Category Archives: Side Dishes

Sausage, Pumpkin and Kale Stuffing

This recipe is decidedly a hack – upon researching recipes for Thanksgiving, I came across a stuffing that looked to be a welcomed alternative to my tried and true Classic Stuffing.  Given that this year’s celebration was a pot luck extravaganza, why not two stuffings instead of one?  Truthfully, I wanted to do a third Oyster Dressing like the ones we used to have at my paternal grandmother’s house every year, but not enough people were into oysters, so I skipped it.

The original recipe from Food Network Kitchens is good, but I lost the leeks and butternut squash for caramelized red onions and canned pumpkin – MUCH easier, which is really what you are going for at Thanksgiving.  The result was moist, flavorful and complex – a nice accompaniment to turkey and gravy, if I might say so myself.  Give this one a try if you are looking to make a new tradition or two – how can you form a tradition if you don’t try something out for the first time, right? Right?!?

Recipe for

Sausage, Pumpkin and Kale Stuffing

2 round loaves of foccacia (onion or herb)
1 stick of butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 can of pumpkin
1 can of chicken stock (or 2 cups of homemade stock)
1  red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbs. of olive oil
2 tbs. of butter
1 lb. of sweet italian sausage
1 bunch of kale
1 tsp. of whole fennel seeds
1 tsp. of rubbed sage
1 tsp. of white pepper
shredded pecorino romano

Cube foccacia and spread on a cookie sheet.  Bake in a 350° oven until crisp and golden, about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs.  Add the white pepper, sage, fennel seeds, pumpkin and chicken stock and mix until incorporated.  Set aside.

In a skillet, brown the sausage and remove with a slotted spoon.  Add the olive oil and sauté the kale until wilted.  Remove with a slotted spoon and add to sausage.  Add the butter to the pan and turn the heat to medium low.  Let the onions sweat it out in the pan until dark brown and soft, about 10 minutes.

In a huge bowl, add the foccacia cubes, sausage and kale, and caramelized onions.  Toss to combine and then pour in the pumpkin mixture.  Turn out into a greased 13x9x2 casserole and bake in a 375° oven until puffy and golden on top, about 35-45 minutes.

Sesame Cucumbers

I love this recipe for a multitude of reasons – in true Shakespearean style, let me count the ways…

  1. In an almost atavistic longing for my childhood, you remind me of the Pickled Broccoli Stems that I could eat in heaps and heaps at the now closed Chinese restaurant, Hsiang Foong, or as we called it, “The Foong”.  You were later replaced with El Pollo Rico, another love of mine, but I digress.
  2. PF Changs sells you for way too much money, but with a bit of change and a few minutes, I can make a far superior version of you in every way.
  3. You are so friggin’ easy to make.

Make this as a side dish for a dumpling feast, or as an appetizer for your next FU to Chinese takeout, whereby you prepare a fresh meal without all the MSG, overcooked veggies, oversauced meat and stale fortune cookies (fortune and all).  Your tummy will thank you.

Recipe for

Sesame Cucumbers

1 english cucumber (called seedless or hothouse)
2 tbs. of sesame oil
4 tbs. of rice wine vinegar
4 tbs. of water
1 tsp. of salt
2 tsp. of sugar
1 tsp. black sesame seeds
1 tsp. white sesame seeds
dash of chili oil (optional)

Slice your cucumber into thin, 1/4 in. rounds and place in a bowl.  Add all other ingredients and stir gently.  Let sit in the fridge for 15-20 minutes and then serve.

Rice Pilaf with Toasted Orzo

I don’t care how easy they say that they are to make, those rice blends at the supermarket are overrated.  Dehydrated herbs and chicken flavor make up the taste profile, and you can’t be sure how long it’s all been sitting on the shelf.  You can totally take control of your own destiny – make your own rice pilaf in the same amount of time with no fillers or preservatives.

This pilaf takes ordinary converted rice and boosts it with a bit of toasted orzo.  The little pasta grains impart texture, nuttiness and a lovely color to the dish – you get depth of flavor with really no additional work.  This recipe is a great, quick side for a weeknight dinner – while you prepare your main dish, you can have a pot of this simmering away on the back burner.  Best of all, when it’s done, you can fluff with a fork and recover until the rest of the meal is finished.  It’ll wait for you until you’re ready to go.  Rice that’s patient?  Who woulda thunk it?

Rice Pilaf with Toasted Orzo

2 c. of converted, parboiled rice (like Uncle Ben’s)
1/2 c. of orzo
1 tsp. of fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
2 tbs. of olive oil
2 tbs. of butter
4 c. of vegetable (or chicken stock)

In a medium pot, heat the olive oil to shimmering.  Add the butter and the orzo to the hot pan, continuously stirring to brown the orzo but not burn it.  Once the orzo is toasty brown, add the rice, pepper and oregano.  Stir to combine and add the chicken broth.  Let the mixture come to a boil, then cover the pot and lower the heat to low.

