I can’t remember ever celebrating the 4th of July when I was growing up. Perhaps the holiday blended into other summer days of swimming and picnics so that now I don’t remember it as anything special, but whatever the case, I grew into adulthood not realizing that other people actually have special parties and picnics devoted to Independence Day. It wasn’t until I moved to Mississippi and joined a community swimming pool that the pleas of my daughter forced me from the comfort of my air conditioned house into what has to be the most sweltering holiday of the year. Each 4th of July, our pool throws a big party in the very middle of the day. While the children compete in games and contests in the cooling waters of the pool, the parents sit and stand around sweating, competing for the shadiest spots and hoping that the mayo in the potato salad they’re eating hasn’t gone bad.
On a scale of root canal to 10, I give the 4th of July picnic about a 2–better than having a dentist’s hand in my mouth for two hours but less comfortable than a mammogram. But sometimes parents just have to suck it up and brave the heat, mosquitoes, and questionable food for the sake of the kids. If I absolutely have to be out in the heat, I want to be eating the coolest things possible, and for me that means salads.
International Quinoa Salad is perhaps my favorite main-dish salad, and I think it reflects the diversity of our country, making it, to me, a perfect 4th food.
I’m knee-deep in basil at this time of the year, and Asparagus Pesto Pasta Salad is a delicious showcase for the summery flavor of fresh basil.
One of my favorite dishes, Orange Couscous Curry, can be served hot or cold. If you’re avoiding couscous and other pastas, you can make it with millet or quinoa instead.
I don’t want to be anywhere near a grill at noon on a July day, but I know that some people like to get their barbecue on, so here are a few suggestions:
Be sure to make a double–or triple–recipe of these Barbecued Ribz, because even your omnivore friends will want to take a bite. You can also choose to go a little less traditional and make them with Sweet and Sour Orange Sauce instead.
Salad on the grill? Of course, you can’t put lettuce over hot coals (or can you?), but asparagus cooked on the grill or grill pan is a wonderful addition to any salad. Try this Grilled Asparagus with Spinach and Smoked Paprika Dressing, and your taste buds will thank you.
If burgers are your style, these Red Bean-Chipotle Burgers can easily be made on the grill.
Looking for side dishes to complement your burgers? Here are a few light and tasty options:
When it comes time for dessert, nothing says cool and light like fruit. The Red, White, and Blue Fruit Terrine pictured at the top of the page is an impressive yet healthy way to end your holiday meal. But, if it’s going to need to be out in the heat for more than an hour, I recommend something a little less delicate (agar will eventually melt under high heat).
Blueberry Breakfast Cake travels well and has made many an omnivore realize that low-fat vegan cooking can be yummy.
You’ll need to keep them chilled before serving, but these delicious Strawberry-Blueberry Tapioca Parfaits will be the hit of your party.
In the mood for chocolate? Bring this amazing Chocolate-Orange Cake to your celebration and I promise you that no one will know it’s fat-free.
If you’re going to be close to a freezer, there’s no better way to beat the heat than with a frozen dessert, such Almost Instant Frozen Yogurt, pictured above, or Strawberry-Banana Sorbet. If strawberries aren’t available, Ridiculously Easy Pineapple Sorbet is, well, ridiculously easy. Or try it with whatever fruit you like–just make sure it’s frozen solid beforehand. If all you’ve got are bananas, give the classic Banana “Ice Cream” a try.
Hope you all have a great holiday. And to all of my readers in other countries, think of me standing out in the hot sun, watching my daughter try to grab a greased watermelon in a swimming pool, and once you’ve stopped laughing, drink a nice cold glass of wine in my honor. Because no alcohol is allowed at the pool. But later…oh, I’ll make up for it later!