Sprightly side dishes liven up holiday BBQs

This carrot salad is a fresh take on a healthy side dish. BY JACK CLEMONS
May 25, 2012

We’re all looking forward to the official start of summer with a welcome three-day weekend this Memorial Day. All across town, dedicated backyard barbecue fans are scraping ash and grime from their grills in anticipation of a new season of smoke. Supermarkets have stacked their meat cases with super-sized packages of burgers and steaks and chicken parts.

However, the grocery stores are less than inspired when it comes to side dishes; they seem to think the only accompaniments to grilled main courses are cole slaw, potato salad and chips. Instead of the over-salted prepared salads, why not create your own sides? With control over the ingredients, you can offer colorful, tasty and perfectly fresh alternatives. And, you can do this all in advance, leaving you free to sip a summer beverage while the grill master cooks.

The first recipe comes from my brother, David, who approaches the kitchen the same way I do: Open the cabinets and pull out whatever looks interesting as a place to start, then go to the refrigerator to see what other ingredients might work in the dish. His macaroni salad is best with mini penne, especially the sturdy whole-wheat variety that holds its shape better than elbows or corkscrews.

The mixture of bell peppers can be adjusted or substituted according to taste, as long as none of the replacements are green pepper. I’ve had good results with sun-dried tomatoes and capers, which add texture and color. Although the recipe calls for a mixture of sour cream and mayonnaise, either one of these can be used exclusively. Alternatively, plain yogurt can do the job, too – just be sure to use the thickened Greek-style yogurt for the correct consistency.

Grating the garlic is easier than mincing – rub the peeled clove over a microplane to create tiny shreds and flavorful juice. This simple salad can be transformed into a main dish by tossing in a (drained) can of albacore tuna, breaking up the largest chunks to create a uniform consistency. Add a dollop of mustard and a few turns of the pepper mill to contrast with the tuna.

We made the dish in the photo to highlight a different approach to carrot salad. Nothing is shredded, and no raisins are in sight. Slender carrot slices are simmered until slightly soft while red onion wilts in a skillet. For presentation, as in the picture, the carrots are stacked on the side of a tall bowl, the onion rings are draped across them and the vinaigrette is drizzled on. This works equally well arranged in a wide serving bowl.

One heartier side dish that’s bold enough to stand up to any grilled meat or poultry has barley at its base. The addition of oregano and feta cheese creates a familiar Greek profile, while the chopped tomato and cucumber lighten the texture. This is another chameleon dish that can become sweeter by replacing the feta with dried cranberries and the tomato with chopped mango or peach.

Now that you have all the sides ready for your guests and the grill is set to sear, start planning which local ice cream shop will be your dessert destination. Happy Memorial Day!

David’s Macaroni Salad
1 lb mini penne pasta
1/2 C diced red bell pepper
1/2 C diced orange bell pepper
1/2 C diced yellow bell pepper
1/2 C minced red onion
2 T snipped chives
1 grated garlic clove
1 C mayonnaise
1/2 C sour cream
salt & pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta al dente, according to the package directions. Rinse in cool water and drain. Stir together the peppers and onion in a large serving bowl. Add the chives and grated garlic. Toss in the pasta along with the mayonnaise and sour cream. Stir gently until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with additional chives.

Carrot Salad
1 lb baby carrots
1/2 t olive oil
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
1 T Balsamic vinegar
1 T olive oil
1/2 t tarragon
2 t orange juice
salt & pepper, to taste

Trim the tops and hairy root ends from the carrots. Pare off the skin and trim into 3-inch-long strips about 1/4-inch thick. Place carrots in a skillet and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for about 5 minutes; drain and set aside. In another skillet, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the onion slices and sauté until softened; set aside. Whisk together remaining ingredients; adjust seasonings. Arrange carrots in a bowl, scatter with onion and drizzle with vinaigrette.

Barley Salad
1 C pearl barley
3 C water
pinch salt
1/3 C olive oil
2 T lemon juice
2 T red wine vinegar
1/2 t oregano
1 minced shallot
2 sliced green onions
1/4 C chopped parsley
1/2 C diced cucumber
2 diced tomatoes
2/3 C feta cheese
salt & pepper, to taste

Combine barley, water and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and cover. Cook until tender, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, oregano; pour over cooked barley. Cool to room temperature; stir in shallot, green onion, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes and feta cheese. Adjust seasonings. Yield: 6 servings

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