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CELEBRATION SIDES

Christmas dinners require extras that all your family and friends will enjoy. Accompaniments are important. Think potatoes, beans, peas and tomatoes plus salads and sauces.

Peas are a tradition that will never die in our household. Except — not as in earlier years when they were freshly popped from their pods on Christmas morning — they are now fresh from the freezer and dunked in a little boiling water with sprigs of home-grown mint plus a dash of sugar, butter and a little melted mint jelly.

For those of you — like me — who have vegetarian and gluten-free family members, then festive foods are less traditional. Long gone are our meat-heavy feasts. Now we choose vegetables that can be enjoyed as mains as well as sides.

Cheese or eggs combine well with vegetables but grains are also protein rich and add interest to many summer meals. Whole-grain Israeli or pearl couscous is a great base for warm or cold salads however, it is not gluten-free. Brown rice could be substituted.

My go-to easy Ranch dressing for warm or cold veggies or salads is: two tablespoons of buttermilk combined with one-third of a cup of mayonnaise, a tablespoon of white vinegar, one clove of crushed garlic and a pinch of sweet paprika. 

CREAMY BEAN CRUMBLE

This could be baked in two pans — one for each end of the table. The Hungarian paprika I used is a little spicy.

500g round green beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup cream
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
pinch each: grated nutmeg, Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind  
2 cups washed and finely sliced spinach
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Top and tail the beans and slice. Blanch in boiling salted water until just tender. Drain and refresh under cold water. Pat dry. Place in a 24cm x 16cm baking dish.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Sauté the shallot, until softened. Add the garlic. Season.

Whisk in the cream, parmesan, nutmeg and paprika. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon rind and spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted. Pour over the beans.

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Sprinkle the beans with the breadcrumbs. Bake for 20-30 minutes until hot and golden. Serves 6.

ISRAELI COUSCOUS, TOMATOES & BASIL

This can be prepared a day ahead and reheated — covered — in the microwave.

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
2 litres water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic crushed
3 cups (500g) sweet cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 sprig basil
1/4 cup slivered basil leaves

Cook the couscous in boiling salted water for 8-10 minutes, until ‘al dente’. It should not be mushy.

Drain. Rinse under cold water, if preferred. Place in a strainer, cover and stand while preparing the remainder.

Gently fry the garlic in the olive oil, until fragrant. Add the cherry tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper and basil sprig. Cook until the tomatoes just begin to collapse. Combine with the couscous and slivered basil. Serve warm or cold. Serves 6.

PARMESAN HASSELBACKS

8 small-medium roasting potatoes
25g butter, melted
3 tablespoons olive oil
flaky sea salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Wash the potatoes and remove any blemishes. Lay the potatoes flat and make 5mm cuts almost through to the other side.

Place in a baking dish just large enough to hold the potatoes comfortably. Combine the butter and oil and brush generously over the potatoes. Bake for 20 minutes and brush with more butter/oil mixture. Continue baking for about 20 minutes or until cooked. Brush with more butter/oil, season and sprinkle with the parmesan. Bake until the cheese is melted. Serves 6-8.