Most meals consist of a few categories of ingredients: A meat (unless you are a vegan/vegetarian), a vegetable, and a “starch”. We sometimes call these “side dishes”. In this article we’re going to focus on interesting options for your “starches” because your meals can get a bit boring if you are constantly serving the same old thing. What do we mean by “starches”? Here we mean rice, baked potatoes, french fries, or mash potatoes. They are called “starches” because well….they have a lot of starch in them. But instead of being stuck with the same old thing, you can really make things interesting and tasty by trying one or more of the following foods as a “starch” substitute. Some of them are both delicious and…wait for it…healthy. Though my wife reminds me that I have a penchant for taking healthy things and making them unhealthy (and really yummy!). Disclaimer: I encourage my kids and their friends reading this article to try to find a good balance of delicious and healthy. It can be done.
Israeli couscous is really just tiny balls of flour dough (aka. starch), but when prepared well they are so flavorful and go with a variety of meats and vegetables. Follow the recipe on the container. They cook up pretty quickly. Use a little chicken broth instead of water to add really nice flavor.
I remember the first time my wife brought this stuff home. I said, “OK. I’ll eat it, but I won’t like it!” I was such a dummy. This stuff is very good and healthy. Quinoa is actually a delicious seed with a nutty flavor that is packed with protein and vitamin B among and high in dietary fiber. There’s a fairly wide variety of offerings. Red, white, blended… Maybe it’s my imagination, but I find the red variety to be more flavorful than the white. All are good, especially when you cook them in chicken broth add some sautéed onion and garlic. Good stuff!
I absolutely love rice. It comes in a bunch of different varieties and brands. You have your Carolina rice (sticky rice). You have your Jasmine rice. You have your Basmati rice. You have your brown rice. And there’s many more varieties than those mentioned here. My preference for rice is actually Uncle Ben’s Original Long Grain Rice. I find it to be the most flavorful of the white rices and I prefer its firm consistency to white sticky rices like Carolina (though Carolina now has a long grained par boiled rice that is almost as good as Uncle Ben’s). The thing I love about this rice is that you can do so many things with it. Sauté onion and garlic and then cook the rice with it. Use chicken broth rather than water only. Make a nice yellow rice by shaking some turmeric into the pot before cooking. In my grandmother’s Puerto Rican, yellow rice, she used strained corn oil flavored with roasted annatto seeds, garlic, oregano, vinegar, and pork. You can make unending combinations of ingredients mixed with white rice to produce a variety of casseroles. But that’s topic for another day.
One thing that I do differently than most is that I use less water than the box tells you to use. The Uncle Ben’s Original Long Grain Rice directions tell you to use 2 cups of water for each cup of rice. I don’t like how the rice comes out with that much water. I prefer to use about 1 cup of water for each cup of rice to make a soft, but firm rice. And use butter instead of oil for great flavor!
Though called wild rice, it isn’t actually a rice at all. It’s a grain. Wild rice comes in so many varieties which deserves an article all on its own. My step-mother used to make Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild Rice with breaded chicken cutlets. I used to devour that meal! You buy the box, follow the instructions and you have crazy delicious wild rice side dish that goes with just about any meat. For the more adventurous (and patient – wild rice takes long to cook; and flush with cash – wild rice is generally much more expensive), try experimenting with any of the varieties of wild rice. They are so incredible and the texture is unique. There are interesting blends that include a variety of rices along with wild rice.
This is one of the my favorite starch dishes and one of the most healthy! Farro is a whole grain that packs a lot of flavor in and of itself. Many starchy side dishes rely on a sauce or condiment for their flavor. Think about french fries or any other potato dish. They need salt for one thing and often gravy or ketchup to give them flavor. Not so with Farro. It is remarkably tasty on its own, though certainly a good sauce or the juice from your meat adds to the flavor as the Farro serves as a great flavor carrier. Farro is also quick to prepare. It only takes 10 minutes! Check it out.
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