While the macronutrients of protein and fat hold star status on low carb diets, the vegetable side dishes are often what make the meal more interesting and complete. Often however, I am so time-starved that all I do with vegetables is a quick saute, a flash in the microwave or sometimes roast them in the oven. I’m trying to get a bit more creative with produce this year and make low carb side dishes that are quick and easy, have a more creative flare, and are compliant with keto, low carb and slow carb lifestyles.
There are many cookbooks and blogs that include recipes for low carb side dishes featuring vegetables, and much of it is quite inspirational. Many of the more creative recipes however, are either quite complicated or include grains or dairy. I bought the cookbook “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi and absolutely love it, but I find I save most of his creative vegetable dishes for the weekend due to complicated ingredients or lengthy directions. In the recipes below I am sharing a few of the vegetable side dishes I’ve adapted that meet the creative criteria but were also quick and easy. Once you start experimenting with spices and minor enhancements low carb side dishes become much more doable and much more enjoyable.
Criteria for Low Carb Side Dishes: (1/2 hour or less and full of flavor)
For me, the resistance to making low carb side dishes is twofold:
- The need for a recipe often stops me on weeknights. I don’t make vegetable side dishes frequently enough to have preparation methods at the tip of my fingertips. I’m trying to overcome that by making a few dishes enough times that I don’t have to think about it. Currently, the mock mashed potato dish (made with cauliflower) and sautéed leafy greens with onions are the workhorses. Then the idea is to pull out the recipes on weekends when there is more luxury with time.
- The hassle of chopping and rinsing fresh vegetables is also an obstacle. If you want fresh, there isn’t really any getting around this. Employ some family help here or put on the headphones and zone out.
Sauteed vegetables are best for those week-night dinners when you need to get something on the table quickly. Enhance them with some balsamic vinegar, chili spices, or hard-boiled eggs and you’ve gone from good to great. Don’t forget to top your veggies with plenty of butter. Butter is one of those fats that is low carb and can really make a difference on vegetables.
3 Low Carb Side Dishes that meet the Criteria
So, my recent attempts at getting more creative with spices on vegetable dishes are taking me into the realm of different cultures. Moroccan, Ethiopian and Vietnamese are my favorites so far, but I’ve just scratched the surface with spice combinations. I tried to use recipes with spices that were fairly easy to find, and if they weren’t (like fenegreek), I looked for substitutions or blends that gave a similar profile.
The Cauliflower dish and the asparagus dish were inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s book, adapted to be compliant with a low carb diet. The Korean spinach dish was only slightly adapted from a recipe for Korean Barbecue in Fine Cooking Magazine. All three dishes were wonderful, quick and low-carb friendly. Enjoy!
Recipe for Baked Cauliflower with Saffron & Olives
- 2 tsp saffron
- 1/3 cup boiling water
- 1 head cauliflower, broken into individual florets
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 1/2 cup green olives, pitted and cut in half lengthways
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 4 Tbsp chopped parsley
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Release the oils and fragrance of the saffron by placing it in a small bowl, pouring the boiling water over it, and allowing it to sit for about 5 minutes
- In a large bowl add the cauliflower, onion, olives, olive oil, bay leaves, and salt and pepper. Pour the infused saffron water over the mix in the bowl and mix together well with your hands, coating the cauliflower with the oil and spices.
- Spoon the mixture into an 9 x 11 inch baking pan and cover with foil. Bake for a total of 40 to 45 minutes, stirring the mixture after 20 minutes and placing the foil back on to cover for another 20 minutes. Cauliflower should be fork tender, but not mushy.
- Remove the cauliflower from the oven, uncover, and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Stir in the parslet and adjust the salt and pepper if you would like more.
- Serve warm.
Recipe for Korean BBQ Spinach
- 1 lb. spinach, fresh or frozen
- 3 tsp sesame seeds
- 5 tsp peanut oil
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar (omit if doing strict slow carb diet)
- 1/2 tsp garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Place sesame seed in small non-stick frying pan and toast over low heat, shaking pan, until they are light brown and nutty (just a few minutes – watch carefully). Add peanut oil to the pan and heat over low heat for a few minutes to infuse sesame seeds into oil.
- Cook the spinach in a pot of boiling water until wilted, about 5 minutes. Drain well and squeeze out excess water, being careful not to burn your hands.
- Add the remaining ingredients and gently mix until well combined. Serve warm or at room temperature
Recipe for Asparagus with Crumbled Eggs and Capers
- 3 eggs
- 2 large bunches asparagus
- 2 Tbsp olive oil, or olive oil
- 2 1/2 tsp capers, drained
- 1 tsp sea salt, flake salt like Maldon sea salt is great
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Place eggs in a pot of water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When water is boiling, turn burner off and cover the pot. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Remove eggs with slotted spoon into bowl of ice water and let cool. Peel under cool running water. * note: fresh eggs will not peel well. you really need eggs that are at least a week old.
- Grate the eggs on a coarse cheese grater.
- Bend the asparagus until the tough bottom ends snap off and compost the ends (or discard). Place the asparagus spears in a large pot of boiling water and cook for 3 minutes, or until tender.
- Drain asparagus. While still warm, drizzle the oil over the asparagus and sprinkle with capers, salt and pepper. Top with the grated egg.
Once vegetables become something you can prep on autopilot, they are really very quick and add a whole new dimension to your meals as a low carb side dish. And when you start to feel that resistance to cooking vegetables, remember…
“Cooking is a practice, same as Buddhism, CrossFit and sobriety. You just have to do it until that’s what you do. ” — Sam Sifton