Cook pilaf until all water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Uncover rice and fluff with a fork.  Serve.

Herbed Pilaf

Although I don’t have access to a plot of land to cultivate my green thumb, I make do with every inch of real estate available to me in my apartment with my itty-bitty home garden.  It saves me quick dashes to the store to buy expensive fresh herbs, and I’m further encouraged to include them in dishes as opposed to dried herbs.  It’s an absolute boon, and truly, a window garden is very little work.  Not to mention the fact that with a little sun and water, basil, dill, parsley and mint are practically unstoppable.

This simple rice pilaf is a celebration of the goodness of fresh herbs – if you are not inclined to grow your own, pick up the prettiest, leafiest bunches from the store or farmer’s market and go to town.  This is one of those “make-it-your-own” kind of deals, so absolutely be creative.  I like a combination of dill, mint, basil, thyme and parsley, but sage, savory, rosemary and fennel also work well.

I use chicken broth in lieu of all water in this recipe, but if you’d like to keep things vegetarian, replace the chicken broth with veggie stock to make things meat-free.  Scrap the butter for a little more olive oil, and you’ve got a vegan delight on your hands.  Yup, that easy.  And speaking of easy, these shots feature Marx Foods Palm Plates – biodegradeable gems that are as lovely to look at as they are sturdy and good for the environment.  Check ’em out!

Recipe for

Herbed Pilaf

2 c. of long grain rice
2 tbs. of butter
1 tbs. of olive oil
2 c. of chicken broth
scant 2 c. of water
1/2 tsp. of salt
pinch of black pepper
1/4 c. of mixed herbs, loosely packed

Begin by roughly chopping the herbs.  Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium pot.  Add the rice, broth, water, salt and pepper and bring mixture to a boil.  Once boiling, toss the herbs on top and cover.  Turn heat to low and cook until all water has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Fluff rice with a fork and serve.

Asparagus with Gremolata

The quest for the fall back side has one more contender in the running – this simple preparation of asparagus with a delicious italian condiment of the brightest flavor and texture is an absolute gem.  Even better than how it tastes is the work involved, or should I say lack thereof.  This is probably the simplest and most elegant side that you can put together, and should absolutely become a go-to recipe in your kitchen.

Gremolata is a lovely mixture of finely chopped parley, garlic and lemon.  It is most commonly used as a topping for osso buco (braised veal shanks) and other slow-cooked meat dishes that benefit from a lightening of flavor to round things out.  The key to gremolata is prepping it as you need it and using the freshest ingredients.  A simple toss with some asparagus and olive oil, this gremolata will bring the tender spears to a whole new level.

Gremolata is absolutely versatile – if you’re not a fan of asparagus, try it atop simple roasted string beans or tomatoes.  It also serves as a simple stir-in for minestrone and other savory soups.  Be creative and definitely take advantage of the fact that gremolata will give your one-note dishes a huge kick in the pants.  In a good way.

Recipe for

Asparagus with Gremolata

1 lb. of asparagus, rinsed and trimmed of tough ends
1 cl. of garlic, minced
zest of 1 lemon
1 c. of loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/8 tsp. of freshly cracked pepper
2 tbs. of olive oil
kosher salt

Place asparagus in a shallow pan and fill with water to barely cover asparagus.  Heavily salt the water and bring water to a boil.  When the water comes to a boil and the asparagus spears turn a bright green, remove them from the water and place them in a serving dish.

In a small bowl, mix the parsley, lemon zest, pepper, a small pinch of kosher salt and olive oil.  Pour over the hot asparagus spears and toss.  Serve.

Hoppin’ John (Black-eyed Peas and Rice with Collard Greens)

While the French slurp raw oysters and sip champagne for good luck on New Years’ Day, our family would tuck into heaps of black eyed peas, fluffy rice, and collard greens.  It’s amazing – I always considered it a southern tradition, what with black-eyed peas grown in Virginia all the way back to the 1600s.  But apparently the New Year’s tradition dates back to Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), where in the Talmud it’s recorded that the humble black-eyed pea is a good luck symbol.  Apparently, people have been enjoying these little babies for a while.

Hoppin' John (Black-eyed Peas and Rice with Collard Greens) © Spice or Die

This recipe is a spin on Hoppin’ John, a popular dish of rice and peas served not only in the south but in the Caribbean as well.  The dish is sometimes made without the collard greens and often includes a bit of salt pork.  I like the collards because they remind me of my own New Year’s traditions, so I always include them when I can.  This version is absolutely vegan and so very flavorful, you won’t miss the pork one bit.  It’s good as a standalone dish, but if you are jonesing for some protein, try it with a little sliced andouille sausage or kielbasa.  Any way you eat, you’ll be a lucky ducky (if but for having the opportunity to tuck into such a tasty dish!)

