Dress up your summer table with these side dishes

Published 11:16 am Sunday, July 25, 2021

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They say if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Try a better way summer is the season for grilling, so keep your cool and take the heat out of the kitchen. Grill the main dish outside, and if you must cook, use the microwave and keep the kitchen cool.

Fortunately, just as the summer temperature rises, so does the availability of fruits, vegetables and herbs that are best served raw and cool. Basically, all these dishes require is shopping, chopping and a little bit of seasoning. And all of these recipes may be made ahead of time.

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When you think of cool side dishes, let your imagination wander beyond salad greens. As much as you love kale (really?), a myriad of ultra nutritious and delicious combinations lie in classic combinations of grains, beans, rice, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and vegetables.

Lean, grilled meats and seafood are a healthy and flavorful choice and are good for you in small quantities, but ounce for ounce, grains, beans and rice are much better sources for complex carbohydrates, fiber and vitamins. And when consumed in certain combinations (beans and rice, for instance) they are a great source of protein. If that sounds bland, think again! These ingredients are found in cuisines worldwide and are the perfect blank canvas for intense flavors.

To season and dress these dishes, you’ll want to keep certain ingredients in your summer pantry. Collect an array of vinegars such as white and dark balsamic, apple cider, sherry and champagne vinegar. Fruity olive oils, as well as a variety of olives, capers and pickles will come in handy. Dried fruits such as cranberries, cherries or raisins also pack a flavor punch. Nuts and seeds not only add texture to a dish but also nutritional value. Honey, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, tahini and pepper sauces are great to have on hand. Fresh ingredients for seasoning include lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit, garlic, onions, peppers and a variety of cheeses.

For quick and easy grains, everything from brown rice to quinoa is available in a microwavable pouch, or you can cook any grain or even pasta in a microwave. To cook pasta in a microwave, place the desired amount in an oversized microwave safe bowl and cover with an inch of water. Add a little salt to the water. Read the box instructions for what the suggested time for cooking is and add three or four minutes. Microwave uncovered on full power. Test for doneness.

To cook rice in the microwave, place 2 cups of rice and 3-1/2 cups of water and a little salt in an oversized microwave safe bowl. Microwave uncovered on high for 10 minutes. Then microwave uncovered on medium-low for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

For quinoa, place the grain and water in a microwavable oversized bowl and cook on high for 5 minutes, then for 8 minutes at 60 percent power.

For tabbouleh, place the desired amount with twice the amount of water in a microwavable over-sized bowl, add a pinch of salt, stir and cover. Microwave on high for approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds and let sit for approximately 7 minutes. 

In my kitchen, I use fresh, dried and canned beans all for different dishes. In summer, I buy fresh peas and beans at the farmers’ market because they are yummy, and they too can be prepared easily in the microwave for cool dishes. But I also keep on hand a variety of canned beans. Check the ingredients for the least amount of preservatives and try to find organic brands that contain only water and salt.

I hope you will enjoy these easy, cool recipes here, and after reading about the ingredients, you will seek out and create new ways to bring these ingredients to your table.