A side dish is the understudy to the main course, which is the star of the meal. It is “a dish served as subsidiary to the main one,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary. Even if it’s a secondary dish, an auxiliary, a side kick, side dishes fulfil a significant role on the dining table. Think meat and potatoes—the meat is eaten with a side of mashed potatoes, to supplement the heartiness of the meat. Without something for the meat to partner with, it becomes quite dull.
A side dish is usually to be eaten as a partner of the main course, always by its side, so to speak. So that means the side dish must go quite well with the main course either as a matching meal or a contrasting character. Take vegetables, for example. Since main courses are usually meat, poultry and seafood, vegetables are a perfect match in so many ways. Foremost, it cuts the richness that these meats usually give. It also adds the crunch of carrots and the wither of leaves. Lastly, vegetable side dishes lend something nutritious aside from the protein of the meat.
In one dish meals, a side dish helps break from the monotony. Imagine eating southern fried chicken without a side of biscuits or mashed potatoes and gravy. To counter too much spice, for example, a side dish can help refresh the palate. Having side dishes somewhat completes the whole eating experience.
Further, if the main course is a bit meager, the side dish can help extend the meal. After all, most side dishes take as very few ingredients as it can. Its preparation should also not be too complicated and instead be as simple as blanching an asparagus and dousing it with a truffle puree. (The more elaborate preparations and ingredients are usually reserved for the main course). Or it can be smaller, like a bowl of Indian aloo matar or a plate of baked tomatoes.
Perhaps the most recognizable side dishes come out during Thanksgiving holidays. For it is the time for roast turkey, it needs traditional accompaniments by its side. A flurry of cooked stuffings, corn and carrots, mashed potato, candied yams, sweet corn on the cob, sautéed button mushrooms with garlic butter—all these make your roast turkey even more special during your Thanksgiving meal.
There are times though when the side dish can become the main course. This is usually done when there are several small plates of side dishes eaten together. And together indeed, these side dishes shine.
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