It's a simple matter of addition: this + this + that = maximum deliciousness. For side dishes -- and increasingly, for vegetable-based dishes that stand on their own, without a protein "main" -- my formula is pretty simple. Just remember this:
Vegetable + Nut + Fruit
That's all. Quite simple. But the way in which you can use your imagination, the colors of the spectrum, the seasons, local ingredients, even items that are only around for a few weeks a year...this is what keeps the formula interesting. And, it's what keeps your palate alive and happy!
This formula always works for a composed salad. The example at left is a mixed greens salad topped with roasted beets (veg), hazelnuts (nut), and roasted grape tomatoes (fruit!). Other favorites include the classic mesclun with walnuts (or pecans...toasted, or candied), blue cheese, and pears or apples. And we can't leave out my Sicilian favorite salad of shaved fennel, blood orange, and olive salad, made better by the addition of almonds or pine nuts. Actually, anybody who knows me (and how eggplant-crazy I am!) knows that my favorite Sicilian ANYthing is caponata, which of course abides by this veg+nut+fruit rule: eggplant and other vegetables married with olives (yes, a fruit) and raisins and pine nuts. Which brings me to another point: any vegetable or vegetable medley made in the Sicilian/Jewish-Italian vein, which almost always includes the originally-Arab pairing of raisins and pine nuts, automatically adheres to the above principal.
Sauteed Roman greens -- chicory or spinach or any kind of bitter or wilted green, served with raisins and pine nuts...check. Fits the equation. That's right: maximum deliciousness. And yes, one of my favorite all-time salads and items of Vietnamese fare, the shredded cabbage-chicken-pomelo salad qualifies, as it's sprinkled with either roasted peanuts or sesame seeds. And damn, is it tasty!
So, an addendum: seeds can be stand-ins for actual nuts. They're usually just as healthy, and can sometimes lend a subtler touch to a dish. So sprinkle in the sesame and sunflower seeds, plop on the pepitas and the poppy seeds -- you'll up the ante on flavor, texture, and nutrition. Those dishes with a riot of color usually contain the most vitamins, minerals, nutrients, antioxidants, and flavor. What's become a real crowd favorite of my dishes? The more exotic and colorful of my creations are gaining in popularity, and with good reason. My Moroccan salad of organic roasted rainbow carrots and beets with Moroccan-spiced vinaigrette, mint, parsley, pomegranate, and nigella seeds is refreshing for summer.
And I'm loving charred brussels sprouts with a Persian touch: with pistachios and pomegranate arils tossed in an olive oil and pomegranate molasses glaze. Half the fun is in experimentation. The other half? Eating! (Experimentation + Eating = Tasty Fun).
Class dismissed. Now, go play around in the kitchen and make some delicious veggie dishes to start the summer off on the right (healthy) foot. Happy Memorial Day, everybody! (and buon estate to my lovely Italians!)