June 26, 2014 at 1:00 am

Headed to or hosting a picnic? Expand the menu with salads

Chill Red, White and Blue Potato Salad for an hour to let its flavors develop. (Matthew Mead / AP)

Summer is most certainly the season for cold salads. A chilled bowl filled with colors and crunch that helps you beat the heat in a beautifully delicious way can be the star of the picnic table. And now that most of us have gotten comfortable with grilling, it’s time to expand the menu and put some pizzazz next to that steak, chop or hot dog.

July Fourth is a little more than a week away (let’s not even think that the holiday marks summer’s halfway point) and if you’re planning a picnic or attending a barbecue, a salad is always a welcome menu choice.

The event can be as simple as a buffet of delicious “dish-up” salads with some great bread and wine, or combine them with the more traditional act of searing a few steaks or kebabs.

Potato salad and coleslaw will never fall out of favor when it comes to picnics, but there are variations on that theme you could offer and wait for the oohs and ahhs even before the fireworks display.

Big ethnic flavors are especially great to meld into summer salads. Grilled kalbi (Korean short ribs) or teriyaki-marinated chicken breast, thinly sliced, is wonderful on top of the Peanut Sesame Noodles to make it an easy, one-dish entree. Start the party with some melon and prosciutto salad served as an antipasto with some sparkling prosecco or cava or a California pinot grigio. I love the sweet-salty-herbal flavor of this salad; it’s so refreshing and so summery.

Mediterranean Cracked Wheat Salad with artichoke hearts and tomatoes is a terrific accompaniment to grilled lamb or chicken. And sweet potatoes paired with grilled corn and black beans is a colorful way to get a delicious dose of vitamins.

Whether you mix-and-match the salads to build a picnic around an international theme or stick to American classics for the holiday, dish up salads that will provide a parade of fabulous flavors.

Melon and Prosciutto Salad with Parmigiano-Reggiano

This colorful appetizer recipe from Cooking Light would be a fine addition to an antipasto spread. Parmigiano-Reggiano provides nutty contrast to sweet melons and mirrors the taste of salty prosciutto.

3 cups (½-inch) cubed honeydew melon (about ½ medium melon)
3 cups (½-inch) cubed cantaloupe (about 1 medium melon)
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into thin strips
½ cup (2 ounces) shaved fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Cracked black pepper (optional)
Mint sprigs (optional)

Combine first 5 ingredients, tossing gently. Arrange on a serving platter. Arrange prosciutto evenly over melon mixture; sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Garnish with cracked black pepper and fresh mint sprigs, if desired. Serves 8.

Per serving: 89 calories; 3 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 20 percent calories from fat); 12 g carbohydrates; 11 g sugar; 8 mg cholesterol; 213 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Sweet Potato, Grilled Corn and Black Bean Salad with Spicy Cilantro Dressing

Recipe from Sara Moulton

1 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch chunks
1 clove garlic
½ chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup seasoned rice vinegar
4 ears corn, husked
15 ½-ounce can black beans, drained
4 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

Heat the grill to medium.

In a medium saucepan fitted with a steamer basket, bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Add the sweet potatoes, cover and steam until just tender, about 8 minutes. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl.

Meanwhile, in a blender, combine the garlic, chipotle, shallot, cilantro and vinegar. Puree until smooth. Taste, then season with salt. When the potatoes are done, pour half of the dressing over them, then toss well. Set aside to cool.

While the potatoes cool, prepare the corn. Mist the corn with cooking spray, then grill, turning often, until the ears are lightly browned in spots on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove the corn from the grill and set aside to cool until easily handled. Cut the kernels from the cobs. To do this, one at a time stand each ear on its wide end, then carefully saw down the length of the cob on all sides. You should have at least 2 cups of kernels.

Stir the corn kernels, beans and scallions into the potatoes, adding additional dressing as desired. Taste, then adjust seasoning. Serves 6.

Per serving: 260 calories; 2.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat; 8 percent calories from fat); 54 g carbohydrates; 17 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 1,250 mg sodium; 9 g protein; 9 g fiber.

Red, White and Blue Potato Salad

Let your patriotism shine with this American-themed salad. Recipe from Alison Ladman

24 ounces small red potatoes, halved or quartered
24 ounces small purple potatoes, halved or quartered
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar, divided
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼cup chopped fresh tarragon
8 ounces goat milk cheddar or gouda, diced
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup diced roasted red peppers

Place the potatoes in a large pot. Add enough water to cover the potatoes by 1 inch. Add a hefty pinch of salt, then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until fork tender, but not falling apart, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes, then spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the vinegar. Set aside to cool completely.

In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of vinegar, the olive oil, mustard and tarragon. When the potatoes have cooled, add them to the bowl, as well as the cheese, blueberries and roasted red peppers. Stir gently to coat with the dressing. Chill for 1 hour to let flavors develop. Serves 10.

