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Taking sides

Umami Baked Beans

June 22, 2016

There are two schools of thought when it comes to side dishes. One contends that the main course is the star, bestowing a kind of benign neglect upon its accompaniments. The other deems those savory satellites, when properly prepared, to be worthy of a meal on their own. You will find me firmly in the second camp, lavishing my attention—as both cook and eater—on a satisfying lineup of vegetables. At a steakhouse, I’m known for skipping the rib eye in favor of the grilled asparagus, creamed spinach and sweet-potato fries. If you’ve got a foot in each camp, then you need to spend at least as much time on your salads as you do on your fillets. With that as a given, I offer you some stellar sides to disrupt your dinner table.

Almost every July, I throw a big barbeque for lots of friends. The big draw is undoubtedly the Eastern North Carolina-style pulled pork, but even my vegetarian pals look forward to the occasion. Instead of smoky meat, they enjoy piling baked beans, coleslaw and bread-and-butter pickles on soft supermarket buns (the only truly acceptable vehicle for authentic barbeque). The beans are the ultimate summer side, but substantial enough to deserve top billing. Packed with umami flavors from miso, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and Sriracha, they somehow manage to deliver a surprisingly authentic version of this sweet-savory American classic. They take a full day to cook, but can be made in advance and even keep well frozen.

The thin-skinned, tender-fleshed new potatoes unearthed in summer are a real treat. They pair so well with all the fresh herbs available at the same time. I like to boil creamy yellow potatoes until they get just a little shaggy, then toss them with a sauce made from fresh dill pureed with salted butter. Into the mix go little cubes of dill pickle for an unexpected and delightful crunch. This dish has a sunny green freshness that makes it a great alternative to heavy, mayonnaise-laden potato salads. It also classes up a grilled hot dog.