The Fourth of July weekend is one during which most of us go back to our roots. It's a time for backyard picnics, bunting-filled nostalgia and parade watching.
Whether your holiday picnic is built around a batch of hot dogs and hamburgers tossed onto the backyard grill, a big platter of home-fried chicken or even a good thick steak, it's what goes with it that counts. Change the meat course at will . . . but a genuine nostalgic Fourth of July celebration just won't count unless there's at least one big bowl of crisp coleslaw and a steaming pot of baked beans. Other accoutrements also are standard at most friendly gatherings of this sort. Potato salad, fruit salad, deviled eggs--all are foods that, in name at least, are standard American picnic fare.
Standard as they may be, however, there's no need for the flavors to be ho-hum. So if you're in a rut when it comes to whipping out some slaws and beans and salads, the following suggestions will add a touch of the unexpected to an otherwise simple and prosaic alfresco menu.
The nicest part about most of these popular side dishes is that they can--and usually should--be made ahead . . . some to chill, and others, such as the beans, to mellow.
So what's new about today's suggestions? Well, for one thing we've updated a slaw or two by combining the flavors of several different cuisines with the basic ingredients found in classic slaws. We added shiitake mushrooms, Chinese peas and water chestnuts to red and green cabbage and then tossed the mixture with an elegant rice vinegar and ginger-flavored dressing for one slaw that was beautiful to both see and sample. The result was a big hit with our tasters.
Candied walnuts, apricots and oranges were used to flavor still another slaw that also drew a favorable reception. A baked bean recipe that earned kudos from our tasters combined the beans with apples and onions, producing a sweetness that was greatly enhanced by a spicy touch provided by horseradish and chili powder.
Even deviled eggs were given a special treatment in honor of the holiday when we began making plans for a celebration. Avocado and green onions were mixed with the egg yolk, and a bit of pickle juice added flavor to one version of this popular picnic item.
All of these recipes are simply variations on old favorites, but we think they're variations well worth trying over the Fourth. With these suggestions, your annual picnic may look the same, but it certainly will have a different flavor.
MIDWESTERN BAKED BEANS
1 pound small dry white beans
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon horseradish
1/2 pound ham, cubed
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup catsup
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoons oil
3 onions, sliced
2 cups sliced apples
Soak beans overnight in water to cover. Drain. Add 10 cups fresh water and salt. Bring to boil. Simmer until tender about 1 hour. Add additional water, if needed.
Drain, reserving 2 cups liquid. Add reserved liquid to beans along with brown sugar, garlic, horseradish, ham, tomato sauce, catsup, mustard and chili powder.
Heat oil in skillet and saute onions and apples until tender. Stir into beans. Pour into 3-quart baking dish or bean pot. Bake at 325 degrees about 1 hour or until hot and bubbly. Makes about 8 servings.
Note: Beans may be made a day or two ahead and reheated before serving.
8 cups shredded spinach leaves
2 cups mixed alfalfa and bean sprouts
3 yellow squash, cut into crinkle-cut slices
1 cup small pitted black olives
1/2 red onion, cut julienne
10 slices bacon, crisply fried and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, crushed
5 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
Combine spinach, sprouts, squash, olives, red onion and bacon in large bowl. Heat garlic, vinegar, sugar and olive oil in small saucepan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss into spinach mixture. Serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
6 apricots, halved and seeded
1/2 cup sugar
10 to 12 walnut halves
6 cups shredded cabbage
4 oranges, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Poach apricot halves 3 minutes in small amount of water. Drain and cool.
Heat sugar over low heat in skillet, without stirring, until caramelized. Remove from heat and quickly dip each walnut half into caramel to coat. Set walnuts aside to cool.
Combine cabbage, oranges and apricots in bowl. Toss with Dressing. Season to taste with salt. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and candied walnut halves. Makes 6 servings. Dressing
1/4 cup oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
Dash black pepper
Combine oil, salt, sugar, vinegar and pepper to blend. Chill, if desired.
4 cups shredded green cabbage
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1 cup sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 cup diagonally sliced Chinese pea pods
1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and sliced
1/2 cup diagonally sliced green onions
1 cup whole almonds, toasted