Summer Veggie Lovin'

I'm not the kind of girl that turns down a dinner invitation... especially in the summer time! There is something magical and wonderful about dining al fresco that fine-tunes the senses in a way that cooler weather just doesn't. Maybe it is the smell of burning charcoal that makes your nose perk up in anticipation when you are still a block away from your destination... or perhaps it is the warm breezes as you eat, or even the open-air sunset views as the guests linger over their drinks or desserts. In any case, outdoor summer dining sees a relatively small window of time here in Western New York and we all want to take advantage of it.

That is not to say it is guaranteed to be the best food you will eat all year, unfortunately. All too often, cheap burgers and dogs star in the main role of the meal, with lackluster side dishes and store-bought, overly sweet desserts fill in the gaps on the buffet table. Believe me, I LOVE a good burger and a crunchy charcoaled hot dog, but people, come on - I crave a little more than a dozen varieties of chips and dip, please! Potato salad, macaroni salad, and coleslaw are fantastic when they are done right, but most of the time, they are purely a vehicle for too much mayonnaise. Delicious, maybe, but your stomach and your conscience are bound to hate you later for eating them all night.

So, what to do at a barbeque or cookout to avoid loading up on chips & dip and all the other usual gut-bomb suspects? Make sure there is something to eat that you will enjoy and feel good about... but how to do that? Bring a great dish to pass! I don't know any host or hostess that will turn away a side dish for their shindig. When you get an invitation to a summer party, ask what you can bring. Most of the time, you will be told one of the following: a side dish, a dessert, beverages, or some variation on chips or dip.

Side dish can mean a lot of different things, but in my book, summer sides scream for vegetables. Sure, starches like potatoes and pasta are cheap and easy, but a vegetable side shows that you cared enough to put forth some real effort. This almost guarantees you'll be invited back! Green salads are a good option for maximizing health and flavor, but can be tricky at cookouts because they tend to wilt in the heat on a table full of food. That is why my current standby for a side dish is a twist on an old favorite, with a new flavor profile and fresher flavors... Most people look at it and initially see potato salad, but upon closer inspection it's cauliflower - made fresh and light and shockingly delicious!

I was talking with a co-worker a few weeks back about how I love to roast cauliflower in a very hot oven until it is super crispy and caramelized. She then mentioned that she had recently made potato salad, but used cauliflower instead. I thought her idea was nothing short of brilliant and promptly went to the store to pick up a head to try it at home. Really delicious local cauliflower is available all over this time of year, at the grocery store and at any of the farm markets in the area.

I diced up the head of cauliflower - florets, stems, and all - nothing goes to waste in this preparation except the leaves - and steamed it until tender. I dressed it like I would a summer potato salad and tasted it. Lo and behold, it was excellent! If you are a cauliflower lover, as I am, you will go crazy for this! If you are ambivalent about cauliflower or think you only like it raw with veggie dip, I urge you to give it a try. This cauliflower is nothing like the stinky boiled cauliflower drenched in cheese sauce you may have grown up on... that's how I always had it as a kid and I thought I disliked cauliflower for many years after that. This salad will change your mind! The great bonus about making this salad... it gets WAY better after a day or two in the fridge, so by all means, make it ahead of time! After that initial recipe test run, I have made it a few times since this summer, to take to barbeques, to take to work, and to pack in my lunch for a really great, filling snack.

This salad does contain a little mayonnaise, so if you take it to someone's house, be sure to bring a larger bowl you can fill with ice to set underneath to keep it chilled and safe.

Summer Cauliflower Salad

Serves 8-10 as a side dish

1 head of cauliflower, florets and stems cut into bite sized pieces

1/3 c vinegar (cider vinegar or red/white wine vinegar will taste best)

2 Tbsp whole grain mustard (the mustard seeds give a great crunch)

2 Tbsp honey

1/2 c mayonnaise

2 tsp kosher salt (or more if you prefer!)

Black pepper, to taste

1 bunch of scallions, sliced thin

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (cilantro, basil or chives work too! Or use a combo!)

1 red or yellow pepper, diced


The easiest way to cut up the cauliflower is to cut off the leaves and thick bottom, then cut the head in half. Set the cut sides down and cut each half into wide (1/2-3/4") slabs. Stack the slabs up and cube them. Little pieces of florets will fall off and that's fine! Take all the cut up bits (don't worry, they won't be perfect squares by any means) and throw them all in a steam basket set over boiling water with a lid.

Steam the cauliflower chunks for about 10 minutes, until soft. Drain the cauliflower well and set aside to cool.

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, honey, and mayonnaise until smooth. Season the dressing to your tastes, including adding a little extra vinegar or honey if you like it more sharp or sweet. Toss everything together in a big bowl and taste it to check for enough salt. Eat immediately if you are into instant gratification or let sit at least a few hours in the fridge for maximum flavor. This will keep nicely for up to four days.

***If you really love onion, some diced red onion is fantastic in this salad too. Same goes for garlic! You can experiment with adding minced celery, radishes, fennel, or any summer veggie you love with great results in this salad.

Happy Eating!



Jackie Frost lives in downtown Buffalo with her husband, where they cook dinner from scratch almost every night. Lebanese, German, Korean... nothing is off limits at dinnertime! She grew up in Michigan with a big garden, a father who loved to cook, and a mother who loved to can and bake. Her current favorite foods are blackberries and fennel (not necessarily together!) She is a chef at a private foodservice company in Buffalo.
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