easy, healthy side dishes

Running out of ideas for new side dishes? Check out these recipes and tweak them to your taste. Easy, healthy and delicious, these will freshen up any weeknight dinner.

Italian-style Vegetables
This is an easy use-up-what-you-have-in-the-fridge type of side dish. Swap out any of the veggies for what you have, but these are especially tasty together.

  • Zucchini, halved lenthwise and then sliced crosswise
  • Onion, sliced into 1-inch long strips
  • Mushrooms, quartered
  • Italian dressing (homemade is better)
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Toss the zucchini, onion and mushrooms together in a pan with a swirl of prepared Italian dressing so that all of the pieces are evenly coated. Turn the heat up to medium and saute until they are starting to brown and the zucchini and onion are soft.
  2. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Garlic and Sun-dried Tomato Corn Muffins (shown above)
  • 1 package corn-muffin mix, such as Jiffy
  • 1 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 large egg
  • Cornmeal
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tin with nine papers. 
  2. In a large bowl combine the muffin mix, corn, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. Stir to combine. In a small bowl whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream and eggs until well blended. Add the buttermilk mixture to the muffin mix. Stir to combine.
  3. Spoon the mix into the muffin tins, filling up the cups about halfway. Dust with a sprinkle of cornmeal. Bake until golden brown on top, about 15 minutes.

Pan-grilled Corn
The next time you sear chicken in a pan, consider this yummy and flavorful corn side dish. When the chicken is done cooking, wrap it in foil and start the corn. The flavors can be easily modified to suit any style dish.

  • 4 c corn
  • 1 fresh chile, like serrano or jalapeno, diced (and seeded if you can't take the heat)
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1-2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar or the juice of one lime
  • 1/2 c chopped cilantro (or basil)
  •  Salt/pepper
  1. Add a little oil to the pan with the bits from the chicken still in it; set it over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the corn, chile and garlic; let it cook for a minute. As the corn browns, begin to turn it with a spatula. Do this until all the corn is browned on at least one side.
  2. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper, the water and stir in the vinegar or lime juice and the herbs. Serve immediately with the chicken.

Roasted Red Potatoes
There is nothing more satisying that a pile of crispy-on-the-edges and soft-in-the-middle red potatoes. Great for summery dinners and even better in the winter. Mix it up with whatever fresh herb you have, but I like rosemary and garlic – and dipping the quartered potatoes in ketchup when they're done.
  • Red potatoes – about 4 small to medium ones per person, quartered
  • 1 clove garlic per person
  • Handful of rosemary, coarsely chopped
  • Salt/pepper
  • Olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a shallow baking pan, toss the quartered potatoes with olive oil, garlic and rosemary. Season very generously with salt and pepper. (If you like it spicy, add a little cayenne pepper).
  2. Roast for ~45 minutes, until the edges are crispy and browned. Stir once or twice during the cooking process and adjust the salt and pepper before serving.

Roasted Asparagus
  • Asparagus, woody stems removed
  • Fresh-shaved parmesan
  • Salt/pepper
  • Olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle asparagus with olive oil in a jelly-roll pan. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Roast for 18 minutes. Remove from oven, stir around, and top with Parmesan. Roast for two more minutes. Taste, season if needed and serve.
Still need more ideas? Check out these ideas:


three-berry trifle with lemony whipped cream

The ultimate summery dessert, this tangy, sweet, light and fluffy treat brings the wow factor to any dinner party. I made this for my family in South Florida while visiting my grandfather for Easter (yes, the same one who shares my obsession with blueberries). We had a heavy meal and it was humid out, so I knew we would want something fruity and light to cap off the meal. Plus, it's fun to put together and would also make great individual desserts, layered in pretty glasses and topped with a sprig of mint. Get creative and try whatever fruit you like or use pound cake if you prefer it. Just don't forget the thick strips of lemon zest on top (or candied lemon peel); it adds color and cues the lucky eaters in that it's lemony. Enjoy!

