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When it comes to summer grilling, the challenge isn’t always what to make for the main but what to serve with it. Lucky for us, Caren McSherry has all the answers. She’s the author behind Starters, Salads and Sexy Sides, and she has the perfect sides to serve up at your next backyard grill.

Savory Zucchini Cakes

It is hard to say no to all your hobby gardener friends who want to heap their homegrown zucchini harvest upon you. Forget the muffins and breads and bring on this savory little fritter that is great as a starter or served as a side dish.

Makes 20 cakes

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • 1 large free-range egg
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 Tbsp finely minced shallot
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 large zucchini, skin on, grated using the medium shred, and moisture squeezed out (about 2 cups grated; see note)
  • 1 cup panko crumbs
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp horseradish
  • Olive oil, for frying (any kind works here)
  • Dill sprigs (optional garnish)

WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Lightly beat the egg in a large bowl. Add the crumbled feta, shallot, dill, and mint. Add in the squeezed grated zucchini and stir to combine. Add the panko crumbs and combine. The mixture should not be soupy; if there is a lot of moisture, add a bit more panko crumbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Scoop golf ball-sized portions of the zucchini mixture and form into uniform patties. Set aside.
  2. Mix together the sour cream and horseradish (to taste) and set aside.
  3. Heat a nonstick fry pan on medium-high heat, and add a teaspoon of olive oil to the pan. Working in batches, fry the zucchini cakes until golden brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a tray lined with paper towel to absorb any excess oil. You will have to add a tiny bit of oil to the pan for each batch.
  4. Serve with horseradish cream and tiny sprigs of dill, if using.

Note: The easiest method for squeezing out the water from grated zucchini is to place the grated zucchini in the center of a clean tea towel. Bring the edges up to meet the middle and wring it hard. Voilà, moisture gone. Alternatively, squeeze really hard with your bare hands. Either way, this is a super- important step.

Jacket Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Herbed Feta and Chorizo

This is not your old-school, pedestrian baked potato; I have taken it up a notch by using sweet potatoes and garnishing them with creamy herbed feta and chorizo. Bring it on! For a vegetarian option, omit the chorizo.

Serves 6

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 stick (about 4 oz) cured spicy chorizo, thinly sliced and julienned
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese 1/3 cup chopped fresh
  • parsley
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 Tbsp sour cream  4 Tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon zest Freshly ground pepper Chili flakes (garnish)
  • Julienned lemon zest (garnish)

WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
  2. Place the potatoes directly on the oven rack and bake for about 40 minutes, or until they are soft when you squeeze them.
  3. Place the feta, parsley, cilantro, sour cream, yogurt, and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor and cream the ingredients together.
  4. To serve, cut the potatoes in half and give them a squeeze to break the flesh a bit. Place on a serving plate, and evenly divide the feta mixture over the halves. Sprinkle the chorizo over top. Give the potatoes a good grinding of pepper and top each with a pinch of chili flakes to taste and a sprinkle of julienned lemon zest.

Wild and Mixed Mushroom Sauté

I am a huge fan of mushrooms of all types, wild and cultivated. This dish can stand alone as a side, be used as a pasta sauce, or be turned into a quiche. You might wonder why I use maple syrup with mushrooms; it’s an odd combination, but a brilliant one. The maple syrup together with the mush- rooms produces an almost mysterious sweetness that is hard to pinpoint. Go ahead, give this a go; you will love it.

Serves 6

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • 1 cup mixed dried wild mushrooms (cèpes, porcini, boletos, or morels)
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 large shallots, finely minced
  • 1 leek, white part only, finely sliced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 heaping tsp chili paste (see page 4)
  • 1 tsp undiluted chicken stock paste
  • 5 cups sliced mixed fresh mushrooms (shiitake, chanterelle, portobello, shimeji, or your favorites)
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream (33%)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, plus extra  for garnish
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon or 2 tsp dried
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 Tbsp pure Canadian maple syrup

WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour 2 cups of hot water over top. Let them soak as long as possible; this can be done at least 2 hours before you proceed with the recipe. The soaking reconstitutes the mushrooms; the longer they sit, the bigger they become.
  2. Place the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the shallots and leek, and sauté until soft, but not brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, chili paste, and stock paste; stir to dissolve and warm through.
  3. Add the fresh mushrooms to the pan and turn the heat to medium-high. Toss the mushrooms in the pan, add the wine, and continue to cook until all of the moisture released from the mushrooms has evaporated, about 10 minutes. While the mushrooms are cooking, drain the soaking mushrooms and squeeze them hard to rid them of any excess water. Chop and add to the pan.
  4. Once all the moisture is cooked away, add the cream, parsley, and tarragon, and cook until the sauce has thickened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir and season with salt and pepper to taste. You can prepare the dish to this point and set aside until serving.
  5. Just before you are ready to serve, heat through and drizzle the maple syrup over top. Stir and transfer to your serving bowl. Garnish with more parsley and serve hot.

Eggplant Rolls

This is a great side for summer entertaining, as it is served at room temperature. I like things that can be done ahead to relieve any additional stress on the day of the dinner. You could sub in zucchini slices, or do a mixture of both to create interest. This also makes a great starter!

Makes 12 to 15 rolls

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • 2 whole heads garlic
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling
  • 3 Japanese eggplants
  • 1 jar (14 oz) roasted red peppers
  • 1 jar (8 oz) roasted artichokes
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup Balsamic Glaze (page 168; or use store-bought)
  • 12 to 15 fresh 3-inch sprigs rosemary, or fancy 3-inch toothpicks

WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Preheat your oven to 325°F.
  2. Cut the top 1/4 inch off the garlic heads, rub each with 1 tea- spoon oil, and wrap in foil. Bake for about 45 to 60 minutes in the oven until soft and light golden brown. Cool, peel off the papery skin, and set aside.
  3. Slice the eggplants lengthwise as thin as possible. Drain the peppers, blot dry on paper towel, and set aside. Drain the artichokes, cut into quarters, blot dry on paper towel, and set aside.
  4. Heat your barbecue or grill pan to medium-high heat. Brush the eggplant slices lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for about 2 minutes on each side, or until they are golden but not overdone. You do not want any crispy burnt edges, or the eggplant will not roll. Remove from the grill, place in a single layer on your work surface, and lightly brush the tops with the balsamic glaze.
  5. Slice the red peppers to the same width as the eggplant, and lay on top. Place a piece of the artichoke at one end of each eggplant slice, and roll up, enclosing the artichoke in the middle. Top each roll with a peeled garlic clove, then insert a rosemary sprig or fancy toothpick through the clove to pierce right through each roll
  6. Transfer to a platter and serve at room temperature.