Step up your picnic sides

Summer side dishes are the comfort foods of outdoor get-togethers. Easy to make, filling, and familiar, a classic potato salad or slaw is just the thing to accompany burgers or hot dogs coming off the grill.

But what if your host is springing for Porterhouse or beef tenderloin? Then it’s time to step up your contribution to the party. Try these alternatives:

Instead of mayonnaise-based potato salad:

Boil red new potatoes in salted water, halve them, and arrange them on a platter. Then top with chimichurri, pesto, or vinaigrette and finish with a flake salt, such as Maldon or Jacobsen. Or try this French lentil and potato salad.

Instead of creamy slaw:

Make a vinaigrette with champagne, sherry, or white wine vinegar. Then use a mandoline to shave half a head of red, green, or savoy cabbage into a fluffy mound. Don’t be shy with accompanying ingredients: try a combination of tart apples, lemon or lime juice, pancetta, peas, celery, or chives. This chile and lime slaw will show well on any potluck table (and pairs nicely with a steak).

Instead of rice or quinoa salad:

Cook farro, millet, or pearled barley until just done (it should still be chewy) and dress with a bright vinaigrette while it’s still warm. Then mix in raw or roasted vegetables, fruits, nuts, herbs, and flavor-boosters such as feta or capers. This mixed grain and asparagus salad uses several grains and seasonal ingredients that bridge the transition from spring to summer.