(BPT) - Whether enjoying a summer holiday, celebrating a recent graduation or simply relaxing with friends and family on a lazy Saturday afternoon, this is the perfect time of year to enjoy nutritious eating wherever you are. If you're planning a backyard barbecue, fresh produce makes delicious and healthy choices a breeze no matter if you're the host or a guest.
Healthful hors d'oeuvres
Try a variation on the classic veggie tray and utilize vegetables such as versatile sweet potatoes or bright eggplant slices. If you're in charge of the dip, aim for the hottest leafy green at the market - kale. Guests will rave about the combination of veggie chips paired with a kale pesto. You can make any number of simple, crowd-pleasing dips with a high-performance blender like a Vitamix Professional Series 300.
For smaller gatherings, you may want to put more time into the presentation. Show off your culinary prowess with an exotic tapas plate that includes several varieties of fresh olives, roasted peppers and a centerpiece such as Thai spring rolls with dipping sauce.
When entertaining a crowd, try placing smaller portions of appetizers in different places to encourage mingling and conversation. By setting up unofficial 'stations,' a bottleneck at the snack table can be avoided.
Salads and soups with a twist
Salad is a quick and easy side to serve at a get-together when the mercury rises. The beauty of salads is they are truly blank canvases with a multitude of tasty combinations. There is little-to-no cooking involved, plus salads are the ideal way to enjoy produce from your very own garden or your local farmers market.
Begin with a foundation of in-season greens, like spinach or Swiss chard or a lettuce variety such as romaine or watercress. From there, look to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds to pepper your dish with nutritional goodness. To top it off, brighten the flavors with a drizzle of oil and a squeeze or two from a fresh lemon, or impress guests with your own sherry shallot vinaigrette.
Another great addition to a meal, and one that includes lots of vegetables that guests will appreciate, is a chilled soup. Especially good for those hot and humid days, heat is not required when whipping up these types of concoctions - only a high-performance blender and a bit of chopping. Try an interesting, seasonal combination like watermelon gazpacho or a refreshing, cold cucumber-dill soup.
The grill is widely recognized as the star of the show at any summer picnic. Stepping away from the kitchen and cooking outside seems to make everything taste better. It may be standard to serve hamburgers and hot dogs, but nearly all vegetables and fruits can be grilled - even dark, leafy greens. Use clean, oiled racks to keep food from sticking and aim to fill at least half with fresh produce.
Grilling veggie kebabs filled with bell peppers and onions or fresh ears of corn will bring out their natural flavors. Take it a step further and try incorporating marinades and dry rubs, which are not only for meats. Sauces like an apricot ancho barbecue glaze can be made ahead of time in your Vitamix, providing a signature touch for any backyard barbecue. And, don't forget to grill some pineapple for dessert.
Whether entertaining four family members or 40 friends, a fun evening of games, music and activities will pair well with healthier cookout fare - all ingredients for the perfect summer evening spent outdoors.
Yield: 1 1/4 cup (300 ml)
4 cups (268 g) chopped kale
1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup (60 g) roasted red pepper
2 garlic cloves, roasted, peeled
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons (14 g) toasted pepitas
1/2 cup (20 g) fresh spinach, loosely packed
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. In a large pot of salted, boiling water, blanch kale for 4 minutes. Shock in a bowl filled with ice and water; strain. Once water has drained away, press out as much water as possible, leaving 1/2 cup of blanched kale.
2. Place all ingredients into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid.
3. Select Variable 7.
4. Use the on/off switch to quickly pulse 15-20 times, using the tamper to press the ingredients into the blades.