Low Carb Side Dishes

In many countries and cultures, especially in the USA and Europe, warm meals consist of a main food source and something on the side - a side dish.

Here are some common examples that will give you a good idea:

  • A steak with french fries
  • Chicken and rice
  • Meat with noodles and tomato sauce
  • Fish with potatoes
  • Sausage on bread

We can hardly imagine a world without food that has such a side dish or goes with something starchy, like vegetables and cheese that must go with a pizza dough.

When I started to go on a diet, it was the most difficult thing for me to find out how I could eat good food when I had to do without the starchy and sweet side dishes. I was on a low carb diet and could no longer eat anything like pizza, pasta, rice, noodles, bread or potato products.

At first, I had the idea that perhaps I should just try to eat everything without a side dish. For instance, I would marinate meat in a nice sauce with herbs and/or spices, then fry or bake that meat and eat it the way it is. While I was astonished by how good meat on its own can taste, it was a bit boring after a while.

So I experimented a little and tried to find new side dishes that would make me forget I was actually on a low carb diet. And here are the ingredients I came up with!

1. Green beans

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It's surprising how well beans actually go with food that usually needs fries or rice to taste yummy. Green beans have exceptionally low carbs (the net carb percentage is about 4.5) and they are cheap. You have two basic options to get them: Fresh or in cans. If you buy them fresh, you usually have to cut off the ends and boil them.

As opposed to my usual strategy of eating fresh vegetables, I actually like green beans in cans more. They are very convenient and, as far as I can tell, cheaper. In fact, very, very cheap. I know they don't contain much of vitamins and minerals that way, but it's not my main concern in that moment. I just want green beans for quick and easy meals. The cans of beans I buy have the advantage of being ready for eating, so no cooking is involved.

The green beans can also be used for salads and taste quite good. As for warm meals, green beans are best used if the dish has little to no sauce, since green beans don't absorb sauce as much as noodles or rice do.

I like to combine green beans with a steak that only has herb butter as a sauce, or in any other dry meal that usually involves some sort of meat.

2. Onions

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You probably don't think of onions immediately when you try to come up with a side dish. But in my opinion, they work well. Just like green beans, I believe they work best with rather dry dishes such as marinated meat, a steak with herb butter or fish with normal butter.

Onions are versatile. If you use them in a raw state (or just slightly cooked), they will be very spicy. If you fry them, they are just a nice side dish that complements the taste of meat. If bakes or fried with almost no oil or butter, they turn brown and dry, making them crispy and crunchy. Very lovely!

3. Lentils

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Not only are lentils a main ingredient of one of my most favorite meals, Dhal Makhani, they also very dry on their own when you have placed them in a sieve after boiling. Therefore, they are best served with a wonderful sauce that adds extra liquid to the meal. All the dishes that are not suitable for onions or green beans may be able to have lentils added to them, since they are quite different in their characteristics.

When you boil lentils, make sure to read what's on the packaging. Sometimes, they ask for hours of soaking in water before cooking, other times it takes only 30 minutes in total. The boiling temperature should be rather low and the cooking time should be monitored closely. If lentils are cooked too harshly, they will burst and soak up too much water. Also give them enough time to dry because they are like a sponge sometimes.

4. Zucchini spaghetti

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At first, I was very skeptical when I found out that zucchinis can be used as noodles. I thought this is just a cheap trick that is supposed to emulate the feeling of noodles, but it's only a gadget that can't reach the original by any means.

I was wrong. When you are used to a low carb diet, you don't like real noodles anyway, so zucchini spaghetti will feel more natural to you. All you have to do is get a zucchini and peel it off over and over, creating what looks like stripes of noodles. Get rid of the outer layer (green skin) and use just the stripes that are white. You will get a lot of noodles that way.

You also don't need to cook them much. They are pretty much finished the moment the peeling process is over. If you want to throw them into your tomato sauce to heat them up and make them say "hi" to the hot sauce, you can do that.

As the name suggests, they can be used as spaghetti, which means that they are good for sauces, especially tomato sauce. So whatever type of Italian spaghetti meal you like, next time you could try it with zucchini instead of ordinary noodles.

5. Omelette noodles

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Did you ever notice that many types of noodles are also made of eggs besides the flour? Omelette noodles take advantage of this. The difference is: They are just eggs by themselves, prepared in a way to look like normal noodles.

What you do is to prepare an omelette. So you use lots of eggs and fry them in a pan to create a mass of, well, fried eggs. If done correctly, the final product will look yellow enough to make the impression of a dough (I think that turmeric would help for the visual impression, too).

Once everything is fried thoroughly, you place the whole mass on a plate and cut everything into stripes. The illusion of noodles is now perfect!

Omelette noodles are good for meals that require a small amount of sauce, and also work well with salads to act like a noodle salad.

6. Pumpkin noodles

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Okay, I promise this is the last one for noodles. There is a pumpkin called Spaghetti squash, and its insides look like very thin noodles or spaghetti. They serve the same purpose as noodles, although they may not soak liquids as well and the taste is different. I tried them once and noticed that the amount of noodles you can get is massive! Just buy only one for a start.

Since the "noodles" are extremely thin, they go well as a replacement for spaghetti, although it's worth taking a look at some recipes besides spaghetti with tomato sauce. Spaghetti aglio e olio, for instance, is a very carefully arranged meal that consists of noodles with garlic and olive oil.

You can also make some nice asian soups with this type of noodles, as they are as thin as some asian noodles that are eaten with soup.

7. Cauliflower

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Cauliflower can be used as a substitute for potatoes, but if put into a blender, it can even be used as the basis of a pizza dough. I've eaten such a pizza and must say that the result was really respectable.

Although many people don't like cauliflower, its advantage is that it doesn't have a lot of taste of its own. And that's what many people look for in a side dish. They just want something that goes with the rest of the food.

8. Mushrooms

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Mushrooms have a texture and taste that is reminiscent of meat, and therefore adds a good flavor to any meal. If cut into stripes or cubes, they can even work as a side dish that acts much like potatoes, rice or fries.

They can absorb a fair amount of sauce, and the real taste often comes out when you fry them with the sauce intended to be used. Mushrooms are versatile enough to work as a side dish and a meat substitute at the same time. Some salt brings out the taste even more if you want this.

What are your ideas?

There are probably many other basic side dishes to think of. Maybe corn, or crushed nuts. What do you think? Do you know any easy side dishes that take little time to prepare, are low carb and replace the typical side dishes we have grown up with? Let me know in the comments, and perhaps I will make this list a lot longer with your help!

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