12 Sexy Summer Side Dishes
Summer is in full swing, friends! The sun is shining, the soles of my feet are black from walking in sandals (fellow New Yorkers, you get it), I have at least half an inch of good old humidity frizz on my head, and I’m consuming rosé, watermelon, and grilled things at a somewhat alarming clip. All is right in the world.
While I love many things about naked season summer, the general increase in casual entertaining tops my list. Seeing people barbecuing, potlucking, and picnicking on the reg thrills me, so I thought I’d encourage such activities by providing my best sexy summer side options. From colorful salads and slaws to the most crowd-pleasing mac and cheese, all of these festive recipes can be paired with almost any grilled meat or fish or served as part of a plant-based party spread. Many are also easily prepped ahead and happen to be both packable and sun exposure-friendly should you wish to travel/dine al fresco with them.
So, whether you’re looking to switch up your weeknight side game or are in search of some inspiration for a summer soirée menu, I’m hoping there’s a little something on this list that speaks to you. Get after it.
12 Sexy Summer Side Dishes:
Mexican Street Corn Salad. This salad has the epic flavor profile of street corn, but it’s a little lighter and fresher thanks to omitting the devil’s condiment mayo, and adding some chiles and lots of crispy bacon. Each bite is a fiesta flavor explosion that’s smoky, sweet, and slightly spicy with a refreshing citrus tang. Perfect for pairing with just about any protein you can think of or added to a “smorgasbord salad” plate.
Quinoa Broccoli Slaw. Light and tangy with a killer crunch, this slaw is a delightfully versatile, surprisingly crowd-pleasing side for any and all summer soirées. Don’t even get me started on all the glorious health benefits. (Fiber and antioxidants out the wazoo, people.)
Pasta Salad with Arugula, Roasted Red Peppers, and Sweet Corn. I think this terrifically tasty, highly textured pasta salad has serious potential as a summer side staple. Roasted red peppers and sweet corn is a killer smoky-sweet combo, baby arugula provides necessary, good-for-you greenery with a peppery kick, and fresh basil and goat cheese brighten things up. A generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar pack a serious flavor punch while also keeping things light, bright, and (perhaps most importantly) sun exposure-friendly for those who love to picnic/bbq al fresco.
Grilled Watermelon with Jalapeños, Feta and Honey. If you’ve never tried grilled watermelon, that needs to change immediately. It’s a warm weather revelation, friends. Brushing thick slices of melon with a little bit of olive oil, adding a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper, and then throwing them on a very hot grill for a couple minutes does wonders for this glorious summer staple. The melon takes on a subtle smoky flavor that actually intensifies its sweetness, elevating the fruit to insane levels of deliciousness in 4 minutes flat. With the addition of savory feta, spicy jalapeños and honey, this side (or festive cocktail hour treat!) becomes particularly sexy.
Arugula and Farro Salad with Cherries and Goat Cheese. I’m on a perpetual cherry kick during the summer months, and they’re particularly magical when tossed with creamy goat cheese, peppery arugula, cool mint and spicy red onions in this nourishing salad. Farro provides some necessary heft, and the whole shebang is tied together with a maple-sweetened citrus dressing. It tastes like summer and happiness. Chilled rosé recommended.
Zucchini Noodle Salad with Spicy Almond Dressing. Bright, fresh and unbelievably textured, this vegetable noodle salad is a serious flavor party with plenty of feel-good benefits. (The amount of fiber and antioxidants packed into each vegetarian serving is quite impressive.) And please mentally prepare yourself for the wonders of the spicy almond dressing.—it’s almost guaranteed to become one of your favorite dressings/sauces/condiments.
Roasted Potato Salad with Pancetta, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Arugula. The heat from the crispy roasted potatoes helps them soak up the simple vinaigrette and gently wilts the arugula in this “salad,” which is a truly magical thing. Sun-dried tomatoes lend just the right amount of toothsome sweetness and acidity into the mix, and between the crispy potatoes and pancetta, there’s plenty of crave-worthy crunch.
Summer Kale Salad with Strawberries and Avocado. I like to think this massaged kale salad with creamy avocado, juicy strawberries, crunchy toasted pine nuts, and goat cheese is the belle of the summer salad ball. She dances well with almost any protein partner, but I’m partial to a simple grilled chicken paillard or flank steak.
Summer Vegetable Quinoa Bake. This killer casserole is loaded with all of summer’s finest produce—zucchini, summer squash, corn, red bell pepper, and juicy cherry tomatoes—your favorite trendy whole grain, and…count it….THREE cheeses. Goat cheese lends its signature creamy tang, Fontina acts as the requisite melt-y staple, and Parmesan gets folded into the garlicky panko topping for a lil extra savory fun. It can absolutely be served as a meatless meal, but I’m partial to it as a satisfying side for summer entertaining since it can be prepped in advance (just hold off on the top layer of cheese and panko) and baked just before serving.
Roasted BBQ Cauliflower Salad. This showstopping rainbow-hued salad is fantastic alongside almost any meat or fish, especially cilantro-lime grilled chicken, grilled herb shrimp, and marinated skirt steak. Fun fact: You can prep the salad several hours in advance—just keep the BBQ cauliflower separate and wait to slice your avocado—and then dress it whenever you’re ready to serve.
Chipotle Mac and Cheese with Bacon. This mac was amongst the first recipes ever posted on this blog, and while the pictures may not be the sexiest, I stand by it being one of my finest culinary creations. It is creamy, cheesy, smoky, bacon-y perfection, and I urge you to whip it up for a crowd at least once this BBQ season.
Grilled Eggplant with Fresh Mozzarella, Tomatoes and Basil Vinaigrette. Simple and delicious, this grilled eggplant situation is my favorite “rustic chic” side. I know eggplant is divisive, and I get it. It can often come out undercooked and spongy, or overcooked, oily and flavorless. But this perfectly grilled eggplant might just convert an eggplant hater or two. With the right amount of olive oil and a little bit of salt, the grilled rounds become lightly brown on the outside and amazingly creamy on the inside. Paired with fresh mozzarella, diced tomatoes, and a bright basil vinaigrette, it’s the ultimate summer taste treat and can be served in a variety of exciting ways (on grilled bread! individual stacks! on a platter!). Try it.
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Where do you get your contortionist avocados? That’s a mind-blowing twist-o-cado on your barbecued cauliflower salad. Bootiful garnish.
A few years ago, I committed to mastering the “avocado rose.” Juuuust when I figured it out, the trend died, but I still think it’s rather fetching. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRofXXOA8pE
You’ve got several recipes here I want to try. Looking forward to them.
Yay! I hope you find some new winners. Happy summer, Susan!