Hoppin’ John (Black-eyed Peas and Rice with Collard Greens)

1 stalk of celery, chopped
1/2 a green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red onion (white is ok), chopped
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp of fresh thyme
2 tbs. of olive oil
1 tbs. of hot sauce
1/2 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp. of white pepper
1 cup of cooked collard greens (see note below)
1 c. of enriched long grain rice
1 can of blackeyed peas

Start with a heavy pot with a lid that is suitable for cooking rice (this is one pot cooking, kids!) and heat your two tbs. of olive oil.  Add the celery, onion and bell pepper and saute until translucent. While that is cooking away, drain your black-eyed peas, reserving the liquid in a measuring cup.  Add water to make a little less than two cups of liquid.  Set both the peas and the liquid aside, separately.

Add the garlic, thyme, hot sauce, salt, white pepper and stir.  Add your rice and greens and stir the mixture.  Allow to cook for a minute and then add the peas.  Stir, making sure not to break up the peas and then add the liquid.  Bring to a boil, pop on the lid and turn the heat to low.  Cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes.  Pull off the lid and fluff with a fork. Return lid and let sit for 5 minutes.  Fluff again and serve.


  • For this recipe, I often use leftover Couve (Brazilian Style Collards cooked in garlic and oil), but if you are starting from scratch, you can always use frozen collard greens.  You can actually nuke them to defrost quickly, drain of an excess water, and then stir them into the rice.
  • Rice is one of those things that you have to trust to cook and not open the pot until the end.  When you open the pot while it’s cooking, you release all the steam inside the pot, which is the secret element to make it fluffy and gorgeous.  Keep the pot closed until the last few minutes of cooking when it’s acceptable to open the lid.  A trick that I use to tell if the water is absorbed without opening the pot is to carefully put my ear next to the bottom of the pot to hear if there is water still bubbling at the bottom.  But be careful – I am not going to be responsible for you setting your hair on fire.  You shouldn’t be using that much Aquanet anyways.

Couve (Brazilian-Style Collard Greens)

If ever there was a dish that served as a celebration of my heritage, it’d be collard greens.  Marrying the southern roots of my paternal family from Durham, North Carolina, and my south-of-the-equator family on my mother’s side from Belem, Brazil, I get my love of collards fair and square.  In my house growing up, we oft ate the Brazilian national dish, feijoada completa.  This stew of various meats and black beans had to have a specific list of accompaniments in order for it to be correct – one of these primary components was collard greens.  While Mom and I were usually in charge of the black beans and rice, Dad was always in charge of the greens.  He had a special method of sauteeing the collards until tender, with his secret blend of onion, garlic, olive oil and ground pepper.  The whole process usually involved him breaking into an impromptu blues song about “greasy greens” that I’m sure he made up on the spot.  Never a dull moment in the house where I grew up.

Couve (Brazilian-Style Collard Greens) © Spice or Die

My version of the greens is closer to the traditional Brazilian preparation the first day that I eat them, but as leftovers, they are so much like my Dad’s version.  It’s wild – almost as if both sides of my heritage come out in the recipe in some way or another.  A lot of recipes have you simply slice ans sauté the greens, but this is a mistake.  You absolutely must blanch and shock them first – this cleans any grit from the greens and takes away a lot of the bitterness.  Right is right.  Also, by blanching the greens, you’ll reduce the cooking time for the sauteeing portion of the cooking.  Also, if you have a friend with impeccable knife skills, get them to chiffonade (thinly slice) these greens for you.  I get my friend Kate to do it when she is over, because the greens are wispy and perfect when she does it.  There’s something to be said for a skillful chop, and kids, she’s got it.

Although these are typically served with black beans and rice in Brazil, they are equally delicious with fresh fish, grilled chicken or steak.  Work them into your repertoire of side dishes for some serious garlicky goodness.  And speaking of garlic, if you use that prechopped garlic garbage in this recipe (or any of my recipes for that matter), just pick up your pan of greens and throw them in the garbage.  Fresh garlic is key, and if you don’t believe me, I want to punch you in the stomach.  Not really, but seriously, use fresh garlic.  Happy eating!

Couve (Brazilian-Style Collard Greens)

2 large bunches of collard greens
5 fat cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1/4 c. of olive oil
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/8 tsp. of black pepper

Put a large pot of heavily salted water on to boil.

Begin by rinsing the greens.  Place each green on a cutting board and cut out the middle, woody stem.  Stack the leaves and continue to prep the greens.  When you’ve got about 5-7 leaves prepped,  roll the leaves into a fat cigar and thinly slice as finely as you can, forming skinny strands like confetti.  Put the collard confetti in a bowl and continue to cut.

