5-Ingredient Side Dishes To Preserve Sanity, Banish Stress


(Photograph by Yunhee Kim)

It’s December, which means big (read: take-forever-to-prepare) meals, family members tucked into every nook and cranny of your home, and stress. Just, all over, stress. Our holiday gift to you? Our go-to side dishes requiring only five ingredients and minimal work to get on the table. (And no, salt and pepper do not count. Salt and pepper should be layered on throughout the cooking process, always. Salt and pepper should be like two tiny little extra limbs on your body. So these ideas all technically include seven ingredients, if you count salt and pepper, BUT YOU SHOULDN’T.)

One rule of thumb: If you start with good vegetables, all you really need is olive oil and maybe a little acid from lemon juice or vinegar. Also, cheese. It makes everything better.


Radish Salad
Real Simple food director Sarah Copeland just published a cookbook called Feast, and its cover recipe (pictured) is like music to our ears. Listen: slice radishes as thinly as possible. Cut small carrots into bite-sized pieces. Break aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into bite-sized pieces. Toss with olive oil, season, and serve.

Onion Tart
Oh, Nigel Slater, you make our knees weak. This idea comes from the British cook’s book Appetite. Slice and caramelize onions in butter. Scatter them onto the surface of a thawed square of frozen puff pastry dough, leaving a border of about 3/4 inch. Tucks bits of Taleggio cheese into the onions here and there and sprinkle fresh, chopped thyme on top. Baste the naked 3/4 inch of dough with the butter leftover from cooking the onions. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. This could be a side or, alongside a salad, a quickie lunch for the whole gang.

Bulgur Salad
Here’s a stripped-down version of Whole Living recipe: cook some bulgur, add pomegranate seeds and parsley, toss with lemon juice and olive oil, season to taste with salt and pepper. (We make this so much during the holidays, we’ve started calling it Christmas Salad.)

Citrus Carpaccio
Another simplified riff, this time of a Bon Appétit recipe. Roast some beets (red or golden work) and let them cool. Peel, and thinly slice, crosswise. Peel and segment blood oranges, saving their juices. Slice some fennel crosswise, using a mandoline in order to get not paper-thin, but pretty darn thin slices. Spread all ingredients onto a big platter, layering them so their colors look pretty. Whisk some olive oil into the reserved citrus juices. Drizzle dressing atop carpaccio and garnish with a hefty dose of fresh cilantro leaves. Season with salt and pepper.

Cauliflower Gratin
Props to M.F.K. Fisher for this one. Core cauliflower and separate into small florets. Bring an inch of water to boil in a pot, drop in cauliflower, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Meanwhile, butter a casserole dish, then rub one crushed clove of garlic all over the interior of dish (which will just faintly flavor your casserole). Drain cauliflower florets and arrange in an even layer in buttered dish. Pour heavy cream all around and sprinkle grated Gruyère and plenty of freshly ground pepper over the top. Pop into a 375-degree oven and wait until “the cream and cheese had come together into a perfect sauce, and the little flowers were tender and fresh,” about 25-35 minutes. Then set about eating.

And, hopefully, de-stressing.