Typically in the background, sometimes side dishes can steal the show.
Executive Chef, Residence Dining
Louisiana State University Baton Rouge, LA
“There's enough garlic in the Stuffed Tomato Gratin that the whole building fills with its aroma when we make them for lunch. We make the rice ahead of time. Then we mix the rice with onions, Parmesan cheese, parsley and Italian seasonings and stuff the tomatoes.
“About 15 to 20 minutes before service, we put them in our pizza oven and the tomatoes start to break down. At the last minute, we throw on the mozzarella cheese and let it melt. It's something different, and we just can't keep up with the demand for these. There are a lot of vegetarians on campus, and they can use this as a main dish.”
Amy Harkey, MS, RD, LDN
Assistant Director, Child Nutrition Services
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Charlotte, NC
“We started searching the Internet for African side dish recipes for International Week a few years ago and we coordinate the meals with what the students are learning about different cultures. We allowed managers in individual schools to coordinate days as best they could with the teachers, so, for example, the day children learned about the nations in Africa, they could try some of the food. I think the adults like the dishes better than the kids.
“One side dish is Jollof Rice from West Africa. It's kind of interesting. We used commodity white rice, canned green beans and canned peas combined with onions, green pepper, fresh carrots, a little tomato paste and chili pepper. We also offered an African squash dish called Futari. It's yellow squash with onion, canned sweet potatoes and nonfat dry milk.
“When we prepare special menu items, we still need to mostly use the ingredients we have on hand.
“So we adapt the recipes and eliminate the most exotic spices while trying to stay as true to the original as possible. We increased the recipes we found so they would make 50 and 100 and did the nutritional analysis as well.”
General Manager, Nutrition Services
St. Mary's Hospital, Athens, GA (Sodexo)
“I first made Eggplant and Mushroom Hushpuppies with Bleu Cheese and Pico de Gallo in my kitchen at home. It's unusual. We've done it for catering parties and events, primarily. We'll be trying it in our retirement community this year.
“You can grill the eggplant or sauté it, and also heat fresh mushrooms, green onions, and your favorite seasoning blend. Grilling the eggplant does add a nice flavor to the puppies. I like peeling the skin because I don't like the bitterness of it.
“All of that gets pulsed in a food processor. I usually refrigerate the mixture in bulk and then I roll it in panko bread crumbs for the crunch. The dough also freezes well. After I fry the hushpuppies, I serve them on a bed of bleu cheese and fresh pico de gallo with red onions, green peppers, tomatoes and tomatillos. It's a wonderful taste.
“Just don't try to hold the hushpuppies for a long time. Serve it right after you prepare it. You want to break it open and get that heat. I was born in Alabama and my mother always made the best hushpuppies, so whenever I have a good one, I think of Mom.”