Which is marginally odd because when I met these in France I didn't like them much at first. But over time I acquired the taste, and now I love them. I really should make them more often.

One more resolution made and ready to break.


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