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Books in Brief: Choosing Sides by Tara Mataraza Desmond

Welcome to Books in Brief. Every week for a while I'll be working through the growing stack of excellent books on my desk and sharing a few brief thoughts on why you might like them. Each little post will follow the same basic format, which I hope will help you decide quickly and comfortably whether each book is right for you or someone in your life. 

Up this week: Choosing Sides by Tara Mataraza Desmond.

Choosing Sides by Tara Mataraza Desmond 780 _ Umami Girl

The takeaway

One of my favorite parts of not eating meat these days is the opportunity for foods traditionally relegated to the side of the plate to take center stage. A lot of our dinners now are essentially a bunch of sides without a main, and I love it. There's room for lots of variety and creativity, and with a little skill (or a little gentle guidance) it all comes together harmoniously. Whether or not you've got a main dish at the center of your plate, Tara Mataraza Desmond's new book Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal will infuse your meals with inspiration and balance. Family and friends will wonder when you received your advanced culinary degree. And the best part is, it will all be very easy.

The dirty details

This book packs a lot of information, flexibility, and recipes into an efficient, well-designed package. As the title suggests, there are side-dish recipes special enough for the holidays and simple enough for weeknight meals. As Tara notes, there are lots of ways to use this book as a resource depending on your needs: browse the chapters organized by type of side dish and type of meal; use the Main-Course Pairings chart to select side dishes, let the "Try With" and "Alongside" suggestions with each recipe guide your choice of main dish and other sides; or, of course, get busy with the index to discover ideas for an ingredient you'd like to use. The accessible writing style, smart layout and super-appealing graphic design make it seem both possible and pleasurable to try new riffs on old classics and brand-new flavors. I think this book would appeal to a wide audience, from entry-level cooks in search of guidance to accomplished chefs who will appreciate the variety and sophistication of Tara's ideas.

The lovely author

Tara Mataraza Desmond is a widely published Philadelphia-based writer, recipe developer, and all-around stellar individual with a funny, relatable way of writing about food and life. She also co-wrote Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet.When our older daughter was little, her school encouraged the kids to call every other student a "friend," whether you knew them or not. It resulted in a lot of stories about "a friend that I don't know." In a different way, the internet has made Tara a friend that I don't know. I really like her, but we've never met. How's that for a disclosure?

You had me at...

Honestly? This book had me from the clever title, a perfect example of that rare kind of pun that doesn't make you feel the need to exfoliate after hearing it. And there are anecdotes interspersed throughout the chapters, like the one that starts with, "Motherhood is a gift and a thief. It dumps forth perpetual joy and demands silent selfless surrender at every turn. This dawned on me over a bowl of mashed turnips." Also, there's a sushi salad. And a backyard pickle jar. I mean, c'mon.

How to get it

Procrastinating on Thanksgiving or Thanksgivukkah menu planning? Why not let the very well-priced Kindle Edition save the day? Planning for everyday life, or cooking and gifting for the December holidays? The slender but sturdy hardcover would make an excellent resource and an equally excellent gift. 


  1. Thanks for all of the entries! This contest is now closed. I’ll notify the winner and ship soon!

  2. Fun concept for a book! As for sides, I do like the candied sweet potatoes my sister in law makes for thanksgiving.

  3. Natalie Tolle

    Roasted red potatoes! Yummm

  4. Vicki

    Our family has a Bavarian Red Cabbage that is so flexible – it can be made in the microwave, slow cooker, or frying pan – we never have any to take home – between at table and care package left-overs, I always return home with an empty dish. Then, we make another batch for at home!

  5. Carol

    My favorite side dish is roasted veggies: roasted carrots, sweet potatoes, red potatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts – all delish and all devoured by my boys!

  6. Helen Marie

    My favorite side – how to choose?!
    Ok. I’ll choose. Classic bread stuffing with granny smith apples, onions and celery with herbs. Perfect with turkey & gravy!

    Thank you so very much for the giveaway!

  7. Gail Brown

    I love bread stuffing with onions, celery and sage topped with a little mushroom shallot gravy – Yum!

  8. I love sweet potato mashes! No marshmallows on it though. Just simple maple whipped

  9. Dani

    Brussels sprouts roasted with olive oil and lemon zest and them sprinkled with fresh Parmesan reggiano. I’m required to make it every year.

  10. Shelly

    Roasted asparagus drizzled with olive oil and parmesan cheese- yum!!

  11. Abby

    I love anything I’ve ever made off the Umami Girl site, of course. For the purposes of this contest, I’ll go with the Farro with Broccoli and shitakes (you KNOW i love those shitakes…)

  12. Brittany S.

    It’s so hard to choose just one! I’ll have to go with creamy mashed Yukon potatoes with a sweet potato mashed in the mix for added nutrients and flavor.
    This looks like a fantastic book to give me some much needed inspiration! Thank you for such a great opportunity!

  13. Theresa Materazzi

    Love the title of this book! Sides are always hard for me with the picky eaters in my house. Sigh! One of my most favorite Thanksgiving dishes is my onion and safe stuffing. The types of bread your choose make it so flavorful, pumpernickel and chibatta(sp?) add to that. And orange stuffed sweet potato and pecans. Sweet without adding anything, the orange just makes my mouth water!

  14. Lauren Doherty

    So many to choose from. I’m really a rice girl at heart, though, so I’m going to have to go with a nice pilaf.

  15. Debbi Murray

    Mexicorn dip – corn, with mayo, cheese and jalapeños. I could just eat this as a main course.

  16. Kathy

    Roasted cauliflower with a little romano cheese.

  17. Janetd

    Crunchy, slightly salty roasted potatoes!

  18. Jackie Tatelman

    Simple home made applesauce made with organic mac apples, cinnamon and cardamon – no sugar, honey or maple syrup needed!I always think of my grand mother when I put those sweet smelling cooked apples through the food mill and out comes this pink puree of apples a perfect side.

  19. Clare Cossio

    Red quinoa salad with black beans, avocado, red onion and cilantro. My family devours this side every time I make it and I’ve had many friends ask for the recipe when I’ve taken it along to a BBQ. Delish and healthy!

  20. Jo

    Roasted sweet potatoes, for sure

  21. Jackie

    I made cream-braised Brussels sprouts one fateful Thanksgiving, and now I’m not welcome without it. 🙂 It’s rich, but superb!

  22. Alex

    Pissaladiere tarte with kalamata olives standing in for anchovies. Much easier than it looks and super tasty.

  23. LOVE sides!!! 🙂
    My favorite party GO-TO Side?! — Jalapeño Popper Dip (which has a much more fun name at our house…)
    However, our new favorite side is roasted veggies… usually brussels sprouts, red pepper, red onion, broccoli and some portobello mushrooms…tossed in olive oil… with garlic and sea salt. We are eating a LOT more veggies around these parts lately!

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