Per serving: 250 calories; 11 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat; 40 percent calories from fat); 30 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 25 mg cholesterol; 420 mg sodium; 9 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Cool Rice and Cucumber Salad

Recipe from Deborah Madison’s “The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone”

1 ½ cups long-grain rice
2 or 3 cucumbers, seeded and finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped dill
2 tablespoons chopped mint
¼ cup finely sliced green onion, including some of the greens
¼ cup Champagne or white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup yogurt
Green oakleaf, Boston or butter lettuce leaves, for garnish

Cook the rice as you would pasta: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the rice and cook until it is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Do not overcook or undercook it; the rice should be soft all the way through, but should not be beginning to “explode” at the ends.

Line a jellyroll pan with a kitchen towel. Drain the rice and rinse it quickly under cool water, then spread it over the kitchen towel. Cover with another kitchen towel and gently pat dry.

Meanwhile, put the cucumbers in a large bowl with the parsley, dill and mint. In a small bowl, combine the green onion, vinegar, oil and one-fourth teaspoon salt.

While the rice is still warm, transfer it to a bowl and add the cucumber mixture, dressing and yogurt, and toss gently with a wide rubber spatula. Taste for salt and tartness.

Serve tepid or chilled, mounded on plates and garnished with light green lettuce leaves. Serves 6.

Per serving: 275 calories; 8 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 26 percent calories from fat); 45 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 1 mg cholesterol; 119 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Peanut Sesame Noodles

If desired, grilled kalbi (Korean short ribs) or teriyaki-marinated chicken breast, thinly sliced, can be served on top of these noodles to make an easy, one-dish entree. Recipe from Foodnetwork.com

1 pound dry spaghettini or thin spaghetti pasta
1 cup snow peas, sliced vertically, optional
½ cup chunky or super-chunky peanut butter
13 cup rice wine vinegar
13 cup sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon toasted, Asian-style sesame oil
¼ cup Thai sweet chile sauce (see note)
1 ½ teaspoons finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon finely minced ginger
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, lightly toasted in small pan or in oven
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 large carrot, cut into tiny matchsticks
2 cups bean sprouts
4 green onions, thinly sliced
½ cup salted roasted peanuts, chopped

Note: Thai sweet chile sauce is a sweet and hot sauce that has a translucent quality about it. The label usually says “for chicken” or has a picture of a chicken on it. It is available at well-stocked Asian grocers. This is not the same as the extremely spicy, hot Chinese chile paste.

Break spaghettini in half and cook in boiling water according to package directions until just cooked. Drain pasta and rinse in cold water. Drain very well and set aside.

Bring small pan of water to boil. Add snow peas and count to 5. Drain immediately and rinse in cold water. Drain well.

In large bowl, whisk together peanut butter, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, water, sesame oil, chile sauce, garlic and ginger until smooth.

Add cooked pasta, snow peas, sesame seeds, cilantro, carrot, bean sprouts, green onions and peanuts to dressing. Toss together, coating pasta and vegetables well with dressing. Makes 10 servings.

Per serving: 350 calories; 12.5 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 32 percent calories from fat); 49 g carbohydrates; 9 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 494 mg sodium; 12 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Mediterranean Cracked Wheat Salad

This is a terrific accompaniment to grilled lamb or chicken. Recipe from Foodnetwork.com

1 ¾ cups boiling water
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
1 ½ cups bulgur (cracked wheat)
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 roma tomatoes, diced into ½-inch chunks
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup coarsely chopped marinated artichoke hearts, drained well
1 (15 ½-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
¼ cup minced sweet white onion

Place boiling water, 1 teaspoon salt and rosemary in medium saucepan.

Bring to boil over high heat, then immediately stir in bulgur and remove from heat.

Cover and let stand 1 hour until all water has been absorbed. Uncover and let cool.

In large bowl, mix together remaining teaspoon of salt, lemon juice, pepper and olive oil.

Add tomatoes, parsley, onions, artichokes, garbanzo beans and white onion, along with cooled bulgur.

Mix together well until all ingredients are coated with dressing. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 250 calories; 10 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 37 percent calories from fat); 38 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 831 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 9 g fiber.

Tangy Poppy Seed and Pineapple Coleslaw

This slaw has a thickened dressing and is just perfect to serve alongside barbecue-sauce-slathered ribs and fresh grilled corn. Recipe from Foodnetwork.com

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice
½ teaspoon salt
Dash red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger, optional
13 cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 (1-pound) bag coleslaw greens or 8 cups mixed shredded green and red cabbage
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, grated
1 ½ teaspoons poppy seeds
¼ cup light or regular mayonnaise

In small saucepan, combine crushed pineapple with juice, salt, red pepper flakes, ginger, vinegar, sugar and cornstarch. Whisk together vigorously until cornstarch is dissolved. Place over medium-high heat and bring to boil while constantly stirring.

Cook until dressing is thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Place coleslaw greens, green onions, carrot and poppy seeds in large bowl. Stir mayonnaise into cooled pineapple mixture, then mix into coleslaw, coating salad well. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 120 calories; 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 29 percent calories from fat); 22 g carbohydrates; 12 g sugar; 3 mg cholesterol; 274 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 3 g fiber.


The sweet potatoes in Sweet Potato, Grilled Corn and Black Bean Salad with ... (Matthew Mead / AP)
Adding Korean short ribs or teriyaki-marinated chicken breast can make ... (Foodnetwork.com)