3 Backyard BBQ Salads

It’s been a long winter.  And, as much as I love hunkering down in the house and making homemade chicken soup or braising a brisket, the cold and the snow eventually lose their charm and I long for warmer weather, more daylight, and easy meals thrown on the grill.  So this past weekend, when the cold weather finally broke, giving way to a gorgeous sunny day with a high of 86 degrees.  I decided to launch the BBQ season by inviting some friends over for a laid back meal.

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The weather wasn’t just springlike, it was downright summer weather, and it made me think of our yearly summer getaway to the woods in New Hampshire, where I keep my cooking to a minimum by grilling out every night and rounding out the meals with light salads. In NH, we dine around a big table on our huge screened-in porch, which is also where we sleep. Summer weather calls for summer salads.  Here are three of our family favorites, which friends always wind up asking about once they’ve taken a few bites.  Pick one and bring it to your next backyard BBQ, your friends will thank you and, when they ask, you can send them back to this post for the recipe!

Greek Inspired Roasted Potato & Tomato Salad

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Okay, I have to tell you, I am not a huge fan of traditional American potato salad.  I never have been.  All of that mayonnaise is just not my thing.  So, I decided to lighten and brighten it up.  Now, be warned, this will require the use of your oven which I know is not ideal in warmer weather, but I think the results are worth it!

What You’ll Need:

  • One pound of small golden potatoes or fingerlings, halved
  • 12 ounces of grape tomato (I like to use a mixture of red and yellow), halved
  • Half pound of pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch of parsley, leaves trimmed and diced
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4-6 ounces  of feta cheese (optional, my guests loved this addition!)

What To Do:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place the halved potatoes on a baking sheet, coating them liberally with olive oil, sprinkling them with some Kosher salt and ground black pepper and the lemon zest. Toss well and try to have all the halves placed cut side down on the baking sheet– this will ensure a crispier finish.
  3. Place the halved tomatoes on another baking sheet, coating them with olive oil, sprinkling them with some Kosher salt.
  4. Bake both sheets for about 30-45 minutes, tossing the contents around after about 20 minutes.  You’ll know the potatoes are done when they’re crispy on the outside and cooked through.  You’ll know the tomatoes are done when they’ve released much of their juices, and appear somewhat shrunken or dried.
  5. Once the vegetables are done, scrape them into a large serving bowl, be sure to get all of the juice from the tomatoes. Add the sliced red onion and olives to the bowl. Squeeze on half the lemon.  Add the parsley and feta (if using), and toss well.  Salt to taste.  If it needs more lemon or olive oil, add accordingly. Serve at room temperature.

Seven Layer Salad

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Growing up, my mom made a version of this salad using iceberg lettuce and lots of mayonnaise, and I can remember all of the grown ups raving about it.  As a kid, I wouldn’t go near it.  It had peas and water chestnuts and a lot of mayo– no way was I eating it!  But now a mom myself, I revisited this childhood staple and lightened it up a bit.  I subbed out the iceberg for romaine.  And, the mayonnaise is just enough to create a dressing without overwhelming the rest of the ingredients. The peas and water chestnuts, I kept. And, they’re delicious!

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 large, crisp head of Romaine lettuce, cleaned, dried and chopped
  • 4 stalks of celery, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 bunch of scallions, sliced
  • 1  10-oz bag of frozen peas
  • 1 can of sliced water chestnuts
  • Light mayonnaise or, if you prefer, plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 6-oz bag of sharp shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • Salt to taste

What To Do:

  1. In a large bowl, begin to layer the ingredients: first the chopped lettuce on the bottom, next the celery, next the scallions, next the frozen peas, next lay the sliced water chestnuts, then use just enough mayo/yogurt to form a thin layer over the water chestnuts, next the shredded cheese, and finally sprinkle the sugar on top. Place in refrigerator until ready to serve.
  2. When ready to serve, toss the layers together, adding the squeeze of lemon and salt to taste.

Baby Kale and Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad

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I love pasta. In the summer, I love pasta salad.  For one thing, you can make it reasonably healthy by adding lots of vegetables and using a whole grain pasta. Secondly, it is such a versatile dish that you can make it different every time.  This particular pasta salad originated during a summer dinner on our screened-in porch in our New Hampshire cottage getaway.  The farm stand happen to be offering kale, and the juiciest grape tomatoes.  I snagged both, combined them with one of my other favorite flavors: sundried tomatoes, and this salad is the result.  It’s in our weekly dinner rotation during the warmer months and a staple at our backyard BBQs.

What You’ll Need:

For the salad:

  • 1 pound of pasta of your choice
  • 12 ounces of grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 5-oz container of baby kale (you can also finely chop Lacinato kale or use baby spinach)
  • 5 to 8-oz of shaved Parmigiano or Romano cheese (or a mixture of both)
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup of sliced sun-dried tomatoes

What to do:

  1. Cook the pasta according to the directions, being sure not to overcook it.
  2. Drain the pasta in a colander and run it under cold water, shake off any excess water.
  3. Toss the cooled pasta with the rest of the ingredients and as much dressing as you like.

For the dressing: Dressing can be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated until ready to serve!

What You’ll Need:

  • 7 oz jar of sundried tomatoes in olive oil
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste (for an extra kick, throw in some crushed red pepper!)

What To Do:

  1. Toss all of the ingredients (yup, the whole jar of the sundried tomatoes and the oil they are packed in!) in a food processor and blend until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste. Whatever dressing you don’t use can be kept in the fridge.  It’s also delicious on a regular tossed salad or on top of grilled chicken.

And, if you happen to be in New Hampshire this summer, you can round out any meal (or begin any day) with THE BEST apple cider doughnuts which you can find at the Chichester General Store in Chichester, NH.  We typically bring home a few dozen for our close friends.

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