Side Hustle

Two great side dishes to carry you through the holidays and beyond

Some people binge The Office or Game of Thrones. On a gray, rainy Sunday that cries out for the couch, a snuggly blanket and the remote control in arm’s reach, I like to hop on YouTube and watch vintage cooking shows. Give me Nigella Lawson as she lovingly licks chocolate pudding from a spoon, a tour of Paris with the old Great Chefs of Europe PBS series, or Emeril Lagasse seasoning a pan of gumbo with his signature “BAM!”

I grew as a cook watching these shows and more like them. Jacques Pepin helped me refine my knife skills and culinary technique. Martha Stewart is responsible for whatever baking skills I can claim. Ina Garten, who has no professional culinary training, taught me that cooking for people you love is a truly joyous endeavor.

While I’m captivated by watching a great main dish go from stove to table, it’s the side dishes that really hold my interest. Whether you brine or spatchcock, fry or roast, a turkey is always going to be turkey. For me, it’s what surrounds the bird that makes the meal. Stuffing! Potatoes! Veggies! Side dishes are like subtle makeup on a beautiful woman, meant to bring out her best features without commanding center stage.

As the days grow colder and shorter, I find myself spending more time in the kitchen getting more creative, especially with side dishes. While I’m not vegan or even vegetarian, because of concern over climate change, I am trying to prepare and serve more plant-based meals and reduce the amount of meat I consume. Hearty side dishes, like this bread pudding loaded with mushrooms and leeks is a delicious accompaniment to poultry or beef, but it is also a satisfying vegetarian main dish.


Photo by Candace Karu

If you are fighting the Battle of the Carb, whether you are Paleo, Keto or just looking for a way to get more veggies in your diet, this recipe is for you. It’s easy to prepare—if you’re really pressed for time, you can find the veggies pre-cut in the produce section—and so tasty you won’t care that it’s good for you and doesn’t have a single cube of bread in it. I love having leftovers of this dish. I stir it into cooked farro or wheat berries for a hearty fall salad.

1 onion, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 cup butternut squash, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 8-ounce package baby Portabella mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 cup vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste


Melt butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, and celery and cook until softened but not browned, about 5–7 minutes.

Add cauliflower, squash and mushrooms and season well with salt and pepper. Sauté until tender, 8–10 minutes more.

Add garlic and sauté for 1–2 minutes longer.

Add parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme and stir until combined. Pour broth over mixture and cook until totally tender and liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.


Photo by Candace Karu

This earthy, rustic recipe can be a side dish or a stand-alone main course. The pancetta is used as garnish for flavor, but it can easily be eliminated altogether to make it vegetarian. Bread pudding is delicious the next day. To reheat, bring the dish to room temperature, preheat the oven to 350° and be sure to cover with aluminum foil so it won’t dry out.

6–7 cups bread, crust removed, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 ounces pancetta, diced (optional)
3 medium leeks, sliced, both the white and light green parts
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, washed and trimmed, sliced (I use baby portabella)
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup grated cheese (I use half Gruyere, half Cheddar)
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 350°. Bake bread cubes until golden brown (about 15 minutes). Set aside to cool.

Heat oil and butter over medium heat in a large skillet.

Add pancetta and cook until it is slightly brown around the edges. (Want vegetarian? Skip this step.)

Add leeks and cook over medium heat until they are soft and tender.

Add mushrooms, sage, sherry, salt and pepper and continue to cook over medium heat until liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside.

Whisk eggs, cream, chicken or vegetable stock and half of the grated cheese in a large bowl. Add the mushroom mixture and bread and combine well. Let sit for 30–45 minutes so the bread can absorb the liquid.

Put mixture in a large (9 x 13 inch), greased baking pan or casserole dish and top with the remaining cheese.

Bake until top is golden brown and the egg mixture is set, about 45 minutes. Serve immediately.

Candace Karu makes her living writing about food, fitness and travel. Follow her on Instagram: @candacekaru or at

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