Three-berry Trifle with Lemony Whipped Cream
  • 4 pints of berries – I like strawberries (2 pints, hulled and quartered), blueberries (1 pint) and raspberries (1 pint)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/4 c sugar plus 2 tbsp, reserved
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 2 c heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 11 oz. lemon curd (find this on the jelly aisle – don't be scared, it's delicious!)
  • 1 pre-made angel-food cake, sliced into 1/2-inch chunks
  1. In a high-walled, large pot, gently toss the berries with the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the juice of the other half, 1/4 c sugar, and cornstarch. Simmer for three minutes, stirring very gently every so often. Remove pot from stove and place in an ice bath to cool.
  2. Whip the cream, remaining sugar and vanilla in a cold glass or steel bowl until it has soft peaks. In a large bowl, add 1/4 whipped cream and the lemon curd; whisk until incorporated and curd is loosened. Add the rest of the whipped cream and gently fold until smooth and evenly mixed.
  3. In a trifle bowl (I got mine for $8 at Target!), place 1/3 cream in the bottom and top with 1/2 of the cake chunks. Top with 1/2 the berries, making sure to also add the juice which will absorb into the cake. Repeat; and finish with the last of the whipped cream. Zest 1/2 a lemon on top. Optional: add leftover berries and mint sprigs for color.


rainy day tomato basil soup and grilled cheddar cheese

A classic in every sense of the word, tomato soup and grilled cheese takes me back ... well, to college, when I started to actually like tomato soup. Grilled cheese, though? Yes, please. I have fond childhood memories of the gooey little sandwich melting in my mouth. My mom used to make it with mozzarella and the cheese would streeeetch as I pulled the halves apart, fingers glistening with butter. Delicious.

Now, as an adult, I like to make this meal for dinner every once and a while – especially if it's raining or cold out. To make it a little healthier, I have been known to spritz a pan with canola oil instead of using butter, but it's not nearly as good, so I usually splurge and go for the real stuff. Oh, and I'm a cheddar girl – sharp cheddar. There is no other substitute, unless you consider brie or some other fancy cheese. Then I'm in all the way. Make this next time you're stuck in the house on a rainy Sunday, and then curl up for a nap.

Homemade Tomato Basil Soup
Serves 6-8
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes or stewed tomatoes (14.5 oz each)
  • 14 oz. chicken broth (homemade is better!)
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 3/4 c skim milk*
  • 2-3 tbsp sour cream*
  • 1/2 c basil, julienned and divided (sliced into ribbons)
  • Optional: crumbled bacon
  1. Cook onion in a stock pot until translucent.  Add garlic and cook the mixture ~3 minutes longer. Add tomatoes, broth and paste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Stir in dairy; simmer 10 more minutes. Add 1/4 c basil. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender until smooth.**
  3. Spoon hot soup into bowls and top with remaining basil and, if desired, crumbled bacon. Serve with grilled cheese (I prefer extra toasted, as shown above) 
*If you don't have skim milk and sour cream, you can use 1 c of whipping cream or half-and-half instead.
**If you don't have an immersion blender, you can whir the soup in a blender until smooth. Just be careful transferring the hot soup to the machine.


whole-grain banana-coconut muffins that even coconut haters love

One recent holiday, my in-laws were in town for a few days. I always like to cook for family that stays with us, and this was no exception. On Saturday morning, I had three ripe bananas just dying to be baked into something. Remembering this recipe that I clipped from the newspaper (of all places!), I whipped them up in no time. Before even realizing that they had coconut in them, my father-in-law took down three of them.

My brother-in-law and said father-in-law share the coconut-hating gene (the BIL calls toasted coconut "bones," because their crunchiness catches in the back of his throat like it would if you swallowed a bone, haha). Despite that fact, they both like these muffins. And you will, too. They make a great breakfast, and they freeze well. No muss, no fuss (whatever that means) and no waste. And wholesome to boot. Enjoy.

Banana-Coconut Muffins

  • 1 1/2 c flour (I use 1/2 whole-wheat pastry flour)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 c coconut flakes
  • 1 1/3 c mashed banana (~4 medium)
  • 1/4 c buttermilk (or milk)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c canola oil
  • 3/4 c light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  1. Heat oven to 350. Line the muffin tin with papers (or grease it).
  2. In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Mix in coconut.* In another bowl, mix mashed bananas with vanilla and buttermilk.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the oil and sugars for two minutes. Add the egg. When incorporated, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the banana mixture in two parts, until just combined.
  4. Fill 12 muffin cups evenly. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
*Note: by mixing baking ingredients like coconut or fruit into the flour mixture you keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter during the baking process.


shrimp scampi - a buttery dream come true

There's a secret side to me that maybe I haven't shared yet. Though I try to eat healthfully most of the time, lurking deep within me is a zeal for some of the most delicious and fattening things alive – in this case, butter.

