If you’re invited to a backyard cookout, will your hosts and other guests expect that you’ll show up with the same side dish in hand that you bring to every get together? Throw them a curve ball and arrive with something unexpected in that plastic-wrapped bowl of yours.
Here are recipes by Twin Cities chef and cookbook author Robin Asbell, which appeared in Real Food, that will help you embrace a new side for summer. The citrusy quinoa salad could also serve as a main dish with optional add-ins. You’ll find a salad that brings the flavors of elotes Mexican sweet corn and yellow rice together in one dish. And summer is the perfect time to whip up a batch of pesto when basil is at its peak. Why not use it to make a flavorful take on potato salad? Go crazy.
Lemony Quinoa Kale Salad
Makes 4 Servings
Quinoa cooks in just 15 minutes, which is plenty of time to prep the kale and dressing to finish the dish. The secret to making delicious kale is not cooking it, but “massaging” it with an acidic dressing so that the sturdy structure of the leaves is broken down and the dressing seeps into the cells of the leaves. You can boost the protein in this dish and make it a vegetarian main course by adding a can of black beans or chickpeas.
1 cup quinoa
1½ cups water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped kale, packed, about half a bunch
¼ cup slivered red onions
3 large tomatoes, cubed
canned black beans or chickpeas (optional)
- In a small pot over high heat, bring water to a boil, then stir in the quinoa. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook for 15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and uncover, fluff and let cool.
- In a large bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, sugar and salt and whisk to mix. Add the kale and toss, then knead and massage with your fingers for 1 or 2 minutes to soften and break down the kale in the dressing. Let stand while the quinoa cools, then add the onion, tomatoes and cooled quinoa and toss to mix. Serve immediately or cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Elotes Rice Salad
Makes 6 Servings
Elotes is the addictive street-food sweet corn sold in Mexico that is growing in popularity in the U.S. Grilled or steamed corn on the cob is slathered with lime and mayonnaise, then sprinkled with chili powder and crumbled fresh cheese. This salad puts the flavors of elotes and yellow rice in one dish. If you are grilling in the days before making this salad, grill 4 extra ears of corn on the cob, and use the kernels in this salad for a slightly smoky, charred taste.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 cup basmati rice
1½ cups water
½ teaspoon salt
4 ears corn on the cob, to make 3 cups kernels (or leftover grilled corn)
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon chili powder, plus more for garnish
2 scallions, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup (4 ounces) cotija cheese, crumbled
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
- In a medium saucepan, warm half of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and stir until softened, about 1 minute, then add turmeric and stir for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir until it is hot and well coated with oil. Add the water and salt and increase the heat to bring to a boil, then reduce to low, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. When all the water is absorbed, remove the rice from the heat and let stand for at least 5 minutes before uncovering and letting cool completely. Reserve.
- If using grilled corn, just cut the corn from the cobs. To cook raw corn, cut the corn from the cobs, then drizzle the remaining olive oil in a large skillet and place it over medium-high heat. When hot, add the corn and sauté for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp-tender. Let cool completely.
- When the corn has cooled, transfer to a large bowl and add the mayonnaise, lime and chili powder and stir to mix. Stir in scallions, red pepper and cotija cheese, then add the cooled rice and fold into the mixture.
- Serve in a bowl, sprinkled with cilantro and, if desired, more chili powder. If not serving immediately, cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
Pesto Potato Salad
Makes 6 Servings
Summer is the best time to whip up a batch of pesto: Basil is at its peak and its prices are low. In its birthplace of Genoa, Italy, pesto is often served with potatoes and pasta, so why not use it to dress cold potatoes? This side can serve more like a main dish with the optional addition of grilled shrimp.
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1 cup fresh basil
1 cup fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, sliced
¼ cup pine nuts
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 pound large shrimp, optional
- Place the whole potatoes in a large pot. Add cool water to cover by 1 inch, and place over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. When the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, drain and let cool. When cool, cut in cubes and place in a large bowl.
- While the potatoes cook, place the basil, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, salt and Parmesan cheese in a food processor or blender. Process to make a smooth paste, scraping down as necessary. Add the olive oil and process to make a smooth pesto.
- Scrape the pesto into the bowl with the potatoes and toss gently to coat the potatoes evenly. Serve topped with chopped tomatoes.
- If serving with shrimp, peel and devein shrimp, then either grill or sauté until pink. Arrange the shrimp on top of the potato salad.
Cook’s Note: For additional ideas, vinaigrettes and other dressings we usually pour over greens are good on potatoes, too.
Hungry for More?
Try these other side dishes I have highlighted on this site.
Radish, Hearts of Palm, and Tomato Salad with Cheese Mojo Recipe
Punch up your salad selection by adding the zip of radishes.
Watermelon Salad with Mint Recipe
Watermelon, cucumber, tomatoes and mint make a refreshingly juicy and zingy salad.
Make a Spud Salad Switch
Mix it up this season with new twists on potato salad recipes—plus, potatoes offer more nutrients than you might think.