5 Tips and Tricks To Jazz up Those Classic Summer Side Dishes

If any week were the week, this is most surely the one for macaroni, coleslaw and potato salad, those classic American side dishes that signal summer to so many. And while there are uncountable variations and favorite ways to fix each, a few simple tweaks can turn an average side dish into something quite extraordinary.

For some reason I can't quite place, I used to have a great fear or mayonnaise. Perhaps it was the high school boyfriend who ate it straight out of the jar or my mild college neurosis regarding anything that contained more than 1.5 grams of fat. But I'm back on board now and making up for lost time, and I've come to love a few of these little tips and tricks to add something special to our side dishes and salads this summer. I'd love to hear yours, too: Do you and your family have any special tweaks that make your potato, macaroni, coleslaw and other favorite sides a little more special?

1) Add Seeds: I'm now dating a man who adds poppy seeds to his coleslaw. At first I thought it odd and now I couldn't imagine coleslaw without them. They add a little color, nice texture and a subtle crunch. Try them. Toasted sesame seeds are really nice in cold salads, too. I've been adding them to my cold noodle salads this summer and love sprinkling them on top of potato salad.

2) Add Herbs: This is an obvious one, I suppose, but I'm a firm believer that you can make the most ho-hum side dish pretty spectacular with just a smattering of fresh herbs. Or worst case scenario, dried herbs can help, too. In the summer, we've been adding lots of fresh parsley, thyme and garlic chives to our side dishes and salads. If you're unsure how much or what herbs to begin with, I advise to just start somewhere. Don't research it too terribly much, just trim what you have in the garden or pick up something that looks vibrant at the market and smell it, taste a little on its own, and think about what it'd be delicious in. You can't go too far astray.

3) Sriracha: This beloved hot sauce is comprised of chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt and is frequently used as a dip or condiment in East Asian restaurants. However, it's had its day in the sun and folks now use it on everything from sandwiches to burritos. Try a few dashes in your next side dish recipe for an extra bit of heat.

4) Citrus Zest: Citrus zest is a cooling, refreshing and invigorating way to liven up a potentially dull side dish or salad. If you've just got white potatoes and mayonnaise to work with, citrus zest will save your potato salad. It wakes up mild vinaigrettes and adds nice layers of flavor to coleslaws, too.

5) Nuts:There's nothing like a toasty crunch to jazz up any side dish or salad. Try toasting sliced almonds or diced hazelnuts and adding them on top of your next salad. They'll add another dimension of flavor along with a little punch of protein.

What are your favorite ways to take the classic summer side dishes over the top?

Related: 10 Takes on Potato Salad

(Image: Nealey Dozer)

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