For a recent birthday, I wanted something buttery. For dinner. There were only two people I knew to turn to: Paula Deen and Ina Garten. As a Savannah and South-Georgia native, Paula's over-done accent annoys me and she tends to cook with too many processed foods. She was nixed. Ina it was. Ina's shrimp scampi it was. 

As I sit in an airport typing this at 6:41 a.m., the smell of garlic sauteing in butter is still clear in my mind. (Probably because I usually opt for olive oil ... a true shame now that I think about it.) I can still taste the buttery-parmesan noodles, sharp lemon and sweet shrimp.

Ina's Shrimp Scampi
    •    Vegetable oil
    •    1 tablespoon kosher salt plus 1 1/2 teaspoons
    •    3/4 pound linguine
    •    3 tablespoons unsalted butter
    •    2 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
    •    1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
    •    1 pound large shrimp (about 16 shrimp), peeled and deveined
    •    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    •    1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
    •    1/2 lemon, zest grated
    •    1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
    •    1/4 lemon, thinly sliced in half-rounds
    •    1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

  1. Drizzle some oil in a large pot of boiling salted water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the linguine, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or according to the directions on the package.
  2. Meanwhile, in another large (12-inch), heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic. Saute for 1 minute. Be careful, the garlic burns easily! Add the shrimp, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and the pepper and saute until the shrimp have just turned pink, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat, add the parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon slices, and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine.
  3. When the pasta is done, drain the cooked linguine and then put it back in the pot. Immediately add the shrimp and sauce, toss well, and serve.
Happy birthday to me (don't worry – you didn't miss it. It was a while ago!).


salmon with chickpea ragu

I didn't eat seafood until I started dating my husband. That was eight years ago. Tentative at first, he wooed me in slowly (probably with something covered in bacon), tempting me with little bites at a time. Then I started really learning about how good for you fish is and I started to work it into my diet creatively.

I would cherry-pick only my favorite ingredients and find a recipe that incorporated them into a seafood dish. At first I'd eat only those ingredients and pick at the fish. But slowly, my tastes changed and I came to appreciate the flaky – and sometimes steak-like – texture and variety of flavors, ranging from mild and sweet to pungent. Good stuff.

This dish was one I discovered about halfway along my journey to liking seafood dishes. But I loved this dish, even though salmon is a strong fish. The tomatoey-chickpea ragu stands up to it, though, and even non-salmon lovers will enjoy this one. Try it when you're looking for something healthy and hearty. It's quick enough for a weeknight, too.

Salmon with Chickpea Ragu (courtesy Ellie Krieger)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 large zucchini, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 (15.5 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup basil leaves, sliced into ribbons, plus more for garnish
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 (6 oz.) skinless salmon fillets
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the onion, and cook until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the carrot, zucchini, and garlic and cook, stirring, until the carrots are firm-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, stirring to incorporate completely. Add the chicken broth and chickpeas and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the liquid thickens slightly, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Remove the skillet from the heat, and add 1 cup of the basil and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper (and crushed red pepper flakes, if using), and stir to incorporate. Cover to keep warm while you cook the salmon.
  3. Preheat the broiler. Season the salmon with the remaining ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Broil the salmon for 8 to 10 minutes per inch thickness, turning once.
  4. To serve, spoon 1 ½ cups of the chickpea ragu into a shallow bowl or rimmed plate. Top with a fillet of salmon and garnish with the ribbons of basil.


an herb garden to remember

For those of you who know my husband, you know he's pretty handy. And creative. Which are two of the many reasons why I like him. But that's besides the point. I will never forget the day I came home from work and found him on our patio, covered in sawdust and sweat, building a free-standing herb garden for me. One that matched the grain and trim of our house exactly. Amazing.

