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On The Side

Create the perfect light summer sides with seasonal produce

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Especially if they’re grilling, people often spend so much time focusing on summer entrées that they put little thought into side dishes-beyond opening a bag of chips, of course. And that’s unfortunate, because Americans get too few fresh vegetables and fruits in their diets as it is, and side dishes are the perfect way to add more.

Emphasizing quick and creative food combinations that take full advantage of summer’s abundance of ripe, fresh produce is an excellent strategy during blazing-hot days when you want to keep cooking to a bare minimum. Having a few flavorful side items on hand can even make a nice, light meal. To prepare low-fuss, seasonal side dishes, try these tips:

  • Make smart use of what you cook.Prepare quick-to-make seasonal vegetables such as green beans or quinoa, both of which can be used in cold dishes later. Chilled cooked green beans can be used on top of green salads, mixed with canned beans and a gluten-free Dijon mustard vinaigrette to make a bean salad, or mixed with olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, and a red wine vinaigrette to make a Greek green bean salad. Quinoa can be used as a gluten-free substitute for wheat-based couscous to make tabouli with fresh parsley, mint, cucumber, green onions, and lemon juice and olive oil. It also can be combined with other ingredients, such as avocado, tomato, peppers, cilantro, and a cumin-lime vinaigrette for a Mexican twist.
  • Use no-cook items as much as possible. Perk up raw vegetable-based sides with flavorful no-cook foods such as olives, avocado, nuts, or seeds. Or make super low-calorie noodle salads with ready-to-use Sea Tangle Kelp Noodles, which have a neutral taste that enhances whatever you combine with them. Kelp noodles are high in thyroid-supportive iodine and are an easy-to-use ingredient for making light, nutritious salads with a unique twist.
  • Add variety with fresh fruit. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, grapes, peaches, and watermelon all are at their peaks this time of year. To make the most of the luscious, refreshing taste of summer, serve these fruits on the side by themselves, use berries or peaches to make a fruit salsa for topping seafood or poultry, or add berries, grapes, or chopped peaches, with goat or feta cheese or toasted nut pieces, to fresh spinach or lettuce side salads.

Refreshing Summer Vegetable Salad*
Makes 4 Salads

This quick and easy-to-prepare salad is bursting with the taste of summer from assorted seasonal vegetables and fresh basil.

10 organic cherry tomatoes, quartered

10 organic pitted Kalamata olives, chopped

1 medium organic cucumber, chopped

¼ organic red pepper, chopped

1 cup organic spinach leaves2 handfuls organic fresh basil

2 Tbs. pine nuts

3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

2 Tbs. organic extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbs. red wine vinegar

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Sea salt & black pepper to taste

  1. Spoon tomatoes, olives, cucumber, and red pepper into medium bowl. Slice spinach and basil into strips, and add to bowl. Add pine nuts, and toss thoroughly.
  2. Whisk together garlic, oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in small bowl. Taste, and adjust seasonings as desired.
  3. Stir dressing into vegetable mixture, and serve immediately or refrigerate for later use.

*Recipe reprinted from the Going Against the Grain Group, 2012.

PER SERVING: 142 cal; 2g pro; 13g total fat (2g sat fat); 6g carb; 0mg chol; 163mg sod; 2g fiber; 2g sugar

Melissa Diane Smith, a nutritionist who specializes in personalizing the gluten-free diet, offers long-distance telephone counseling and coaching services to clients internationally. She is the author of Going Against the Grain and Gluten Free Throughout the Year: A Two-Year, Month-to-Month Guide for Healthy Eating. To learn about her online Going Against the Grain Group or her free newsletter, visit For info about her books and her long-distance consultations and nutrition coaching programs, visit

Copyright ©2011 Melissa Diane Smith. This article and recipe may not be reprinted on other sites without written approval and permission from the author. For more information, please email