Paleo diet side dishes are essential if you plan to be able to stick with your paleo diet plan. The idea behind the paleo diet is that our ancestors, who ate whatever they could find or catch, were not fat. The diet of paleolithic humans would have had minimal processing and have been limited on the types of additives and preservatives that might have been added to the food.
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Considering the Paleo Diet
It has been pointed out that modern humans are unlikely to be able to completely replicate the foods that would have been available for our many-generations-ago ancestors because the plants have evolved and many of the animals are extinct. The paleo diet for modern humans is, therefore, based on a combination of archeological finds and studies of the diets of the few remaining primitive people living today. Protein selections are lean with minimal processing.
Side dishes, because they are planned to go with a main dish, are usually vegetable or fruit preparations. The thinking has been that legumes, grains and dairy products would have been part of the Neolithic or farming age when the beginnings of processed or genetically altered foods would have begun.
Paleo Vegetable Side Dishes
Regardless of the validity of the theories, paleo vegetable side dishes focus on fresh vegetables, preferably locally grown and in season. Although some vegetables require cooking to release vitamins for human digestion, many provide an increase in nutrients when eaten raw or nearly raw.
With that said, many approaches to cooking vegetables benefit from modern cooking appliances, such as steamers or even air fryers. Minimal prep, however, is known to help keep the nutrients in the vegetables until they make it into our mouths where the digestion process can begin.
Your paleo vegetables should include non-starchy vegetables such as carrots, turnips, asparagus, onions, pumpkin and squash. Leafy greens are definitely on the menu. You should avoid starchy vegetables such as potatoes, legumes, corn, grains – especially wheat, rye or barley, and all sorts of dairy.
While this might seem as if it will limit your diet, it also opens opportunities for exploring new foods.
If you are looking for good paleo sides for burgers, asparagus and carrots are two easy-to-find and easy to cook vegetables that are easy to make into gourmet dishes that will wow your family and friends.
Roasted or Grilled Asparagus
- 1 bunch tender, fresh asparagus
- Olive or other oil
One of the wonderful things about eating fresh, minimally cooked vegetables is how easy it is to prepare them. Asparagus takes on a whole, new flavor when it is grilled or baked.
Just cut the woody ends off the stalks, coat with oil, and place in a baking pan. Cook in a hot oven, about 425 degrees Fahrenheit for three or four minutes or until the stalks are tender.
Cut off the woody ends, coat with oil and place directly on a hot grill. Grill for two or three minutes until tender on the inside and lightly browned on the outside. If preferred, you can wrap them in foil and then place on the grill. You lose some of the smoky flavor and authenticity, but gain tenderness and the ability to add herbs or spices and lock in the flavor.
Bonus Points for the Cook:
Wrap each asparagus stalk in a slice of bacon, and grill until the bacon is cooked through and the asparagus is tender.
Versatile, Delicious Carrots
Many people know that carrots are nutritious and that they contain a lot of vitamin A, which is said to be good for your eyes, but you might not know that the tops are also edible. You can use them in green, leafy salads and in pesto. The young, tender tops are the best for use as greens, but you can use tops on carrots from the supermarket if you wash them carefully.
With that said, carrot tops do contain porphyrins and are not recommended for pregnant or nursing women.
Carrot Top Broth
Cut the tops from organically grown carrots (less likely to have been treated with pesticides) and wash thoroughly. If you have a vegetable spinner, you can use it for the final rinse. Place carrots in a cooking pot, and cover with water using a 1:1 ratio of ingredients, or one cup carrot greens to one cup of water. Bring to a boil, and simmer for one hour. You can use the broth immediately or freeze it for later use.
Dried Carrot Tops
Wash the tops from organically grown carrots, and dry in a vegetable spinner. The green tops can be dried in a vegetable dehydrator or hung by the cut ends, the part that was next to the roots, to air dry. They can then be stored in an air-tight, moisture resistant container and used like parsley flakes.
Carrot Top Pesto
- 1/2 cup fresh, chopped carrot top greens
- 1/2 cup chopped basil
- ¼ cup chopped garlic
- Top with pignolis (pine nuts) or walnuts
- ¼ cup lemon juice or red wine vinegar
Chop the garlic. Wash the greens and spin until very dry, then chop. Splash in the juice or vinegar, and top with nuts.
- 3 pounds baby carrots
- Cooking oil
Preheat the oven to around 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat a rimmed cookie sheet with oil, and spread the carrots on it. Bake unseasoned or sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally, until carrots are tender. Cooking time will vary, but it will be approximately thirty minutes.
Carrot and Pineapple Salad
- 2 cups grated carrot
- 1 cup crushed or cubed pineapple
- ¼ cup pineapple juice
- Toasted Sesame seeds
Cut up the pineapple and use a food processor to crush it. Pour off and reserve the juice. Grate about four large carrots, or grate carrots until you have 2 cups. Mix the carrots and crushed pineapple together, add the pineapple juice to moisten it, and top with toasted Sesame seeds.
