Six Simple Side Dishes That Will Save You Money
Need a little something to round out your standard dinner entrées? Not wanting to spend the equivalent of your monthly utility bill to do it? Here are six stylish sides to jazz things up affordably.
Two-tone oven roasted potatoes.
This one requires a sweet potato or two along with your standard white potato. Chunk them each up separately, tossing with olive oil and your herb of choice. (Parsley works well with this two-tone option.) Put the sweet potato pieces in the oven first at around 375 degrees. They'll need a bit longer than the white potatoes (about twenty minutes). Then toss the remaining potato wedges in the same casserole dish or baking pan for another twenty-thirty minutes, depending on the size of the pieces you cut. This keeps things super cheap, but adds another color into the mix.
If the two-tone thing is too much work for you, consider going with the straight red Spanish potato wedges tossed with olive oil, rosemary and a bit of sea salt. Keep the skins on for extra color, and you'll still have plenty of style. Here's a link to other affordable home ideas involving potatoes.
While squash in general is gorgeous and affordable, I find spaghetti squash to be particularly helpful with visual wow factor that involves very little work. Sure, you have to wait for it to bake up. But when it does, you just scrape it out of the skin with a dinner fork and it looks fantastic. No mashing, no julienning, no power mixing with butter and milk. In fact, if you are trying to cut back on calories you can skip the butter all together and just go with a sprinkle of nutmeg. Great with roast chicken and another colorful side veggie.
Otherwise known as haricot vert, these are the thinner European style string beans popular in France. As someone who has tried her entire life to “like” the string beans popular here in America, these are the only kind I truly enjoy. Bonus? They have apparently caught on here in the states to the point where even the warehouse stores are now carrying them.
Additional perk? They are super simple to cook. No boiling and straining necessary here, these things cook through in less than five minutes with nothing but a little olive oil in a frying pan. In fact, there's a high probability these things will be on our dinner menu tonight along with a canned salmon and Spanish potato scallop. Why? Because after dealing with the scallop, my patience for high prep side dishes will be seriously diminished. Hence, my love affair with these little strips of heaven. Even when you go out of your way to jazz them up, they are still low on the work scale. Add in some quartered baby portabellas, almonds, shallots or even a bacon and parmesan combo accent. Too much effort? Olive oil and pre-minced garlic will do just fine.
Spicy black beans.
This is a trick I picked up from my favorite Mexican restaurant of all time, Cafe Noche in Conway, New Hampshire. For those of you who always wanted to know the secret to their popular spicy black beans side dish, it's this: hot pepper jelly. No, you didn't miss anything. That's truly it. You can go with a can or three of precooked ones, or cook up the dried version plain in the crock pot. Either way, when they are done and drained, just add an appropriate amount of hot pepper jelly for that extra level of yum. Of course, to keep this affordable you'll need access to an affordable supply of really good pepper jelly. I recommend either canning a bunch of them from the farmers' market (here's a recipe link), or finding someone in your bartering network who does this really well and swap out with them for something you have or do easily.
No-knead batter bread.
For those who think this is not a stylish dinner side, I encourage you to take note next time you visit Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill. People blow through bread sticks and Italian bread like crazy. That being said, most don't always have the time to do the full knead and rise scene. Recommended solution? Try the batter bread idea mentioned in this previous savings article, a simple beer batter, or even corn bread. If you go with a once a month dry mix assembly plan, all of these can be put together with less stress than many casseroles. And ,if you add in some meat and veggie leftovers from last night's dinner, you can easily skate on the rest of the meal with a simple broth soup or bisque.
If salad is high on your list of dinner side preferences, your produce budget can become a serious issue. Consider keeping the base salad simple with a simple spring mix, grape tomatoes and sliced onion rings. This will give you a good base with dramatic color variations and very little cutting and chopping. (I put my grape tomatoes in whole, which has the added benefit of sogginess prevention.) Then round it out as you see fit using your favorite add ins that don't need to be used up right away such as sunflower kernels, corn or other crispies. Sex it up with a DIY berry vinaigrette and you'll be rolling with nutrition and a punchy presentation.
These are my top picks for sides I feel are simple, stylish and also affordable. Some other helpful articles on affordable food options? Here are a few from my fellow Wise Bread writers:
- Linsey Knerl's posts on giving pot roast an encore and enjoying boneless versions of the ever popular hot wings.
- Paul Michael's pieces on Spam and restaurant recipe cloning.
- Philip Brewer's articles on frugalizing any recipe, and healthy recipes with cost data.
- Andrea Dickson's hunting and gathering posts.
- Thursday Bram's rocking insight involving fast inexpensive breakfasts and stretching meals for unexpected guests.
A few others I've written that you might enjoy include articles on frozen spinach, pinching your poultry pennies, lentil love, and cooking with cabbage. Keep saving folks, and keep me posted on your thoughts and suggestions!