The fragrance of barbecue fills the air on Memorial Day weekend, a time for backyard parties where delicious side dishes are almost more important than the main course. The Memorial Day picnic features comfort foods, such as hamburgers and hot dogs, that have become part of our national identity. But it is highlighted by a wide array of side dishes reflecting America's cultural diversity. Traditional, grilled dishes move over to one side of the paper plate to make room for bruschetta, grilled vegetables, salads and gingery Chinese kabobs.
Backyard parties are perfect for finger foods that guests can nibble on as they mingle. Many guests prefer lighter fare in the summer. Here are a few tasty choices to consider, including ones with lower-fat ingredients.
The Easy Appetizer Recipes website offers a simple recipe for a low-fat feta cheese dip that is lightly seasoned with fresh dill and garlic. Add a thin layer to cucumbers sliced in rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Top each slice with a tiny bit of basil pesto that can be homemade or bought from a store.
Spear tiny bocconcini (mozzarella balls) on either side of a grape tomato on a toothpick. Make a marinade to drizzle over these mini skewers. For a small platter, mix 3 tablespoons of fresh, finely chopped basil, 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.
Middle Eastern garbanzo (chickpea) dips are yummy with pita bread or chips as well as crudités, such as broccoli florets, baby carrots and small celery slices. The Mama's Lebanese Kitchen website provides an easy recipe based on pureeing garbanzos, garlic cloves, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and simple seasonings.
Wedges of pineapple, bell peppers and onions form a flavorful combination when grilled on skewers with small chunks of pork. The My Recipes website marinates the pork in pureed pineapple, soy sauce, ginger, mirin (Japanese rice wine) and sesame oil.
Bread dipped in seasoned olive oil is an Italian appetizer called bruschetta. The She Knows Food & Recipes website offers a variation in which a white bean puree is layered on thick slices of toasted French bread and sprinkled with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Eating Well decreases the fat and calories in its recipe for deviled eggs by mixing the yolks with non-fat cottage cheese and low-fat mayonnaise. Chives, pickle relish, mustard and a bit of salt give the eggs zip.
Innovative picnic salads and grilled vegetables liven up the Memorial Day menu. Each of these recipes has an unusual twist, whether it is a low-fat variation on a traditional favorite or an unexpected bite of hot pepper in potato salad.
Eating Well describes its recipe as a "makeover of a Midwestern classic." Others sometimes call this make-ahead dish "refrigerator salad," because it tastes best after being refrigerated overnight. Layers of shredded romaine lettuce, peas, bell pepper and tomatoes are topped with a creamy low-fat dressing, then sprinkled with basil, bacon bits and shredded cheese.
The Group Recipes website offers contributions from cooks around the nation. This healthy recipe from a Seattle cook marries the flavors of black beans, sweet corn, chopped tomatoes, onions and avocado chunks in a bit of olive oil, lime juice and cilantro.
The Backyard Smoker Barbecue Chef website adds kick to its potato salad with a small amount of chipotle chilies in adobo sauce. Chipotles are dried, smoked jalapenos; they develop a sour-sweet flavor when mixed in a tangy adobo red sauce containing garlic, bay leaves, oregano and other spices.
Southern Living Magazine offers two low-fat versions of America's favorite picnic salad. Lemon juice, a small amount of olive oil, and the peppery snap of fresh parsley dress up red potatoes in its "Lemony Potato Salad" recipe. Its "Herbed Potato Salad" is a bit more traditional with a dressing of vinegar, low-fat yogurt and small quantities of mayonnaise and olive oil. Fresh dill gives it a pleasant pickle flavor.
Michael Chu's detailed article at the Cooking for Engineers website is illustrated with step-by-step photos showing cooks how to steam, grill and eat artichokes, which are rich in dietary fiber. When eating them, dip the fleshy part of the leaves in a pesto sauce or creamy dip.
The first step in grilling corn in its husks is to briefly soak the corn in cold water. The What's Cooking America website recipe brushes the corn with olive oil and adds herbs before closing the husks and placing them on the grill.