Toasted Sesame Seeds
You can buy the sesame seeds already toasted, or you can toast them yourself. Place a pat of butter, or lard or a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan. Heat the pan until the oil begins to pop, then at ½ cup sesame seeds. Stir the seeds. They will brown quickly. Serve hot, or spread on paper towels to dry.
Pumpkin or Squash
Pumpkins and squashes all belong to the curcurbita vegetable family, but they do not all taste the same. More than that, they come in all sorts of sizes ranging from tiny fruits no bigger than a young child’s hand to cultivated monsters that can grow up to more than 660 pounds.
The world record for the largest curcurbita was a 2, 323.7 pound pumpkin grown by Beni Meier of Switzerland, in 2014. While the big pumpkins, squashes and gourds are amazing curiosities, they are not usually the ones that are the tastiest for cooking.
Pie pumpkins, patty pans squash, acorn squash and butter nut squash are all yummy members of this family. Curcurbita vegetables make amazing paleo side dishes for chicken or turkey.
Baked Patty Pan Squash
1 patty pan squash per person
Cut out the stem part of the squash as if you were getting ready to carve a pumpkin. Scoop out the seeds and the stringy pulp stuff (but not the meat of the squash), set to one side. Place a pat of butter inside the squash, along with a tablespoon of honey. Replace the little top-hat lid, wrap the whole thing in foil and place it on a baking sheet.
Cook at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 30 minutes or until the sides are tender.
Top with pine nuts and ground paprika for a little added flavor, or eat right out of the shell as it is.
Toasted Squash or Pumpkin Seeds (This works for any pumpkin or squash)
Wash the seeds removed from the squash or pumpkin and remove all the stringy pulp stuff. Lightly coat a heavy baking pan with oil and spread the seeds on it. Place in a hot oven, 325 Fahrenheit will do nicely, and bake.
Stir frequently and check often. Sprinkle with salt or with your favorite spice mix. Use your teeth to split the hulls of the seeds, and enjoy the insides.
Cut a butternut squash in half longways. Remove the seeds and the stringy pulp. Reserve the seeds for toasting or for planting. Brush the inside of the squash with coconut oil and add a tablespoon of honey. Wrap the squash in foil, and place cut side up on a baking pan. Cook for about 45 minutes in an oven at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave out the honey and coconut oil if you want the squash puree for an ingredient in a recipe.
You can use a similar method to cook small pumpkins or acorn squash.
When the squash is done it will be tender enough to easily pierce with a fork. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and scoop out the pulp.
Chicken and Squash Soup
- 1 cup chicken stock (or vegetable, other than tomato)
- 1 cup squash or pumpkin pulp
- ¼ cup onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic
Pinch cloves or dusting of cinnamon for a little heat. Warm the stock and squash mixture in a sauce pan on the stove top, stirring often, until it is heated through. Top with a mint leaf for an extra fancy touch.
Paleo Mexican Side Dishes
Mexican food is an interesting blend of traditions. There are no less than 56 recognized native languages spoken in Mexico. Many of their culinary traditions have made their way around the world. Paleo Mexican side dishes almost must include maize and beans.
The Hopi, who primarily lived in Arizona in the United States as well as parts of Mexico, called beans, corn and squash the three sisters because they were staples in their diet. Other well loved foods from the area include chocolate, avocados, plantains, coffee, tomatoes, and, of course, peppers.
Avocados are a staple food because they are rich in good oils, highly nutritious, and can be blended into a lot of different recipes. Add peppers, lime, cilantro, onion and garlic to make guacamole.
Serve with warm tortillas made of masa harina, the corn flour, and there is no finer side dish anywhere. Guacamole is one of those things that can change according to individual taste, but here is a basic recipe.
- 2 ripe avocados
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- ¼ cup diced tomato
- ¼ cup diced fresh jalapeno pepper
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ¼ cup chopped onion
Cut the avocado in half and scoop out the soft pulp. Mash together with the lime juice, and spices. Fold in the chopped onion, garlic, cilantro and tomato. Allow the mixture to rest at room temperature for about an hour. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.
You’ll want a well-seasoned iron skillet or griddle for this.
- 2 cups masa harina
- 1 cup hot water
- Teaspoon salt
Mix the masa harina and salt together, then add the hot water until it makes a smooth ball that is springy but not too sticky. Let it rest at room temperature for about an hour. Oil your hands, and pinch off pieces of dough and form into balls about the size of a golf ball.
If you have a tortilla press, you can flatten the dough with that. You can put the dough between two pieces of wax or pastry paper and roll it flat. If that is not an option either, flatten the dough between your hands. Heat the griddle or pan as if you were going to make pancakes. Fry the dough until it is golden on one side, then flip over and brown the other side.
The best paleo side dishes offer an opportunity to explore new flavors and even new cultural traditions. The paleo diet encourages living lean and should be accompanied with plenty of healthy exercise. It is a way to examine the past and to consider the changes that have come to our world since humans were hunter/gatherers, living off the bounty of the land.