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Cooking the books: Choosing Sides

Consider, if you will, the side dish.

It’s not something many of us spend a lot of time on. For me, a side dish is usually a last-minute salad or simply grilled or roasted vegetables. Maybe a hunk of bread. Done.

Tara Mataraza Desmond, however, has spent a lot of time thinking about side dishes. The result is “Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal.”

Tara Mataraza Desmond's Choosing Sides on

In it, she argues that side dishes have a major impact on a meal and, therefore, deserve more attention. She also points out that, as proteins move away from the center of the plate, other ingredients, especially vegetables and grains, become more important.

Makes sense to me.

In my household, side-type dishes increasingly are the main event, with just a little protein on top or maybe none at all. Often, preparation of said protein is very basic—a grilled chicken breast or a pan-sautéed fish fillet. So why not use the side dish as a place to jazz up the meal?

Perusing Tara’s book, I find plenty of jazzy inspiration, including:

  • Orecchiette Verde
  • Multigrain Pretzel Knots
  • Chorizo Chard
  • Smoked Gouda Grits
  • Sugar and Spice Baked Beans
  • Grilled Halloumi and Eggplant with Almond Mint Pesto
  • Red Quinoa with Cherries and Smoked Almonds
  • Hearty Chickpea Tabbouleh
  • Oven-Dried Tomato Tart Gratin
  • and Lemongrass Vermicelli

Persimmon, Pomegranate, and Pistachio Salad on

And just in time for Thanksgiving, how about:

  • Pumpkin Cozy Rolls
  • Roasted Fingerlings with Warm Rosemary Vinaigrette
  • Roasted Acorn Squash with Orange Oil
  • Green Beans Almandine with Frizzled Shallots
  • Browned Brussels with Maple Butter
  • Hazelnut and Roasted Mushroom Brioche Pudding
  • or Persimmon, Pomegranate, and Pistachio Salad (pictured)?

The recipes are arranged by types of dishes (breads, salads, etc.) and types of meals (weeknight, holiday, etc.). And with each, Tara includes a list of suggested main dishes. If, on the other hand, you already know your entree and are looking for a side to go with it, there’s a chart of the recipes arranged that way. She also includes strategies for how to choose your sides.

Persimmon, Pomegranate, and Pistachio Salad on

Sprinkled throughout are smart and useful sidebars—there’s one about mashed potatoes, for example, that covers everything from cooking, mashing, and potato varieties to suggested flavoring ingredients. Other sidebars include “Side-Dish Upgrades,” “Risotto Tips and Tricks,” and a page of metric equivalents. Brilliant!

If you’re a regular reader (thank you!), you know that I only write about cookbooks by people I adore—and Tara is no exception. (In fact, I wrote about her previous book here and shared her delicious Tortilla Soup.) We’ve only met in person once or twice, but we cross virtual paths on a regular basis, and every interaction proves Tara brimming with brains, beauty, and talent.

Besides—how can you not adore someone who gives recipes names like Broccoli Sesame Crunch and Roasted Mushroom Jumble?

For all those reasons—and more—“Choosing Sides” is a delicious choice.

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 (Disclosure—this post contains an affiliate link.)

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