It's perhaps fitting that a glistening rack of ribs or platter of skewered shrimp take center stage at a backyard barbecue. After all, those proteins didn't just grow in a lab somewhere (not yet, at least), so let them have their moment in the limelight while your drunken guests crowd around your sizzling pile of meat, spilling their drinks and reeking of pineapples like some kind of tropical zombie horde.
And once that meat funeral is over, remember that it's the sides that make a party memorable.
And we're not saying that in deference to vegetarians. A good rib can be ruined by a gelatinous puck of macaroni salad or watery slaw slithering up next to it on your plate, like the ghoulish neighbor you begrudgingly invited to this party and may need to call in an AMBER Alert on before the cocktail hour is through. Keep an eye on that guy.
But back to the salads.
The first comes to us courtesy of LA's Pine & Crane, which did its signature Taiwanese-Chinese take on cucumber salad.
These cukes are gently smashed so that they can better absorb a just-spicy-enough dressing of garlic, vinegar, sugar, salt, chili oil, and sesame oil. It's crisp, cold, and idiot-proof (assuming you don't slice off your thumbs in the course of smashing your cucumbers).
But maybe that's just a little too un-American for your highly patriotic party. No sweat, Rush. This corn salad from Comodo in New York takes inspiration from Mexican esquites, a fork-friendly street food staple served in a cup.
After grilling the corn, you simply cut it off the cob and blend it with salty cotija cheese, cilantro, mint, and candied pepitas before drizzling with a tart cumin dressing. No messy fingers needed.
But who says salad needs a fork? Fruit on a stick is a classic snack in Central America, where it's often simply garnished with hot sauce, salt, or a spice mixture.
In our version with watermelon, Gerardo Gonzalez of Manhattan's El Rey complicates things a little bit by replacing store-bought Tajín with his own blend of sumac, Aleppo pepper, and smoked salt. He then slathers on more flavor in the form of sweet hot sauce made with pineapple and guajillo and chipotle chilies. Finally, the whole sticky mess gets topped with candied peanuts. Messy fingers should be expected here.
Hey, where did your neighbor go?