Penne with Corn, Roasted Poblanos, Avocado, and Tomato

If you ask me who does the cooking in my house, I always say it depends on the season. I love to cook so most of the time it’s me, but as soon as grilling season rolls around in the summer, I turn the reins over to my husband. So while he’s outside grilling – usually chicken, fish or homemade burgers – I’m prepping a summery side dish to complement the main event.

Some of my favorite meals are based on simple sides. The flavors of summer produce are so amazing that you don’t need to add much else to get a tasty dish that goes well with just about anything.

My all-time favorite summer sides are pasta salads – just ask anyone who’s ever been to a barbeque at my house and they know! I grew up on my Mom’s Italian cooking so the smell of pasta always takes me back. To me, these are the perfect side dishes that provide filling fiber and protein from the pasta (I use the whole grain varieties), some healthy fats from the oil-based dressings and loads of nutrients from fresh, in-season veggies. I’ve been making this recipe for Penne with Corn, Roasted Poblanos, Avocado, and Tomato for years and it’s become my go-to pasta salad of choice.

Bulgur Salad with Edamame and Cherry Tomatoes
Credit: Photo: Randy Mayor; Stylist: Jan Gautro

Summer is also a great time to experiment with different whole grain-based salads using quinoa or bulgur in place of pasta, like this Bulgur Salad with Edamame and Cherry Tomatoes. The leftovers make for a filling and easy-to-pack lunch you can enjoy during the week.

Grilled Tomatoes with Basil Vinaigrette
Credit: Charles Walton; Styling: Catherine A. Pittman

Grilled summer veggies are also a must this time of year. I have a theory that people are more likely to eat veggies when they have grill marks on them – at least I know that is true in my house! Skewers of veggies served alongside grilled meat or fish always work well together. I love the classic summer combination of tomatoes, balsamic and basil in this recipe for Grilled Tomatoes with Basil Vinaigrette.

Cabbage and Apple Slaw

Cole slaws are not a side dish I grew up with, but I’m learning to love these shredded cabbage salads as an added layer of flavor on tacos and sandwiches. I prefer varieties that incorporate lots of fruit, like this Cabbage & Apple Slaw, for a sweet contrast to the vinegar and an added crunch from the apple.

And sometimes on the hottest of days, the best summer sides are simply those you don’t have to cook at all!