Refresh summer sides with easy updates - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Refresh summer sides with easy updates

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Judy A. Toth is the owner of Simply Impressive Cooking School in Mesa. Reach her at (480) 654-1981 or

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Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 4:30 am | Updated: 9:52 am, Mon Aug 13, 2012.

I love to eat outdoors during the summer, and I gravitate toward “picnic food.” But after a while, how many times do you want to eat potato salad or coleslaw? After all, it doesn’t matter where you buy it — it always tastes the same. However, if you think about it, you can take these plain, boring dishes and switch them up to make them new again.

For example, rather than serving traditional coleslaw, how about making an Asian-style salad? A few pantry ingredients (rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, vegetable oil) and some standard Asian seasonings create a unique salad. For extra crunch, add sunflower seeds or sliced almonds. Now, that’s not your mama’s coleslaw, is it?

Are you tired of potato salad? Let’s change that up, too. I like to dice potatoes and roast or grill them. Then I pour an Italian dressing over the potatoes, stir in some minced garlic and onions, and top with minced fresh parsley. Yum! Mama’s not here, either.

Rather than serving plain fruit, make an interesting fruit salad. Cut up your fruit, and top it with a dressing made of orange juice, honey and ginger. It changes the whole character of fruit salad. Don’t forget to try out some interesting fruit, too. My latest favorite is dragon fruit, which is available at Mekong Market in Mesa and AJ’s Fine Foods stores around the Valley.

Are you bored with baked beans? I thought so. How about taking a can of your favorite baked beans and adding chopped peaches and bacon or cheese? It sure updates an old favorite. Black beans make a wonderful side dish, too. I love to add a Southwestern vinaigrette to black beans, along with corn, tomatoes, onion and avocado. Garnish with cilantro and serve chilled or room temperature.

We serve a lot of salsa here in Arizona, but you can switch that up, too. Have you tried making fruit salsas? Grilled pineapple salsa is perfect with chips or served on fish, chicken or pork. It’s equally good eaten by itself.

As you can see, it’s really easy to switch things up and turn boring into exciting. How do you jazz up your side dishes? Email me your thoughts or leave a comment under this story online.

• Judy A. Toth is the owner of Simply Impressive Cooking School in Mesa. Her column appears the second Wednesday of the month. Reach her at (480) 654-1981 or

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