Choosing Sides

Choosing Sides Tara Mataraza Desmond

Choosing Sides by Tara Mataraza Desmond, Andrews McMeel 2103, $24.99 hardback, 240 pages

Some cookbooks are hard to review…because I can’t stop cooking from them. As this one sat on the counter, I’d look at those three eggplants and flip through for inspiration. And as I’m flipping through I stick on a recipe that sounds too good to pass-by. It went on like this for weeks, as people came and went for dinner, as I picked up squash or corn at the CSA.

These 130 recipes range from complicated to simple. Some require lists of ingredients and pages of instructions. Others are the work of a moment. All of them scale up and down and can be adapted to what you have on hand. I couldn’t be bothered to rub the skins off hazlenuts for mushroom Bread Pudding, but I couldn’t resist the recipes and forged ahead without nuts and substituting shallots for leeks. My abbreviated version was excellent and made me respect the original even more. I’ll be back.

Desmond understands how to build flavors to brighten earthy vegetables. Butternut squash becomes light, silky, and unrecognizably elegant in a coconut curry braise. Layered Esquites Corn Salad is inspired by Mexican corn-on the cob and is a quick stir of corn, jalapeno, scallions, sour cream, and lime zest that will spark you out of your end of the summer corn-on-the-cob fatigue. And for anyone who says they hate Brussels sprouts, they haven’t tried Desmond’s Browned Brussels with Maple Butter.

She serves garlicky oven roasted tomatoes with lemon couscous, but I ate them with macaroni and cheese, smeared on sandwiches, alongside eggs. She starts with light brunch and lunch dishes, offers an array of tempting breads. I was skeptical that the Buttermilk Stew Bread would be just a bit too sturdy, but it made an admirable addition to a plate of apples and cheese. The chapters continue with salads and dressing, quicker weeknight dinner dishes, warm weather cookouts, and special occasion meals. But, don’t be limited by her sorting, instead be inspired by what appeals to you.

And just as the recipes are so solid that a substitution won’t un-do their big flavors, they are also easily scalable. I made that mushroom bread pudding for myself as a small bake and polished off a heel of bread that was getting stale.

This is also an inadvertently vegetarian cookbook. Desmond makes pairing suggestions for each dish with meaty main courses, but many of them—like that bread pudding or butternut squash are substantial enough for dinner when paired with a salad or bowl of fragrant jasmine rice. On a holiday or special occasion table, they would be spectacular—totally and deservedly eclipsing the turkey.

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About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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