Anyone who loves good food wants it to look good, too. After all, as I often like to tell people, we eat with our eyes before we eat with our mouths.
Let's face it, though, too many vegetable side dishes look more than a little bit unexciting, like nothing our eyes would want to eat. Think of those sad little broccoli florets sitting there on the plate, or that scoop of spinach leaves, or those steamed baby carrots. They're colorful, yes. But tempting?
Of course, there are many ways to make vegetable sides look more enticing. Some of the simpler options include adding garnishes that contrast beautifully with the featured ingredient while also adding sparks of flavor -- sun-dried tomatoes, for example, or toasted almond slices, a drizzle of pesto or just a sprinkling of minced fresh herbs. Asian cooks certainly know how beautiful it looks and delicious it tastes when you attractively cut up a medley of vegetables and stir-fry them together. And you can always slice or chop vegetables and combine them with a starchy side, creating a colorful tangle of pasta or a confetti-like rice or quinoa pilaf.
But there's more you can do by actually transforming the vegetables into something new: pureeing them, layering them, and then baking them in a loaf shape that, when sliced, presents a beautiful, delicious rainbow of contrasting colors and flavors.
That's what I've been doing for years with my Three-Colored Vegetable Loaf. It combines chopped and cooked carrots, mushrooms, and spinach, lightly bound with touches of egg and cheese, to make a bright rainbow of a side dish that goes wonderfully with roast, grilled, broiled, or sauteed meats, poultry, or seafood.
Such dishes are classics of the French repertoire. And I think it's time for them to make a comeback.
Impressive though this side is to serve, you'll find it surprisingly easy to put together, and much of the work -- cooking and pureeing the vegetables, all the way up to layering them in the pan before baking -- can be done up to several hours in advance. Just be sure to eliminate excess moisture from the spinach, to keep the dish from turning soggy, and line the pan carefully with parchment paper to stop the loaf from sticking.
Once you've mastered the recipe, use its techniques to prepare loafs featuring other not-too-watery vegetables that will have similar consistencies when cooked and chopped, such as cauliflower, broccoli, fennel bulb, kale leaves, or parsnips.
Whatever the combination, I encourage you to give this recipe a try for your next dinner party, or just for a family meal when you have a little extra prep time. Make it a classic in your own kitchen repertoire.
THREE-COLORED VEGETABLE LOAF
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