Photo credit: Reluctant Entertainer/Mirlandra's Kitchen/Will Cook for Smiles
Sometimes, side dishes are so delicious that we plan entire meals around them. (Think hot, buttery mashed potatoes, and you know you’re serving turkey, fried chicken or meatloaf.) That’s definitely the case with the side dish ideas here, which go with traditional Easter entrees like bunnies go with baskets.
1. Cauliflower bacon gratin
Cauliflower is having a moment. Already relished for its cancer-fighting punch of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, it’s been enjoying a recent upsurge in popularity, in no small part due to its versatility. You can puree it into a paste and form it into pizza crusts. You can serve it raw, steamed, or roasted and topped with balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese.
Mashed and mixed with butter, salt and cream, it’s a delicious, fresh-tasting alternative to mashed potatoes. It can even be riced — that is, steamed and minced in a food processor or with a handheld ricer — and used in stir-fries, sautees and other traditionally rice-y dishes.
It’s in this last form that cauliflower bacon gratin delights. Slightly-boiled cauliflower is combined with a homemade cheese sauce, topped with bacon and chives, and then baked. It’s an easy, economical, yet delicious side that pairs perfectly with that spiral ham or prime rib you’re serving for Easter.
Serving a table-full of vegetarians? Simply sub out the animal products for soy alternatives. How ever you make it, this cauliflower gratin will be a delectable side dish for your Easter meal this year.
2. Creamy Italian asparagus
Asparagus: Either you love it… or you don’t. Many a kid remembers rubbery, bitter, bland shoots on their plates, and for them, asparagus is pass-worthy. With the right cooking, however, it can be a flavorful and delicious vegetable — even for asparagus skeptics.
As a spring vegetable, asparagus is the perfect veggie to serve at your Easter table. It’s pictured in Egyptian writings as early as 3000 BC. The ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed it; so did early northern Europeans. These days, it’s grown in many places around the world, mainly in coastal regions with salty soils; China, Peru and Mexico are leading producers.
Asparagus is high in vitamins A, C, E, K and B6, and rich in potassium, iron, folate, copper and calcium. Protein and fiber round out its rich nutritional profile, all of which lands it on the short list of recommended foods for those who are pregnant, fighting blood disorders or aiming to eat a cancer-preventing diet — AKA, everyone.
Asparagus doesn’t need a lot of cooking time: Simply grill, boil or roast for a couple of minutes. But for Easter, why not fancy it up? Creamy Italian asparagus is just what your Easter feast needs. Tender asparagus is covered with whipping cream, Asiago and mozzarella, and then baked for about 20 minutes. Served warm with your Easter ham or prime rib, this rich, cheesy asparagus will be gobbled up fast. (We suggest making a double batch.)
3. Brown-sugar roasted pineapple
Is there anything as perfect for ham as pineapple? The sweet and salty duo has been featured together since the 1950s, when housewives proudly presented their families roasted ham adorned with pineapple rings and maraschino cherries.
Christopher Columbus marveled at the fruit when he arrived in the Caribbean. Many years later, pineapple’s popularity rose when James Dole started his Hawaiian plantations.
Modern farming and canning methods allow us to enjoy pineapple year round, in fresh, canned or frozen form. It’s a good thing, too: Pineapple is full of manganese and vitamin C.
Fun fact: Consuming too much pineapple can give you a raw tongue, an effect of the natural enzyme bromelain — a tenderizer that’s great for breaking down the connective tissues in meat marinades, but not so much for sensitive mouth tissues. No worries, though: You’d have to eat a lot of the sweet, juicy fruit for that to happen, and cooking neutralizes bromelain altogether.
In this recipe for brown-sugar roasted pineapple, brown sugar caramelizes on the pineapple under low heat. The result is melt-in-your-mouth delectable — a syrupy-sweet accent for salty ham.
Want more? Check out these other fantastic Easter side dishes!