To date, I have basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, mint, some oniony-scalliony thing (which I have been unable to remember or identify, but haven't died from yet), oregano and parsley. All grown naturally and chemical-free, and ready for the picking whenever I am. (Read about why you should add herbs to marinades here.)

Dried Herbs as Gifts

Last year for Christmas gifts, I actually spent about six months drying herbs in my window sills to package up into decorative little glass jars. By the time December rolled around, I had zip-top bags stuffed with fragrant dried leaves, curled and light green, ready for the crumbling into dishes. It was a lot of fun to put together and give. A true gift from the heart.

Oh, and as of April, my dad is already demanding refills. :)


thai ginger-honey beef salad

For dinner I wanted something fresh and colorful, and also something I could pair with steak. I've been craving a Thai-style beef, but also something healthy and light. So I found a recipe from Epicurious for a ginger-honey marinade for beef – one that has a little kick and uses lots of herbs and spices – that would be perfect for a salad.

Color: that's how the salad was built. Red tomatoes, orange carrots, yellow pepper, green cucumber, earthy mushrooms, purple onion. The colors alone, not to mention all the fresh flavors, got me excited. Then we pulled the beef out of the marinade. Intoxicating and spicy, citrusy and sweet, it went on the grill until it was tender and made our mouths water.

Simple. Tasty. Colorful. Fresh. Healthy. Make this steak and serve it over salad or with other Thai-style side dishes (Ina's peanut noodles would be amazing). You won't be disappointed.

Thai Ginger-Honey Beef
Marinade & Steak
  • 3/4 to 1 lb. of skirt or flank steak
  • 1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 6 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon mint leaves (home grown!)
  • Juice from one lime, about 1 tbsp
  • 1 small Thai (or serrano) chile or jalepeno
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
  1. Place all ingredients (soy sauce through ginger) in a food processor and puree. Place steak in a bag or shallow dish and pour the marinade over it. Tightly cover or seal and allow the steak to marinate in the refrigerate for at least two hours.
  2. Preheat the grill to 350*. Grill, turning once, until the meat is the desired doneness. Remove the meat from the grill and wrap it tightly in foil; allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Slice it thinly against the grain. Serve immediately.
Note: I whipped up a homemade salad dressing of orange and lime juice, sesame oil and a little soy sauce. Refreshing and delicious with the citrus and sesame.

Before I go, let me just say that the advantages of marinating meats before grilling go beyond flavor boosting. Grilling meat at high heat produces carcinogenic compounds (heterocyclic amines [HCAs] and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs], just in case you were wondering). Marinating meat helps to prevent these compounds from being formed. In fact, rosemary, oregano and sage are credited in being some of the best to add to a marinade for just that purpose. All the more reason to pour on the flavor before you grill!


fried eggs & veggie fritters

Yet another weekend for brunch, this time I was on a quest to once again use up a surplus of veggies from my organic produce box. The hubs was craving eggs, but I didn't want the standard fried-egg sandwich or eggs-grits combo. I wanted fresh. And I wanted veg.

Veggie fritters and eggs it was. Plus, it gave me the chance to use my food processor for the second time in one weekend (the other opportunity was for a ginger-honey-soy marinade for beef). These fritters are so flexible; just use whatever veggies you have hanging out in the fridge. Cook your eggs however you like, but I recommend over-easy style. The fritters sopped up the runny yolk, really upping the wow factor.

The next time we make these, I'll top them with fresh, crumbled goat cheese and maybe a drop of truffle oil or salt. My toes are curling just thinking about it.

Veggie Fritters with Fried Eggs (adapted from Mark Bittman)
  • 1 egg, plus more for frying as an accompanyment
  • 3 c grated veggies (carrot, zucchini, squash ... whatever)
  • 1/2 an onion, grated
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh herbs (I did home-grown rosemary)
  • 1/4 c whole-wheat flour
  • Salt, pepper
  • Olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 200*. Mix the grated veg with the egg, flour, herbs and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Divide evenly into 8-10 balls and patty, making sure to smoosh them until they're very thin. (If they don't hold together well, add a little more flour.)
  2. Heat a pan swirled with olive oil over medium heat. Drop the fritters into the pan, three or four at a time, and fry ~5 minutes on each side. Flip and smoosh them into the pan. When they are adequately browned on each side, move them to a plate and pop them in the oven to keep warm. Repeat.
  3. Serve immediately with fresh fried eggs. Top with goat cheese and truffle oil or salt if you have it.


red-pepper tabbouleh for lunch

There's something very alluring about the dishes of the Mediterranean. They're colorful and bright, are rich and healthy (almost an oxymoron), and have strong, lasting flavors like lemon, garlic and herbs, salty cheeses and nutty grains. Delish. Two of my favorites include hummus and tabbouleh.

