There’s nothing that screams summer quite like a cookout. Grilling steaks, burgers, and hot dogs is a quintessential summer activity. But, to paraphrase an old saying, “man cannot live on meat alone.” You need something to serve alongside your perfectly grilled steak or chicken. But don’t go stand in line at your local grocery store deli for pre-made potato salad. We’re going to give you three quick and easy recipes for summer classics, including one for dessert, that will get you out of the store and enjoying the company of friends and family.
The Caprese salad is a side dish that can be presented in numerous ways but is made with just five or six basic ingredients. Fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil are drizzled with either olive oil or balsamic vinegar and then finished with some salt and pepper. A Caprese takes about five minutes to make as long as you’ve made your balsamic vinegar reduction ahead of time.
- Ripe Tomatoes
- Fresh Mozzarella
- Balsamic Vinaigrette Reduction
- Olive Oil
- Salt & Pepper
We prefer to reduce our balsamic vinegar rather than just drizzle it out straight from the bottle. The reduced vinegar becomes a thick, rich, and slightly sweet glaze that concentrates everything that is good about balsamic. It’s easy to do. Take a bottle of balsamic, put it in a saucepan and put it over low heat. Let it simmer for about twenty minutes, whisking occasionally to keep it from sticking and burning. Take it off the heat and voila, your reduction is done.
To make the actual Caprese, slice tomatoes and fresh mozzarella about 1/4-inch thick. You want them to be able to stand up to your fork without dropping and leaking your balsamic all over. Go out to your basil plants and pluck a couple of handfuls. Wash the basil and pat it dry. On a plate, layer tomato and cheese, arranging them into whatever you like. Tuck in basil between the cheese and tomato, aiming for two to three leaves between each slice. Drizzle the entire plate with olive oil. Drizzle the cooled balsamic reduction over everything as well. Salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
Cucumber and Onion Salad
This is another side dish that takes only five ingredients but captures summer flavors beautifully. The secret is to slice everything wafer thin, allowing the sweetened vinegar to penetrate and slightly pickle the cucumber and onion. It gives the cucumber a slightly tart pickle and the bright crunch of the red onion contrasts perfectly. This is a great side to a savory burger or barbecued ribs.
Use the freshest cucumber you can. If you’re growing them, pick them the morning of your get-together. Otherwise, get them from the store and look for firm fruits without any spots, webbing, or soft spots.
- 2 large cucumbers
- 1/2 red onion
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1/4 c. rice vinegar
- Salt & pepper to taste
Prep is very simple. Peel the cucumbers completely cut them in half length-wise, then slice wafer thin. Slice red onion thinly and toss with the cucumber slices. Add 1 tsp sugar, 1/4 c. rice vinegar and toss. Salt and pepper to taste. Let rest for 1/2 hour to allow flavors to meld. This dish can be served cold or at room temperature.
Zero-Churn Cherry Pie Ice Cream
There’s nothing more iconic to summer picnics than pie and ice cream. But who wants to turn on the oven in the summer heat or wait for ice cream? This no-churn recipe will make sure that your taste buds are satisfied without any baking or churning. It just takes some pie filling and about ten minutes of prep the night before your gathering.
- 3 c. Heavy Cream as cold as you can get it without freezing
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 c. coarsely crushed graham crackers
- 1 c. pie filling (We like cherry, but you can use any fruit like apple, blueberry, or even peach)
First, take the cold heavy cream and whip it in your mixer until stiff peaks have formed. Then fold in the condensed milk and vanilla. Follow that up with the graham crackers. Put half the mixture into a 10-inch by 5-inch loaf pan. Put 1/2 cup of pie filling on top and swirl it in with a knife. Add the remaining mixture and swirl in the rest of the pie filling. Place in the freezer uncovered for four hours, then cover lightly with plastic wrap. Freeze for another four hours, then serve, garnishing with the rest of the graham crackers.
Each of these three dishes goes great with a light, refreshing drink, or of course, your favorite bottle of wine. No matter how you enjoy it, we highly recommend enjoying it this summer!
Remember that your summer side dishes don’t have to be complicated to taste great and they don’t require you to serve up heavy mayo-laden salads either. With just a few minutes prep time, you can make these great side dishes that are a perfect accompaniment to your next get together.