Every July 4th, Americans celebrate Independence Day, gathering with family and friends in backyards, by the lake or in a park. Though the camaraderie binds us, the memorable highlight is most often the food. When asked what’s remembered about previous 4th celebrations, most inevitably include a description of some sort of finger-licking barbeque, an incredible couldn’t-get-enough-of-it salad, or killer cake. If the event included Pinterest followers, no doubt there were inspiring decorations and presentations wrapped in those memories.
Now I’m not saying traditional dishes are a bad thing, but why not consider refreshing and updating the typical celebration by putting a “local” spin on it – encouraging guests to bring dishes based on locally grown and produced ingredients? After all, what’s more American and inspiring than “MADE locally in the U.S.A.?”
That local spin could mean the ever-present macaroni salad (you know, the one that always sits on the sidelines), is replaced by a tantalizing mix of grilled farm-fresh vegetables studded with grilled corn, charred onions, and luscious Queen Creek olives. The game-changer is the dressing; instead of balancing its acidity with sugar or honey, this recipe calls for the tangy sweetness of Black Mesa Ranch Goats Milk Caramel (produced in Taylor Arizona).
A decadent make-me-local desert could be a less-processed version of turtle candy, since who can resist the flavor of caramel, pecans and chocolate? Made from local medjool dates (McClendon or Sphinx Date Farm are great sources), Arizona pecans and a slick of Brazen or Zaks artisan chocolate (both are Scottsdale-based companies), these turtles are a bite of homegrown-heaven.
“Breaking bread” and pay homage to local artisans; bakeries like Essence, Noble, MJ Bread and Leoni’s Focaccia offer old-world loaves for stand-out mile-high sandwiches. Such loaves also provide the foundation for incredible appetizers like bruschetta, topped with juicy farmers market tomatoes, fragrant basil and drizzle of Queen Creek olive oil.
About now you may be asking, but where’s the meat? No need to panic, places like The Meat Shop located in downtown Phoenix offer nothing but local raised beef, pork, chicken and lamb plus a variety of handcrafted sausages. You can also find a variety of local raised proteins at most Farmer’s Markets.
Even those ubiquitous grab bowls filled with crunchy snacks (think chips) can get a local makeover. A big bowl of McClendon popcorn drizzled with butter and dusted with a spicy blend from Christopher Creek Spice Company makes quite the appealing munchie. Note – this is a great dish to assign to any novice cook who will be attending.
No need to tackle it all yourself; ask everyone to bring a dish based on local ingredients purchased from a local producer, Farmer’s Market, or even grown in their backyard. Then sit back and enjoy a regional feast; after all, there’s never a downside to supporting America’s local farmers, producers and purveyors, for a 4th that’s made LOCALLY in the U.S.A.
GRILLED VEGETABLE SALAD: Serves 8-10
¼ cup balsamic vinegar (a flavored vinegar like blood orange is excellent here!)
1-2 Tbs caramel or dulce de leche
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 tsp roasted garlic (or 1 tsp. fresh)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup grapeseed or avocado oil
salt to taste
4 large bell peppers in various colors cut in uniform pieces tossed with olive oil and salt
4 medium zucchini; use potato peeler to slice in long ribbons before tossing with oil and salt
4 large ears corn, brushed with oil and charred lightly; cool then cut off the cob
2 large sweet onions, halved and brushed with oil
2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, tossed with olive oil and salt before
1 cup Queen Creek olives, pitted and quartered
1. Whisk together the balsamic, caramel, Dijon and roasted garlic. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oils. Season to taste and set aside.
2. Grill each type of chopped vegetables individually, using a wire basket, just until lightly charred (or wilted).
3. For the onion, place face down on the hot grill and cook until well charred; cool briefly after grilling, then coarsely chop.
4. Toss peppers, zucchini, chopped onions, tomatoes, cut corn and olives into a bowl, then coat lightly with dressing. Set aside at room temperature until ready to serve.
Candy Lesher, Chef and Culinary Wellness Coach, Training and coaching clients to achieve a healthy culinary lifestyle based on their medical directives and personal tastes, through custom-designed menus and recipes. You can reach Candy at email@example.com, or call her at 480.266.0701.