Better than Potato Salad

So far, we have been talking about the main course of a grilled dinner, but frankly, my favorite dishes at a barbecue are the side dishes. I love a good potato salad as much as anyone – mayonnaise based, not mustard! – with hard boiled eggs, green onions, beautifully boiled red or gold potatoes, and bacon bits.

Okay, I’m drooling a bit, here.

BUT! Potato salads, macaroni salads, sweet baked beans, cole slaw – these traditional barbecue side dishes are delicious and high in fat, calories, and cost and low in vegetables, healthy grains, and frugality. Okay, potato salad can be really cheap, but not if it is the really good stuff, right? But there are alternatives. Even when you are invited to a potluck or block party.

You can bring a side dish that is healthy, tasty, and fits in your budget. I’m going to give you a few ideas, but I’m also going to talk about how to modify it to fit your tastes. My family likes Asian inspired flavors, so the following recipes work very well for us. They are summery, modular, and frugal.

First, start with a salad dressing. This is my Asian Sesame dressing. It costs a lot to buy the ingredients the first time, if you don’t already have them, but sesame oil packs a lot of flavor punch in small amounts, so it lasts a LONG time. This recipe is a basic starter, which can be added to depending on what you have in your pantry: garlic, ginger, orange juice, etc. It also scales up and down well.

Asian Sesame Dressing
8 servings, 5 minutes, $0.11-$0.36/serving

2 T. sesame oil
2 T. soy sauce
1 T. rice wine vinegar (can sub. reg. white vinegar)
1 T. sugar
2 T. sesame seeds

Measure all ingredients, except sesame seeds, into a jar, close tightly and shake. Or whisk in a bowl. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top of finished dish.

Making this with rice wine vinegar ups the price a little, but what can really kill your budget on this is to purchase a little ounce of sesame seeds in the spice aisle for $2.97 versus buying it in the bulk spice section for $4.59/pound.

Once you have your dressing, you have several options:

Asian Cole Slaw
8 servings, 15 minutes + 2 hours, $0.29-$0.54/serving

8 servings dressing
1 1/2 pounds cabbage (one smallish head), shredded
2 green onions, sliced on a diagonal

Toss cabbage with dressing until well coated. This will not be drippy. Sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds. Chill for at least a couple of hours for best flavor.

Asian Pasta Salad
8 servings, 30 minutes + 2 hours, $0.36-$1.39/serving

8 servings dressing
2 pounds noodles
1 red bell pepper (optional)
1/2 pound sliced ham (optional)
2 cucumbers (optional)
2 carrots (optional)

Boil noodles according to packages. Peel and chop vegetables into matchsticks. Cut ham into strips. Toss everything together and chill for at least 30 minutes, 2 hours would be best.

This pasta salad is my take on Hiyashi Chuka, a Japanese summer meal. At it’s most basic, it is purely starch with just tastily dressed noodles. If your budget allows, though, this really sings (and can be a light lunch on its own) by adding the additional veggies and a little ham. You can use regular linguine noodles (which I found for $1/16 oz.), organic whole wheat noodles (which I found for $1.16/13.25 oz.), or even ramen noodles if that is what is in your budget.

This dressing is also great on boiled edamame, green salad with mandarin orange segments and almond slivers, and even as a meat marinade. But you can create similar dishes using any salad dressing that you prefer. Is Italian your favorite? Try a lightly tossed tomato salad instead of cole slaw, or a pasta salad filled with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella.


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