Dress Up Your Summer Side Dishes

If the summer side dishes you’re thinking of this year seem a little mundane, we can help. 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 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.

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 jalapenos, 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.

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.

p.s. Summertime cooking calls for cool cooking. Whether you're grilling something scrumptious, tossing a tasty salad, or piling a sandwich high with goodies, you need recipes and ideas.

We've put together a nice collection of tips for cooking cool along with recipes for everything from grilled meats, vegetables, and desserts (yes, desserts!), to fruit salads, veggie salads, rice salads, and bean salads.

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