On the Side by Ed Smith

On the Side: a sourcebook of inspiring side dishes
Ed Smith
Published by Bloomsbury
A collection of side dishes aimed at turning meal planning on its head — rather than be left as the neglected afterthought, these sides are the starting point and the centre of attention.
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This isn’t a ‘review’ since I wrote the book. But On the Side should be a strong option for all cookbook fans and home cooks, and it’s been well received, so I hope worthwhile adding to ‘The Cookshelf’.

As the title suggests, it’s a book of side dishes. Not one that tells you how to mash a potato or boil a carrot. Rather, the aim was for this to be a truly useful sourcebook of inspirational sides.

I’ve found only one other book on a similar theme: which seems extraordinary to me. The trimmings make up the majority of a meal; and though time and expense are generally directed elsewhere, when they’re good, the sides are often the best thing on a plate.

There are 140 recipes covering the length and breadth of greens, leaves and herbs; vegetables and fruit; roots and tubers; and grains, pasta and rice. Each of the dishes go just that little extra step — maybe they’ve got a fancy sprinkle or unexpected seasoning, or they involve an ingredient you might not normally pick up. Whatever, the dish will elevate what you’re eating, or inspire you to build a meal around it.

Browsing the recipes isn’t the only way in to the book, though. At the back there’s a comprehensive set of directories to point you towards sides to suit your centrepiece, should you already be fixed on it. Whether that’s a chicken breast, BBQ’d pork, confit duck leg, S.E Asian-style curry, quiche, mushroom bake, calves brains or hare. Like I said: comprehensive.

Or, if you’ve a more modern approach to eating than meat and two veg, you could quite happily construct a meal from sides only. Each recipe finishes with a list of other recipes that it goes well with — the book is not short of page number cross referencing (the editors and indexer loved me).

Bloomsbury gave me a significant amount of freedom for both content and look of the food within On the Side (or, depending how you look at it, a long rope with which to hang myself), allowing me to do the ‘food styling’ and ‘art direction’, whatever that means. Every recipe is illustrated, which I hope people will be pleased with (because it was a load of work). And, thanks to Joe, the images are pretty much exactly as I envisaged: straightforward, natural, no fuss, beautiful.

Now go forth and support your local independent bookstore, or that evil yet remarkably useful Brazilian rainforest.

Format and design

Small but weighty, with a straightforward yet sleek design. All of the 140 recipes have photos, and there’s an extensive directory at the back linking those recipes with whatever centrepiece you might be cooking.

Recipes that tempt

Feedback so far suggests that favourites include: tomato tonnato; butter beans with courgettes and tapenade; salt baked celeriac; sweet potatoes with sobrasada butter; burnt hispi, anchovy and creme fraiche, and smoky ratatouille.

Who is it for?

Home cooks — whether beginner and seeking guidance, or advanced and in want of new inspiration.