Hold the Mayo

With all due respect to the summer solstice, Memorial Day undeniably heralds the beginning of the American summer, and for those of us in the northern states this is a particularly joyous occasion. Which is why we look forward with great relish to the traditional backyard barbecue, complete with sizzling grill, ice cold homemade lemonade and good friends gathered in the out of doors, free at last of coats and sweaters and snow blowers. What’s not to love? Well, to be perfectly honest, I’m a little tired of the sides - cabbage, potatoes and elbow macaroni covered with mayonnaise. So here are some alternative versions of the standard picnic-table favorites. They taste great, and as an added benefit they free you from the worry of said mayonnaise spoiling in the sun and sending your guests home looking green.

Asian Slaw

  • 4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage
  • 1 cup julienned carrot
  • 1 cup thinly sliced snow peas
  • 1 cup thinly sliced scallions (white and light green parts)
  • 1 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons chili oil (or more to taste)

Toss all slaw ingredients together in a large bowl. Blend all dressing ingredients in a blender of food processor until smooth (a few seconds) and toss with slaw. Can be served immediately but best if covered and refrigerated for an hour or two.

Don’t be frightened by the exotic-sounding ingredients. Most big supermarkets these days carry all of them. And if not, white wine vinegar can be substituted for the rice wine vinegar, a generous pinch of red pepper flakes can be substituted for the chili oil, and you can omit the toasted sesame oil.

Don’t substitute sugar for the honey. The honey helps emulsify the dressing and keep it from separating.

  • Yields: 8-12 servings

Creamy Dijon Potato Salad

  • 2 lbs fingerling or other waxy potatoes
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped shallot
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme

In a large pot of salted water, boil the potatoes whole with skins on until a small thin knife slides easily in and out. This can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes. Average sized fingerlings will take about 20 minutes, but start testing at 15 to avoid overcooking. When cooked, shock the potatoes in an ice water bath to stop them from cooking further and to make them cool enough to handle. Drain and pat dry. Dice or slice as you prefer. Place in large bowl along with celery and onion. Season with salt and pepper.

Whisk all dressing ingredients together until thoroughly blended. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Pour over potatoes and toss gently. Best if refrigerated for several hours and allowed to come back to room temperature before serving.

Notes: Many people cut their potatoes first and then boil, but boiling them whole in their jackets will cause them to absorb less water and hold a better texture for potato salad.

  • Yields: 8-12 servings

Lemon Pasta Salad

  • 16 oz tricolor pasta spirals
  • 1 small red onion sliced thin
  • 1 small red or yellow bell pepper sliced thin
  • 1 cup oil cured black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions, being careful not to overcook. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop further cooking. Place in large bowl and add onion, bell pepper and olives. Season with salt and pepper.

Whisk olive oil and lemon juice together until blended and pour over pasta mixture. Sprinkle with parsley, toss lightly, taste and adjust seasonings.

Notes: If you cannot find oil cured black olives, you can substitute any other good quality black olive such as Kalamata or Nicoise, but oil cured olives have a distinct flavor and texture that works so will in this dish.

  • Yields: 8-12 servings
Happy Memorial Day everyone!