CONFESSION: I am not great at making salads. I usually put so much time into preparing my main course that when I think of the washing and chopping that a salad entails I just feel exhausted. I love eating salads but not making them. To compensate for my salad deficiencies at the dinner table I started thinking of ways to get more vegetables into every meal. Side dishes were an easy target for a healthful stealth attack.
Here are SIMPLE techniques for spicing up your everyday dinners with grain-centric side dishes that pack a flavor and nutrition punch.
Although the title says “Never a Dull Rice” it can easily change to “Never a Dull Quinoa“, “Never a Dull Bulgur” etc. These grains (and in the case of quinoa – foods that we treat like grains) are perfect for loading up with vegetables. Granted, there are many dishes that go perfectly with plain jasmine rice, for example, but many more can benefit from being accompanied by a veggie enhanced grain.
The idea of “enhanced” rice dishes is not new. Cook-up-rice is a national dish in Guyana that contains meat, vegetables, peas/beans, spices, herbs and coconut milk. “Cookup” as it’s called, is the entire main course and one of my absolute favorite meals. There is arroz con pollo and paella from the latin traditions, biryani from South Asia, plov from Uzbekistan and much more.
You can have a lot of fun exploring a wide variety of grains and foods that we cook like grains (think quinoa). The different textures and flavors are sure to keep your dinner offerings fresh and interesting.
- Jasmine rice
- Basmati rice
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
- Bulgur (comes in different textures or grain sizes)
- Quinoa (red, black, white or tricolor)
- Jade Rice
A few simple, everyday ingredients can be deployed to pack your side dishes with extra vegetables in subtle and delicious ways.
- Spinach (my fave)
- Carrots (shredded)
- Swiss Chard
- Corn (scraped from the cob)
- Mushrooms (baby bella/cremini)
- Bell peppers
- Herb Blend
- Fat (Butter/coconut oil)
A Special Note on Spinach
If I just have one vegetable always on hand to enhance my grains it is spinach. I LOVE spinach and I’m having the most rewarding experience growing it this year in my container garden. With just spinach and my special Herb Blend you can have a delicious, creamy, nutrient-packed enhanced grain.
Fun Fact: Spinach is part of the amaranth family and is related to quinoa and beets!
Benefits of Spinach:
- Low calories
- Packed with vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium
- My method of sauteing spinach before adding it to enhance your grain releases the beta carotene.
WHERE THE GRAIN MEETS THE VEG
You choose the grain.
Here are the suggested proportions to serve four people with healthy appetites. Note: Please just choose one grain not all of those listed below.
- Rice (jasmine/basmati): 2 cups uncooked
- Wild Rice/Brown Rice: 1 1/2 cups uncooked
- Bulgur (medium/fine grain: 1 1/2 cups uncooked; Coarse grain 1 cup uncooked)
- Quinoa: 1 cup uncooked
You choose the vegetable(s).
Aim to start with at least one green vegetable. The carrots and mushrooms are optional for an even richer enhanced grain.
- At least 6 cups of chopped, fresh spinach or baby spinach leaves OR
- 2 bunches of broccolini (washed, stems slightly trimmed and cut up) OR
- 2 bunches of swiss chard (washed, trimmed away from the veins and cut up)
- 1-2 medium sized carrot(s) shredded (at least 1 cup shredded)
- 3-4 baby bella (cremini) mushrooms chopped
- Corn stripped off the cob
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Herb Blend
- 1-2 tablespoons butter, neutral oil, olive oil or coconut oil OR
- 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon neutral oil
- Prepare the grain according to package directions
- While the grain is cooking wash and cut up your vegetables
- In a non stick pan heat 1-2 tbsps of fat over medium heat
- When the fat is just hot, add the Herb Blend and stir to coat. Keep stirring for a few minutes until the herbs are translucent. The garlic in the blend may start to brown a little.
- Add your prepared vegetables and stir to coat with the herb mixture.
- Add salt/seasoning salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cook for 5-7 minutes until the vegetables are wilted and tender.
- Lower the flame and add the cooked grain. Toss to mix thoroughly. Let sit on a low flame gently mixing until the vegetables are blended to your satisfaction and their juices are well dispersed.
- If using carrots, the carrots should be sauteed for 3-4 minutes stirring occasionally before adding the other vegetables
- Spinach should be added last.
- Swiss chard is a bit tougher than spinach and should be sauteed on its own. You can add a little water to get it to the desired tenderness.
- There is a separate recipe for quinoa and roasted corn which will appear in another blog post on side dishes.
How does your family liven up your everyday grains? Tell us your stories in the comment section below.
Wishing you and your loved ones a safe and healthy 2021
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