This equation for fool-proof summer sides post is sponsored by Head Country BBQ; all opinions are my own.
When it comes to eating in the summertime I think we can all agree that sides BBQ is king (no matter your preferred eating style), and the sides are most definitely the queen. Creating the perfect summertime side is a feat of strength for any cook, but with the right amount of forethought (and a few pantry and fridge staples) you can piece together a fantastic side dish that will perfectly complement whatever deliciousness is being pulled off the grill!
One of the coolest things about being a food blogger for so long (y’all, I never mentioned my blogging anniversary – it’s been 11 years now!) is the fact that I’ve heard from so many of you that you feel freedom to change things out in recipes to meet your dietary needs or the restrictions of what you have on hand. Sometimes this is a mistake – baking recipes especially are a bit of a science, and outcomes can vary on the smallest detail. But most of the time I love that you guys are learning to find your inner chef. It’s all about trying new things, finding that freedom, and going for it.
Today we’re going to expand that freedom a little more and share a great equation for fool-proof summer sides that you can use year-round too!
First things first…
It’s important to keep have in mind what kind of flavor profile you’ll want for your side. Do you want it to have more of a Southwest or Mexican flair? Italian? Asian? All-American smoky barbecue This is the ultimate factor, because once you have the flavor profile in mind you can fit in the other variables to reach that final flavor goal.
Here’s my perfect equation!
It’s going to look a little long, but here it is:
grain/starch + crispy veggies + sweet & juicy + herbs + creamy + crunch + spice + dressing = YOUR FOOL-PROOF SUMMER SIDE!
Don’t worry, we’ll break it all down! First let’s start with spices and dressings because those will be the ultimate in imparting flavor to your side!
The perfect spices for each flavor profile (about 1 tablespoon altogether)
- Southwest or Mexican: chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, coriander (a small amount), oregano, smoked and/or sweet paprika, cayenne pepper, chipotle peppers.
- Italian: dried Italian seasoning, basil, chives, oregano, thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, marjoram.
- All-American smoky barbecue: I like to skip all the amazing spices that go into creating my own spice blend and season my sides with Head Country seasonings. Smoky flavors like smoked paprika, cumin, chipotles, etc. will impart great flavor, although I do love having them already perfectly blended in my Head Country spice bottle.
- Greek or Mediterranean: dill, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, dried citrus peel (only a little bit of this though!)
- Asian: garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, scallions or chives, red pepper flakes, toasted sesame seeds, curry powder.
Now let’s jump into ideas for the rest. You’ll want to make sure to use ingredients that fit the flavor profile you’re going for (i.e. I wouldn’t recommend using basil for a Mexican side), but just think of the possibilities! You could have a different delicious side for every meal – which makes this so fun.
Grains/Starches (about 2 cups cooked)
- Rice (white, brown, short grain, medium grain, long grain, black rice, wild rice, etc)
- Pasta (gluten-free, whole wheat, whole grain, veggie-infused, etc)
- Potatoes (sweet potatoes, white, red, purple, etc)
Crispy veggies (about 2 cups of bite-sized pieces)
- Snap peas
- Shredded or chopped carrots
- Sweet and/or spicy peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Zucchini or yellow squash
- Shredded cabbage
- Onions (green, white, red, yellow, etc)
Sweet & juicy (about 1 cup bite-sized pieces)
- Stone fruit (nectarines, plums, apricots, cherries, peaches, etc)
- Melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, etc)
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc)
Fresh herbs (about 2 tablespoons, chopped)
- Green onions
- Oregano (use sparingly – this is a strong one)
Creamy (about 1/2 cup and can include dressing)
- Goat cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Brie or other soft cheeses
- Beans (black, cannellini, garbanzo/chickpeas, pinto, navy, etc)
Crunchy (about 1/2 cup chopped)
- Nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, coconut chips, pistachios, macadamias, peanuts, etc)
- Seeds (sesame, sunflower, toasted quinoa, etc)
- Pork rinds
This one requires a bonus equation! Below is the general equation I use for most of my dressings, and then I adjust as needed. I always recommend starting off with about 1/4 cup of the dressing, adding more as needed. Remember: you can always add more, but you can’t easily take it out once it’s mixed!
Dressing = 2 tablespoons acid of choice + 2 tablespoons oil of choice + 1/2 teaspoon mustard + 1 clove minced garlic + salt/pepper/seasoning to taste.
It’s important to note that those fresh herbs and yummy spices can be whisked into the dressing OR added into the side before a dressing is added. You choose – remember, you’re the boss of your kitchen!
- Taste as you go. One of the worst things that could happen is if you mix a whole bunch of ingredients together to make something completely inedible. Taste as you go, before you add things to your side, to make sure that your salt and other seasonings are on point.
- Remember to consider refrigeration. There are TONS of ways to mix and match where you don’t need refrigeration, but if you are using a cheese or other animal product then you will need to keep your side cold.
- Keep your flavor profile in mind. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating! Remember your flavor profile – while most things will go together, some just won’t. If you have questions drop ’em in the comments and I’m always happy to give my two cents!
- HAVE FUN! YOU are the boss of your kitchen, and you’ll never learn how to do something unless you try. Take a chance on yourself, and have fun creating something new and incredible. This is your chance to make that side dish everyone craves, the one that’s passed down from generation to generation. YOU GOT THIS!
Now that we’ve listed out the possibilities I’d love to hear what your favorite side dish is! Did you make it up? Is it a family heirloom recipe? And how do you make it your own?! Tell me in the comments below!