Easter sides: Keep it simple and delicious

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 31, 2015

By Deirdre Parker Smith


Easter dinner — what memories does that conjure up?

Is it a big ham, with pineapple slices and cloves on the outside, maybe with potato salad or green beans?

Is it roasted chicken or another turkey?

For my family, it was usually a roast leg of lamb, with mint jelly and roasted potatoes and buttery peas with pearl onions.

Whatever your main dish, you have plenty of choices for side dishes. We’re all trying to simplify, so look towards easier accompaniments that won’t leave you in the kitchen for hours.

Most of these can be made ahead. Asparagus is just as good at room temperature as piping hot. Salads can easily be made in advance, as can ambrosia, which benefits from time for flavors to blend. Pick a couple things that don’t have to be ready at the same time as your meat so you’re not juggling too many things at once.

Try a salad using light, bright ingredients. All you need is a simple dressing, like a vinaigrette. Just blend 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard with 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Add 4-6 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk together. You can substitue lemon juice for the vinegar or use flavored vinegars.

Asparagus says spring and is available at the grocery store almost year round. The very thin spears cook in just minutes. Asparagus doesn’t need much more than salt and pepper, but toppings make it special.

The easiest way to do it and maximize flavor is to lay tender, thin spears on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and roast at 425 for 10-15 minutes. It’s the perfect dish to do after you take your roast out of the oven to rest.

Embellish it with chopped hard cooked eggs or crumbles of feta cheese or a liberal sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Roasting crisps the tips and leaves the asparagus bright green.

Don’t like asparagus? Try peas with fresh mint. You’ll be amazed at how well the two pair. Or fry a little prosciutto to crumble over the peas.

Remember the layered salad with peas and the heavy mayonnaise dressing? You can have your peas and salad without all that gloppy dressing. Mix baby spinach with thawed frozen peas, red or gold cherry tomatoes and slices of hard-boiled egg. Use a lemon vinaigrette. You don’t need to buy a lot of ingredients, and hey, if you want to crumble bacon over the top, go ahead.

Every meal needs a little starch, so make it tiny new potatoes. You can find these in the grocery store, but they are a little pricy. Look for the smallest new potatoes you can find, red-skinned, white or Yukon Gold, or a mix.

Boil until tender and then go Mediterranean. Instead of butter, use good olive oil and a handful of fresh herbs. Parsley is a must and chives would be nice, too. Perhaps some fresh rosemary or thyme. For a little kick, add freshly minced garlic,  lemon zest and juice and plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Once potatoes have finished cooking, drain and toss all the other ingredients into the pot. Another option is to get jarred basil pesto and toss that with the potatoes.

It’s not Easter without eggs, is it?

If you dyed eggs, use them to make deviled eggs for your big meal. Everyone has a favorite recipe, but there are so many variations and additions, you could do an entire smorgasbord of deviled eggs, using a basic recipe and different add-ons, like crumbled bacon or chopped chives or thin strips of basil or a few tarragon leaves. Maybe your recipe calls for sweet pickle relish. Try spicy chow chow this time, toss in chopped banana peppers or pickled jalepenos.

Judging by a certain shelf at a certain grocery store, people are stockpiling canned mandarin oranges. Could it be for ambrosia? It’s traditional at Christmas treat around the South, but it would certainly taste good in the spring, too.

In my family, it was canned mandarin oranges, flaked coconut, slivered almonds and sour cream. Maybe there were a few mini marshmallows when I was younger. A taste of that mix brings so many pleasant memories. I’m not sure if it was my mother’s recipe, or my grandmother’s, but it was so good.

Recipes vary wildly, and include pineapple chunks or bits and maraschino cherries.

One recipe blends instant pudding and whipped topping and uses peaches, pineapple and oranges, as well as marshmallows and coconut and cherries.

This is definitely a dessert version and it’s from the website lets.eat


3 1/2 ounces  instant vanilla pudding

8 ounces whipped topping

1/2 cup milk

20 ounces crushed pineapple, well drained

15 ounces peaches, drained and diced (not in heavy syrup)

11 ounces mandarin oranges, drained

2 cups miniature marshmallows

1/2 cup flaked coconut

1/2 cup halved maraschino cherries, drained

Beat together pudding, whipped topping and milk. Fold in remaining ingredients. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

Here’s a less sweet version

Ambrosia, too

1 cup coconut,

1 cup mandarin orange segments,

1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

1 cup sour cream or lemon yogurt

1 cup mini marshmallows.

Some people put the marshmallows in at the beginning, because they want them mushy, others wait and top off with marshmallows to retain their fluffiness.

Martha Stewart uses kiwi, Greek yogurt, honey and vanilla with oranges and pineapple. Search the web and you’ll see versions with mayonnaise, Cool Whip, grapefruit and Jello.

Mom’s ambrosia

2 11-ounce cans mandarin oranges

1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

1/4 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup sour cream

Drain the oranges, and set the juice aside.

Stir oranges, coconut, almonds and sour cream together. It’s delicious immediately, but can keep in the refrigerator. The longer you keep it, the juicier it will be. To refresh, add another tablespoon or two of sour cream.

If the salad seems too thick, you can add a tablespoon or 2 of the juice to loosen it up.

Plain Greek yogurt would work as well as sour cream, if you’re counting calories.

If you are doing a ham, throw out those sickeningly sweet glaze packets. Instead, make your own. One of my favorites is a combination of Dijon mustard and canned cranberry sauce. Tart and tangy, it is perfect for the salty ham.

Use a can of whole berry cranberry sauce for extra texture and add 2-3 tablespoons of Dijon mustard. If you want a sweeter glaze, add 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Mix all together in a saucepan over medium heat until the cranberry sauce melts and the mixture is fully blended. If you don’t want brown sugar but need extra sweetness, use 2-3 tablespoons orange juice. Cook ham according to package directions, basting with the glaze about 30 minutes before removing from oven, to avoid burning the glaze. Can also be served on the side as a sauce.

This glaze is good on ham steaks or with pork roasts, too, and you can usually find  jellied or whole cranberry sauce year round.