Tabbouleh seems kinda fancy, doesn't it? Well, believe it or not, it's pretty simple. Admittedly, there is a lot of veggie chopping, but the bulgar needs 15 minutes or anyways so to soften in hot water. Not a bad trade-off: 10 minutes of chopping for healthy lunches all week long.

Tabbouleh is such a flexible food, too. Both a side and main dish, it can be stuffed into a whole-wheat pita with hummus, or placed atop salad greens, or served as a side dish to a light sandwich or piece of chicken or fish. The options are endless. Just make sure to squeeze fresh lemon on it before eating it each time to keep the flavors bright.

So this is the tabbouleh that I like to make. Vary it however you like by adding olives or anything else. It's simple, healthy, tasty and, well, pretty. Food just tastes better when it's pretty.

Red-pepper Tabbouleh
Note: Be sure to chop all the veggies roughly the same size.
  • 1/2 c bulgar wheat (don't be scared, it's a lot like brown rice – but easier to make)
  • 1/2 c boiling water
  • 1 1/2 c chopped plum or Roma tomato, seeded if you like
  • 3/4 c chopped chicken or drained chickpeas
  • 3/4 c minced parsley
  • 1/2 c sweet red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 c seedless cucumber, chopped
  • 1/4 c mint, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (~the juice of one lemon)
  • 4 oz. fresh crumbled feta cheese
  • olive oil, salt and pepper
  1. Pour hot water over bulgar in a glass bowl. Cover tightly and allow to stand for 15 minutes until tender.
  2. Chop the veggies and herbs and combine in a large bowl. Add bulgar, chicken or chickpeas, a swirl of olive oil, the feta and lemon juice and season to taste. Allow to cool in the refrigerator. Squeeze with fresh lemon before each serving.


blueberry-lemon cheesecake bars

My grandfather and I share an affinity for blueberries. We both love the sweet-tangy taste and the beautiful color. Not to mention they're naturally good for you. He especially likes them sprinkled on a bowl of vanilla frozen yogurt and I like them in baked goods, pancakes and fruit salads ... or by the handful.

To celebrate the coming of spring and incoming company, I set out to make yummy blueberry-lemon cheesecake bars – which are fail-proof and can be made in advance (perfect for dinner guests). Not to mention that they're easy on the eyes with their crown of plump juicy berries, creamy middle and crumbly crust. Oh yeaaaaah.

I've made this dessert with reduced-fat cream cheese, and it's fine. But for really special occasions, use the full-fat version (or at least 1/2 full-fat cream cheese). The silky mouth-feel improves dramatically. If you really want to get fancy, say for Easter, top each piece with a little sprig of mint. The contrast of creamy white, blue berries and green herb will pop on your table, wowing your guests.

Blueberry-lemon Cheesecake Bars
  • 1 1/4 c graham cracker crumbs (about 9 graham crackers ground in a food processor)
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 16 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 lemons, juiced and zested (don't be skimpy!)
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 1/2 c blueberries (raspberries would be good, too)
  1. Preheat oven to 325*.  Spray the bottom of a 9x9 pan. In a bowl, mix the crust ingredients and press into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 12 minutes, or until golden.
  2. Add cream cheese, eggs, lemon juice and zest, and sugar to a large mixing bowl. Mix on high speed until creamy, being sure to scrape down the bowl periodically. Pour into crust and cover with berries. (Don't worry about pressing them into the cheesecake; they'll sink as it bakes.)
  3. Bake 35 minutes or until the center jiggles only slightly. Remove from oven and cool one hour at room temperature. Refrigerate three hours and slice into bars. Serve cold.