The Flavor Bible is an invaluable reference book for looking up flavor combinations that work. It also includes a list of ingredients and seasonings for a wide variety of traditional cuisines, so even if you have never eaten Moroccan food, you'll know apricots, ginger and pine nuts will taste good accompanying a Moroccan-style main dish. 2. Texture: A plate that includes a variety of textures not only looks more appealing, it is also a lot more fun to eat. Think about fried chicken with mashed potatoes and a cabbage slaw: crunchy, smooth and crisp in one meal. Texture also comes into play if your main dish is very saucy, and would benefit from a soft, starchy side to soak up the juices, such as curry with rice or braised short ribs over polenta. 3. Color: We eat with our eyes as well as our mouths, and a colorful plate always looks more appetizing than a monochromatic one. If you're serving carnitas tacos with beans (brown, white and brown), add some color to the plate with a corn, radish and avocado salad and a scoop of Spanish rice. 4. "Weight": Heavy main dishes that center around a lot of meat or cheese are better off paired with at least one lighter, fresher side, like a shaved vegetable salad or a simple green salad. If a plain salad sounds boring, try dressing it with an unusual vinaigrette, or mixing in ingredients with textural contrast, like toasted nuts, soft cheese or dried fruit. 5. Cooking method: Planning a meal also means coordinating oven and stove space. The easiest pairings maximize oven time by cooking the sides along with the main dish, like a roasted chicken with roasted root vegetables or one-sheet-pan dinners. If your meal already involves bringing a pot of water to a boil, make the most of it by incorporating a side of blanched and dressed vegetables or an orzo salad. 6. Ease of preparation: Finally, a good meal also requires a cook with her sanity intact. Unless you are itching for a full day of cooking, don't plan on serving a labor-intensive main dish with a side that also requires hours of close attention. But easy sides don't have to be boring; in-season vegetables need just a sprinkling of salt and a little good olive oil to be a stand-out side dish, and any whole grain, cooked in well-salted water, can be simply dressed up with chopped fresh herbs or a bright vinaigrette.
Do you have any tips or tricks for coming up with side dishes that pair well with your main dish? Related: Build a Menu: 5 Tips for Matching Side Dishes with Main DishesFor many more ideas, check out our archives: Side Dish Recipes on The Kitchn
It's Reader Request Week at The Kitchn! This post was requested by CRIV227.(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)