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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Righteous summer sides...party on!

Burgers. Beer. BBQ. Bathing suits. Wait….

Why can’t we eat like this in the winter, when we can layer on our forgiving sweaters? Instead, we’re expected to cram ourselves full of fattening deliciousness then prance around half naked. In front of people. Awesome.

“I’ll have the grilled chicken,” I say, rather self-righteously. There. I did it. I ate healthy at a summer party. But then, as I look down at my plate, the realization hits me. I’ve crowded out my modest chicken breast with potato salad, baked beans, dessert and frozen beverages. All of a sudden, I don’t feel so righteous.

There are things you can eat at a party without falling off the diet wagon. But how do you do it without offending anyone? You can’t exactly pack your own meal. Here are some tips just in time for the July 4th celebration.

Scenario One – You’re Invited to the Party

  • Opt for chicken breast if you can. If that isn’t an option, load your burger (sans bun!) with tomatoes, mustard, pickles and onions instead of mayo and cheese. Same for hot dogs – no chili cheese dogs for me!

  • Were you asked to bring something? I always volunteer to bring the veggie tray and a healthy dip or salsa. That way, I know there will be one available. Munch away!

  • Go for corn on the cob instead of baked beans or potato salad. Yes, I know that corn is starchy and I don’t usually recommend it. But it’s so hard to resist in the summer…and it’s a lot better than sugar and bacon filled baked beans or mayo-laden ‘tater salad. Easy on the butter.

  • Watermelon? Yes, please! Opt for fruit instead of dessert.

  • If beer is your only option, go for light beer and alternate with bottles of water. If you have a choice, go for a spritzer – white wine mixed with a diet lemon-lime soda is great!

Scenario Two – You’re the Host. The possibilities are endless ….here are a few that will have your guests raving!

  • These Unfried Green Tomatoes are my go-to party pleaser. And they’re healthy! Perfect for a party “out yonder.” Sometimes you can find green tomatoes at the grocery store (at least here in Charleston!), but your best bet is to pull them off the vine in your garden. That’s all they are – regular ole’ unripe ‘maters!

  • Want a fancy-pants side that’s super easy? Wrap a few stalks of baby asparagus with some prosciutto, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and throw the little bundles on the grill. YUM. The salty prosciutto gets crispy and the asparagus gets a lovely grilled flavor.

  • Having a pot luck? Fool your guests with makeover Mac ‘n Cheese. They’ll never guess the secret ingredient and the kids will be too busy noshing to notice.

  • You can’t go wrong with a green salad. You can go wrong with too much creamy dressing. Who wants that in the hot sun, anyway? My trick? Mix a bit of salad vinegar with a few tablespoons of the liquid/brine from the banana pepper or pepperoncini jar, add a drizzle of olive oil and a little water to cut the vinegar bite, and stir. Drizzle over salad and toss about 5 minutes before your guests dig in. It is surprisingly good! Try it like this!

  • Kabobs. Nothing says summer like food on a stick! Just remember to skewer your kabobs according to cooking time. Alternating chicken cubes with tomatoes and mushrooms may look nice, but you’ll end up with a bunch of mush once your chicken finally cooks. Stick to one food type per stick, stagger grilling times, and you’ll be fine – instant side dishes!

  • Put out a whole grain pasta salad that will knock their socks off. Cooked whole wheat pasta (I like corkscrews) mixed with blanched snow pea pods tastes amazing with a bit of Greek yogurt to bind it all together. Finish it with a generous amount of tarragon and a sprinkle of sea salt. You’ll find yourself hoping for leftovers to take to work! Sub out the pasta for leftover grilled chicken and you’ll have the tarragon chicken salad from The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook. Delish!

  • Room for dessert? Pre-slice somewhat firm peaches or nectarines, then throw them directly onto the grill. After a few minutes, they’ll have lovely grill marks and the caramelized flavor will be perfect alone or over vanilla frozen yogurt. If you put a drip pan below them, you’ll have instant syrup, too!

  • Fauxjitos. ‘Nuff said.

Find more delicious ideas in The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook. Enjoy!