Savory Summer Sides | Elevated Basics for Your Next Cookout
Summer is the best time of year for letting simple ingredients shine. With the bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs available, you can make dishes that are not only delicious but beautiful to behold. Grill a steak or a marinated chicken breast and serve with a couple of these salads for a feast that screams “summer” in a fresh new way. Finish off your meal with “grown-up” popsicles, and you’ll want to keep this menu on repeat all summer long.
Fresh Corn Salad with Basil and Scallions (serves 4)
- 5 ears of corn, shucked
- 2 scallions, white and green parts, finely sliced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup finely sliced fresh basil leaves
- Sugar, optional
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When boiling corn on the cob, be sure to add enough salt that the water tastes like the sea; about 2 tablespoons should do it. Try adding a few tablespoons of sugar to the water as well; it will enhance the corn’s sweetness.
Tip: Boiling corn on the cob works just fine, but my favorite way to cook it is in the microwave. It is the easiest method ever—no waiting for water to boil, and no pan to wash. Place one ear of corn in its husk in the microwave. Cook on high for four minutes. Let cool for a minute or two, then hold the corn with a towel or pot holder (because it’s very hot), and cut off the end. Grasp the top and slip off the husk. Then pop the ear of corn in a bowl of very cold water for a minute to stop the cooking process. Repeat with the rest of the corn.
Boil the corn until tender, about 3–4 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain the corn and immerse it in very cold water to stop the cooking process.
Place cooked corn on a cutting board, and use a serrated knife to cut the kernels off the cobs.
In a large bowl, combine kernels with scallions, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, toss in the fresh basil. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. If the salad tastes too tart, add a bit more oil; if it tastes bland, add a bit more vinegar or salt and pepper. Try adding a 1/4 teaspoon of sugar if the corn isn’t as sweet as you’d like. Serve the salad cold or at room temperature.
Grilled and Stacked Watermelon Salad (serves 4)
Assembly is fast and easy, but this special salad requires some advance prep work. It’s worth every minute!
- 2 (at least) caramelized onions
- 1 red seedless watermelon, sliced into 8 squares (3″ x 3″ x 1/2″)
- 2 grilled peaches
- 4 1/2-inch-thick slices firm feta
- 2 tablespoons toasted pistachios
- 4 small handfuls arugula
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Balsamic glaze to taste
TIP: You can buy balsamic glaze, but if you want to make your own, it’s simple. Pour 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Swirl pan a few times. It should take about 5 minutes to become thick and syrupy. Remove from heat and cool.)
Caramelizing the onions takes about 15 minutes; do this step well ahead of time so the onions have time to cool. Slice onions into thin slices. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil and then the sliced onions. Onions shrink a lot as they cook, so I always make extra, which you can then use on burgers, steaks, salads and pizzas. Stir onions occasionally as they become soft and juicy and then caramelized. Add a little salt. When they are a deep golden brown, remove from heat and cool. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for 3–4 days or the freezer for up to three months.
Cut the watermelon into squares, or you can get fancy and use cookie cutters. (Stars, for example, would be cute for the Fourth of July.)
While the onions are caramelizing, preheat your grill and slice peaches in half. Brush the peaches and watermelon slices lightly with olive oil and grill over medium-high heat. The watermelon only takes about 10 seconds per side. Grill those first and then grill peach halves for 4-5 minutes per side. You should have pretty grill marks and the peach skin will be loose; pull it off with tongs. Cool peach halves then cut into slices.
Toss arugula with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.
To assemble the salad: Start with a square of watermelon, then add a slice of feta. Layer on caramelized onions and sliced peaches. Add another slice of watermelon. Top with a small handful of arugula, sprinkle with pistachios and drizzle balsamic glaze over all. Serve immediately.
French Potato Salad (Serves 4 to 6)
- 1 pound small white boiling potatoes
- 1 pound small red boiling potatoes
- 2 tablespoons good dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 10 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup minced scallions (white and green parts)
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves
Drop potatoes into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are just cooked through. Drain in a colander and place a towel over the potatoes to allow them to steam for 10 more minutes. As soon as you can handle them, cut in half (quarters if the potatoes are larger) and place them in a medium bowl. Toss gently with the wine and chicken stock. Allow the liquids to soak into the warm potatoes before proceeding.
Combine vinegar, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, then slowly whisk in the olive oil to make an emulsion. Add vinaigrette to the potatoes. Add scallions, dill, parsley, basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss. Serve warm or at room temperature.
French 75 Popsicles (Makes 10 pops)
For a fun twist on a classic summer treat, try a boozy popsicle. If you don’t own ice pop molds, try this quick hack: Pour Prosecco into a large wine glass and then add a fruity popsicle. Ta-da! You’ve got yourself a pop-tail.
- 2 ounces Champagne or Prosecco
- 4 ounces cognac or gin
- 4 ounces simple syrup
- 3 ounces fresh lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a large measuring cup, then evenly distribute in your popsicle molds, leaving about 1/4 inch of room at the top, then freeze. (You’ll have around 3 ounces left over after filling the molds.) ✦