Summer side dishes

If the summer side dishes you're thinking of this year seem a little mundane, do not worry.

Mixed salad leaves.

easy gourmet salad

There are plenty of creative ways to dress up those old favorites in no time, giving you and your guests plenty of tasty new dishes at your next picnic or cookout.

Summer side dishes renewed

Picnics and cookouts require lots of food to satisfy hungry, active people. Like any other menu item, your summer side dishes shouldn't be limited to standard ingredients, just because that's how Mom always make them. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about how to turn traditional side dishes inside out and upside down.

Salads and slaws

A great way to wow the crowd this summer is to create any number of new salad and slaw combinations. A summer slaw with ingredients like diced apples, bell peppers, carrots, and nuts gives your picnic meals a crunch people will love. Use corn and beans with a lively vinaigrette dressing and pimentos for a little summer spark as perky as the Fourth of July. And, when it comes to perky, don't forget fruit in your salads and slaws. Chunks of fresh pineapple in a cabbage slaw is a surprisingly refreshing take on an old favorite.

Add a little horseradish or fresh vinegar to your slaw dressing for a fresh, tangy appeal. Shred, slice, or even curl your ingredients as thin as possible for a colorful and attractive impression. When you take the time to prepare your ingredients a little differently, your salads take on a whole new look, and taste.

Don't forget all those fresh garden vegetables. Tomatoes, beans, spring onions, beets, peas, radishes, broccoli, and cucumbers can turn any salad into a celebration. Fresh herbs like parsley, thyme, and basil will give an ordinary salad the boost it needs to gain favor at any picnic table.

Deconstruct the classic summer salads

Make common salads uncommon with a little deconstruction. Taking your regular Potato Salad from ordinary to extraordinary may only require a few tweaks of your old recipe. For instance, use new red potatoes with the skins on, or Yukon Gold, and add a bit of tarragon infused olive oil and crème fraîche instead of your basic mayonnaise dressing for a different flavor. Or depart entirely from your grandmother's potato salad with a homemade remoulade style dressing. Toss in radishes, cucumbers, and even okra for a whole new experience. Of course, next time you may want to try capers and pimentos.

How about that quintessential favorite Three Bean Salad? Why limit yourself to three? Combine a bevy of beans for delightful combinations, choosing a variety of colors, textures, and flavors outside of the traditional green, wax, and kidney. If you add the right complimentary ingredients and spices to any ordinary summer salad, a world of flavors will be yours to explore with free abandon.

Use exotic ingredients

Sometimes all it takes to turn a side dish upside down is to incorporate something unconventional, something you wouldn't expect to 'work.' Take tabouleh or couscous, for instance. Both are staple ingredients in a number of Mediterranean dishes, but they can also dress up a corn and tomato salad very well. Consider using quinoa in salads and side dishes. This nutty seed tastes great cold or hot and can be used in so many ways to add flavor and super-nutrition to a variety of dishes.

With the right spices, a side dish can even take the stage all by themselves with extra touches that range from tangy lemon juice, dill, parsley, mint, chives, Dijon mustard, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and other delicious delicacies. With the right spices, herbs, and sauces, a simple lettuce, cucumber, or any salad can become a taste sensation.

Spicy gourmet sides

Summer is also the time to get a little spicy, with ingredients, that is. Serving chutneys, relishes, salsas, and other spicy sauces alongside your summer dishes will perk up any meal. Chips and veggie snacks can be served with spicy dips, too. After all, you've got plenty of sweet lemonade and other drinks to cool you back down.

Those who enjoy a little heat in their summer meals relish the opportunity to add some jalapeños, crushed red pepper, cumin, cilantro, cayenne, and other spices and herbs to their favorite side dishes. For instance, instead of serving your regular potato salad, spice it up with cumin. Chopped jalapenos added to your favorite baked bean dish will have your guests clamoring for more. Every picnic side dish you can think of probably has a spicy ingredient or two that could be added to give it a new twist.

Try a different combination

The key is to be creative with your combinations. Green Beans Almondine is a popular side dish during the summer when green beans are fresh and plentiful. But, why not change things up a bit and substitute chopped walnuts for the almonds. It's all about serving familiar summertime dishes at your cookout or picnic, but making them a bit unexpected. Perhaps you are making a classic creamy broccoli salad with raisins. Substitute dried cranberries for the raisins. It's all about putting a new twist on an old favorite.

There are a number of beautiful summer squashes that are delicious when just baked and served alone. However, a mixture of squash, sautéed together in butter and oil, with onions, garlic, bacon, or a variety of other ingredients, will turn a simple squash side dish into a colorful production. Don't forget to add a sweet or savory surprise by adding spices, sauces, or other condiments to your new squash side dish.

Turning summer side dishes upside down doesn't have to cost a lot or take lots of time to prepare. Just take a look at your favorite picnic recipes and rethink the ingredients you are already using. Try something a bit unconventional and enjoy your new side dish favorites.

Create new comfort food casseroles

Some big gatherings call for classic 'comfort food' dishes like Green Bean Casserole or Au Gratin Potatoes. But why not get creative and try something a little different? Instead of green beans, why not create new classics like corn casserole or corn pudding. Take a look at turning a variety of vegetables into creamy comfort foods you and your guests will enjoy just like the old classics.

A great substitute for potatoes in casseroles is cauliflower. This healthy vegetable can be mixed with cheeses, onions, and other vegetables for a hearty summer side dish that will complement a number of main dishes at your next picnic. You can also create dynamic new comfort-food casseroles by mixing rice or small pasta with a number of colorful vegetables, like eggplant, summer squashes, zucchini, broccoli, or beans.

So you see, gourmet summer side dishes simply require ingenuity, not culinary finesse. Creativity is really the key to making a new family favorite that will have people begging for more. Spend a little extra time in your grocery store and you'll find plenty of possibilities for dressing up the side dishes you already love.