When we fire up the barbecue, the grill is often tricked out with a variety of meats. Steak, chicken, seafood, burgers, hot dogs, ribs, chops and sausages, all just waiting for the perfect companion side dish.

Keep things simple, and keep yourself out of a hot kitchen and outside with the rest of the gang. It’s really not necessary to serve a different side dish for every meat you are grilling.

As yummy as they are, we do have options beyond slices of watermelon, corn on the cob and classic potato salad. Carbs and fruit can easily become part of your salad fixings.

A variety of summer salads pair perfectly with any number of meats you might enjoy serving.

Digging into a cool, crisp salad on a hot summer day does not have to be as boring as a bowl of lettuce with some salad dressing.

It’s easy to use the bounty of fresh and colorful seasonal produce to create tasty side dishes or a meal-in-one dinner salad, with minimal or no cooking.

A few steps, using creative ingredients that burst with flavor will result in an impressive summer salad that your family and friends will request again and again.

For your next summer gathering, or dinner for the family, get the grill ready and prepare two or three different salads to enjoy.

A little salad history, just for fun. The word “salad” comes from the Latin sal (salt), and then became salata meaning salted things.

In old French, the word is salade and then in England during the 14th century we see the word “salad” appear.

The U.S. has contributed over the years to classic salads. An Italian chef from Chicago, Illinois in the 1930s created the first ceasar salad, while the Cobb salad was created at the famous Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood in 1937.

Although salads have obviously been on the menu for centuries, their reinvention seems to be never ending.

I hope you will try one of these summer salad recipes, which may just inspire you to invent one of your own.

Diane’s La Panzanella

(Italian Bread & Tomato Salad)

Serves 8-10

1 pound loaf crusty Italian bread, at least 3 days old (I use Pugliese)

6 large very ripe tomatoes

1 cup cucumber (usually 1 large cucumber)

3/4 cup red onion, julienne sliced

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I use Regina Grove)

3 Tbsp. authentic balsamic vinegar

12 fresh basil leaves

1/2 tsp. salt

Cut bread into 1-inch cubes, about 8 cups.

Using bread that is days old is very important. French or sourdough breads don’t work for La Panzanella.

Cut tomatoes into bite-sized chunks and place in large bowl. Be sure to use all the great juices and scoop this in the bowl, as well. Sprinkle with salt.

Pour olive oil and balsamic evenly over tomatoes. Keep covered at room temp for minimum 90 minutes. Longer is okay.

Peel cucumber and seed. Cut into bite sized chunks and set aside.

Here’s a hint to remove the bitterness from a cucumber. Cut one end of the cucumber off and rub the two open ends together until you see a slight film created. This is simply food chemistry and really does work to get rid of any bitterness.

Julienne slice red onion as thinly as you possibly can.

Wash and pat dry basil leaves. Tear into shreds

One hour prior to serving, place bread into a large bowl. Cover bread with cucumber, onion and shredded basil leaves. Pour tomato mixture over bread and toss with your hands to coat all the bread in the liquids. Cover the bowl for 1 hour.

Note: This recipe is only as good as the olive oil you use.

Watermelon Salad

Serves 6

2 cups 1-inch cubes seeded cold watermelon

2 cups coarsely chopped seeded ripe tomatoes

1 medium red onion, julienne slice

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil

1/2 peeled and seeded cucumber, diced

6 oz. diced Mozzarella Fresca cheese

Dressing

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (I use Grove 45)

1 Tbsp. authentic balsamic vinegar (not wine vinegar)

1 Tbs. amber maple syrup

Salt and pepper to taste

Place salad ingredients in large bowl. Prepare dressing and whisk until well blended. Pour dressing over salad and toss. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately after dressing.The acids in the dressing will cause the melon to release excess liquids if dressed in advance of serving.

Pesto Potato Salad

Serves 4

3 medium to large Yukon Gold potatoes

3 whole green onions

1/2 large cucumber

1 heaping Tbsp. capers

1/3 cup sliced canned black olives

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1 heaping 1/2 cup pesto sauce

Sea Salt and pepper to taste

Boil potatoes in salted water just until fork tender. I suggest doing this late evening or early morning so that you are not cooking during the heat of the day. Refrigerate the cooked potatoes until ready to assemble the salad.

Peel cooled potatoes and cut into chunky cubes. Place in mixing bowl.

Peel cucumber. Use spoon to scoop out seeds and coarsely chop.

Slice greens onions wafer thin, including the greens.

Thinly slice black olives.

Add green onions, cucumbers, olives and capers to potato chunks. Add pesto sauce and toss well until all ingredients are evenly coated.

Salt and pepper to taste. Serve well chilled.

Cowboy Caviar

Note: Thanks to my daughter Danielle for sharing her recipe. She enjoys serving this with tortilla chips.

Serves 8-10

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 tsp. Tabasco

1 1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 clove fresh garlic—finely minced

1/8 tsp. pepper

2 ripe avocado, cut into small cubes

15 oz. can black eyed peas, rinsed

11 oz. can corn, rinsed

1/3 cup green onion, chopped, including greens

1/3 cup cilantro, finely chopped

1/2 lb. Roma tomatoes, chopped

Mix first five ingredients together. Add avocado chunks and marinate 1 hour. Mix all remaining ingredients together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When I was in France in April, I was asked to prepare something typically California for the staff. I opted for Mexican food and prepared the Cowboy Caviar as a side dish with burritos.

I could not find any black-eyed peas in France, so I used chick peas instead, and when more people showed up for lunch than expected I added another can of corn and a half a can of sliced black olives to expand the dish.

The substitution of olives and added corn worked nicely; and I really liked this as a side dish. I immediately thought it would be great with grilled meats.

With the added ingredients this dish served 15.

Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit letsgocookitalian.com or ila-chateau.com/cook-italian for more information.

Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit letsgocookitalian.com or ila-chateau.com/cook-italian for more information.

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