You got grilling meat down, now re-examine summer side dish

06/07/2013 7:53 AM

06/07/2013 7:53 AM

Across the country, wafts of meaty smoke fill the air with an enchanting aroma.

Memorial Day has come and gone and indeed, grilling season has begun. No doubt by now you have had your first burger or hot dog kissed by the fire of the grill.

Steaks, chicken, pork chops and kabobs have taken their place at the center of the patio table already. They are the stars of the cookout without question.

But what of the supporting players that sit in Pyrex bowls and Tupperware containers just beyond the burger tray?

Side dishes can tend to get lost in the mix when grill season takes hold, pushed aside as opening act to the meat show. But side dishes don’t have to toil on the outskirts of deliciousness.

Like a great character actor in a film, they can enrich and improve the entire work with but a few minutes of screen time. America, your cole slaw is Gene Hackman, now give him some scenery to chew.

A quick glance at the usual suspects gives an idea why summer side dishes have become passe. We’ve all had gloppy, paste-like baked beans or slaw swimming in an Olympic sized pool of mayonnaise.

And lets be honest, even your grandmother’s secret recipe for Potato Salad Surprise could stand to take a summer sabbatical this year. To fully realize it’s potential, we have to look at what elements make up a successful side dish.

The combination of meat, fat, fire and smoke is a type of perfect alchemy. As most cookouts on the grill center around these components, the side should have elements that will enhance and complement them.

When looking at vegetables for sides, think seasonally. Radishes, cucumbers, onions, eggplant, zucchini, greens and various beans are all available.

Vegetables and leafy greens offer a number of options for fresh flavors and crisp textures. Corn and tomatoes will join the seasonal fray later in the summer.

It is remarkable what even a simple green salad or buttered ear of corn can do alongside a seared steak.

Starches like potatoes, beans, rice, whole grains and even pasta can also serve as bases for a successful side dish. When choosing which starch to employ, it is best to analyze what it is pairing with and choose wisely so as not to overwhelm the main dish.

While baked beans get served with burgers and hot dogs traditionally, why not try a spicy black bean salad or lentils and rice with fresh herbs instead?

Dishes like this add loads of flavor while having less fat and not overwhelming your palate with unnecessary heaviness. Whole grains are fantastic for this as well, boosting fiber, vitamins and minerals while also having a pleasantly satiating effect.

The last key component to a more interesting side dish is acidity and sweetness. With big fat comes big flavor, but it is very rich and needs something to cut through that richness.

Using the actor corollary, think Marlon Brando in The Godfather. While it would be boring and one note to watch his performance by himself, add the other complimentary characters and plot and suddenly his role becomes imbued with a sense of gravitas and significance.

The richness of beef and pork is no different. They need supporting players around them. The classic example would be something like a slab of ribs and barbecue sauce.

The sweet, salty and spicy notes of the sauce help cut the decadence of the dripping, smoky fat to form perfection on a bone. You don’t need to rely on the crutch of a Costco jar of mayo bigger than most Volkswagens to dress your side dishes.

Sweetness can be added with ingredients like honey, sugar, agave nectar or molasses while acidity can come from a squeeze of lemon or lime, vinegar, wine and more. They are the violins in the symphony, adding accent and punch to the overall song.

As you start your trek down the summer cookout path, remember to pay attention to more than just what is on the grill along the way. A well thought out and properly executed side dish can make all the difference in the world.

You have flip-flops on your feet, an ice-cold beer in your hand and a baseball game on the TV. Don’t let a boring old side dish take away from the delicious perfection of summer.

Quinoa Salad with Black Radish, Greens, Cucumber and Edamame

This is a vegan side dish that has abundant flavor as well as fantastic nutritional value. It has bright flavors, lovely green colors and great texture to go alongside something as delicate as grilled fish or something more robust like a grilled rib eye. Quinoa is a whole grain loaded with protein, vitamins and other essential ingredients that makes this a healthy and delicious side or main dish.

Makes 8 servings

For the vinaigrette

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1 lemon, juiced 1 teaspoon sherry or red wine vinegar 1/2 cup olive oil 1 teaspoon fresh herbs (thyme, parsley, tarragon)

For the salad:

2 cups quinoa, cooked according to package 1 bundle swiss chard, kale, pea tip leaves or other summer greens, sliced thin 1 cucumber, diced 1 cup frozen edamame (green soy beans), thawed 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped 1 or 2 medium sized black radishes, sliced thin 1 tablespoon, toasted walnuts Salt and pepper to taste

To prepare the vinaigrette:

Whisk mustard, lemon and vinegar. Slowly pour olive oil in, whisking to form an emulsion. Add herbs, set aside.

To prepare the salad:

In a mixing bowl, add cooked quinoa, greens, cucumber, edamame and parsley. Mix together. Add vinaigrette a little bit at a time, tossing ingredients to distribute. The idea is to flavor the dish and add moistness, but not overwhelm the ingredients. Garnish with the sliced black radishes and walnuts.

Source: Tyler Fox

Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes “nose-to-tail” cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.

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