When the greens are cut and the water is boiling, dump the greens into the water and push them down so that they wilt and turn bright green.  You’ll only want them in the hot water for a minute or two.  Working quickly, drain the greens and then shock them by running cold water over them.  If you don’t shock them with the cold water, they will continue to cook and become to soft.  Drain greens well and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering.  Add the collards, garlic, salt and pepper and toss in the olive oil.  Do not overcook – you basically want to coat the greens in the garlicky oil and then take them off the heat.  Your garlic will still be sharp and fragrant, and your collards bright green.  Serve immediately.

Greek-Style Oven Baked String Beans

We always think of braising meats to bring out lovely, slow-cooked flavors, but what about veggies?  Just as vegetables are delicious barely cooked and raw, so too do they gain character from slow cooking.  Think of the beauty of caramelized onions, roasted eggplant or smoky greens.  This recipe takes advantage of the ability of fresh string beans to absorb savory, saucy goodness when slowly braised in the oven.  The Greeks often cook their green beans in tomato sauce until tender – this recipe is a spicy variation on that tradition.

Greek-Style Oven Braised String Beans © Spice or Die

These green beans are great because there’s no work in making them – just throw them in the oven and let them do their thing.  I like to make them with Pastitsio as a spicy side dish.  You can start these green beans in the oven and then prep your pastitsio.  By the time you put the pastitsio in the oven, both dishes will finish at the same time.

Greek-Style Oven Baked String Beans

1 lb. of fresh green beans, snipped of stems
3 small potatoes, sliced into thin half moons
4 cl. of garlic
1/2 onion, diced
1 c. of tomato sauce
1/3 c. of vegetable oil
1 c. of vegetable stock (can substitute chicken stock)
1 tsp. of oregano
1/4 tsp. of crushed red pepper
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 375°.  Place all ingredients into a dutch oven or oven-safe pot with a lid.  Stir.  Bake covered for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the veggies are tender and sauce is bubbly.

Simple Roasted Asparagus

I’m constantly on the search for easy, inspiring side dishes.  When you are making use of fresh, locally sourced ingredients, it’s easy to avoid reaching for the bag of frozen corn as a quick accompaniment to your main course.  That being said, I get extremely lazy sometimes.  To the point where I don’t even want to boil a pot of water for anything or anyone.  When I get a case of the doldrums and asparagus is in season, this is my answer to the big question of “What the hell am I going to eat with this?”

Roasted Asparagus © Spice or Die

For you folks that don’t dig asparagus (like my hubby and sis for starters), you can use this exact same preparation to cook string beans and haricots verts.  And also cherry tomatoes on the vine.  All of which are gorgeous and couldn’t be simpler.  There you go – 3 options for those days that you couldn’t possibly peel yourself off the couch to make anything involved.

Simple Roasted Asparagus

1 lb. of asparagus
1/4 c. of olive oil
2 pinches of kosher salt
1 pinch of black pepper

Preheat oven to 450°.  Snap ends off asparagus spears (and save for stock for Cream of Asparagus Soup).  Toss asparagus in olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out evenly over a flat baking sheet.  Bake in the oven until crisp and tender (I know, an oxymoron) – about 10 minutes for thin asparagus (cigarette size) and 17 minutes for thick asparagus (cigar-sized).


If you want to brighten things up for the summertime, mix 2 tbs. of lemon zest and two tbs. of chopped parsley to make a gremolata.  Top asparagus with the mixture and serve.

String Bean & Heirloom Tomato Salad

Summer, Summer, Summer Time! Oooooooh, Summertime!

Ok, maybe not summer yet, but I do like it when I can get produce to do my bidding at any given season and remind me of the joys of a fruitful harvest from the garden.  This salad, based on one that I fell in love with at the restaurant The Smith, is a bright assortment of crisp and tart, sweet and salty flavors.  It’ll make you want to sit in a hammock and sway on a warm summer night.

The salad calls for heirloom cherry tomatoes, but these little gems can be hard to come by out of season.  As such, get the freshest ripest tomatoes you can find, regardless of size or color.  In the middle of the summer, stores and markets offer what they sometimes call “ugly” tomatoes – these are actually heirlooms that are truly the tastiest tomatoes you can buy.  Bumpy and abnormally shaped on the outside, they are bursting with juicy sweetness, reminding you of the joys of homegrown produce.  My favorites are an heirloom variety that I used to grow back in the day called “Black Krim’s” – they were a sickly dark green on the outside and a gorgeous purple on the inside.  I only gave them to people I liked, even when I had bumper crops of tomatoes hanging from the burdened vines. Continue reading String Bean & Heirloom Tomato Salad