Fourth of July Fare

By Natalie R. Toney, M.F.A.,C.H.,
Healthy Planet Food Editor

Independence Day is on the horizon, with grills getting fired up for BBQ’s, and celebrations in full force across the land. Where to go? What to wear? What to make, and what to bring?  Here are a few fun, healthy fare ideas for the Fourth, or for any outdoor soirée you will be hosting, or attending. Mouthwatering main and side dishes, desserts, and beverages that are easy to prep on the spot, or take on the go, and also hold up in the heat of the day!

In lieu of the traditional hamburger or hot dog(in St. Louis, the pork steak of course), try grilled zucchini and yellow squash cut longways, brushed with oil and sea salt. or turn zucchini into “boats”,  by hollowing the insides about 3/4 through, dicing up remaining veggie in bottom to include in the filling, and add grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, and a balsamic and oil drizzle along with any other seasoning. If desired, pre-cooked rice or meat can be added as well,  and grill until warmed through, cheese is soft and melted. Squash “boats” can be filled with the same or black beans, tomatoes, rice, cilantro, and cheese. Mushrooms, broccoli, shredded carrot, cabbage with a dash of soy sauce(or substitute), ginger, and honey, or teriyaki is another flavorful alternative. If hotdogs and hamburgers are indeed on the menu, there are now several plant based versions(I suggest looking through the ingredients to be sure everything is compatible with dietary needs-also, not all “plant based”foods are equal!), with options such as gluten-free buns, or lettuce wraps. Grilled cauliflower steaks, portobellos, and eggplant always make for a hearty main, or turned into a sandwich as well. An array of kebabs, with veggies, proteins, along with grilled fruits such as pineapple, mango, pears, and peaches, has something for everyone.

I can make a meal out of side dishes alone, especially at a party offering an assortment of salads and appetizers. Mix sweet, golden, and purple potatoes, add dill, coriander, or any other seasonings and spices, to oil and vinegar for a bit of a twist on the basic potato salad. Curry and cumin, or cayenne give some flair as well, as does adding in a bit of onion, red pepper, and/or any other vegetables. Mustard, or stone ground mustard will give some zest, though adjust the other flavors accordingly. Make a gluten-free pasta salad with rotini, broccoli, grape tomatoes, olives, fresh basil, oregano, olive oil, and balsamic or red wine vinegar. Caprese salads(fresh mozzarella, tomato, balsamic, and basil)also keep well while gathering on a deck or patio. A colorful slaw is always a nice palate cleanser, and can be made with purple and green cabbage,  shredded carrots, broccoli or broccolini, a little bit of kale, cranberries, vinegar, and lemon juice. Slice English cucumbers (dry thoroughly)and toss with apple cider vinegar, sea salt, agave, or honey. Fresh Spring rolls are a crowd favorite, can be filled with any combination of healthy proteins and vegetables, and paired with a favorite sauce or two.

As much as I enjoy grazing an appetizer table, I just might enjoy perusing the desserts more! A nibble of this, bite of that…you know, just a taste here and there!Charcuterie boards are the thing now, and desserts lend themselves perfectly to the concept. Arrange various fruits, cheeses, jams, cookies, shortbreads, crackers, cakes, tempered chocolates, (high quality/high % dark chocolate will also take longer to melt than milk choc. ), coconut cream, or other non-dairy cream spread for DIY dessert fun!A mixed berry tart, or individual berry tarts, with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, is a standard favorite for the Fourth. Use lemon pie filling, or non-dairy whip cream, (can blend berries into the whip cream which is great if making a berry parfait topped with mint!)and a gluten-free crust for variation. Dazzle everyone with a watermelon”cake”,  by removing the rind, cut into shape, and frost with whipped cream(or leave un-frosted, and decorate with berries. Watermelon fruit pizzas can be made by leaving the rind on, slicing into rings, also decorating with whipped cream “cheese”,  fruit toppings, then cut into triangle pieces(or maybe rectangles for St.  Louis style!).

What’s a poolside party, or patio picnic without beverages? There’s nothing like a Pina Mocklata(or Colata, if you add rum), with coconut milk, coconut cream, and blended frozen pineapple on a summer day!Or freeze some watermelon and make granita!Toss some blueberries and raspberries into a pitcher of Iced Ginger Mint Green tea, or lemonade, for extra antioxidants. Sparking, or regular water with mixed berries is a flavorful and festive way to stay hydrated during warmer temperatures. Fun in the sun, or gazing at fireworks in the evening sky, there will be plenty of culinary delights to keep everyone happy from day until night!

*The above are suggestions and not based on any one particular dietary guideline. Please modify to suit personal needs, allergies, and as always consult physician regarding specific medical conditions.