I love Fourth of July. Not only because of the fireworks (done by a professional and not my husband, children or over-ambitious brothers), but because of the FOOD. Any day that involves fried chicken or hamburgers is a great day by me. I consider that since we celebrating the independence of our country, we can also celebrate an independence from calories as well. All foods are zero calories that day. I just declared it.

So while the entrees are done, let’s think about the sides. I like to do traditional dishes with a little twist. Even though you have a hall pass to eat today, these sides are actually pretty healthy, unfortunately. It will give you room for the cobbler and homemade ice cream for dessert.

All of these dishes require very little cooking, more chopping than anything. And most have five ingredients or fewer. So don’t buy the big ol’ tub of slaw or nasty yellowed potato salad pre-made at Kroger. You can make these instead. They are Watermelon Salad, Corn Zucchini Saute and Tortellini Cherry Tomato Salad.


Watermelon Salad, adapted from Paula Deen

(just the name Paula Deen alone under the byline should make everyone jump in the car to go buy these ingredients.) I halved this recipe to feed just my family. This is good for a crowd; think 10+ people.

  • 1 (5-pound) watermelon (I used seedless)
  • 1 Vidalia or other sweet onion
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 6 whole mint sprigs

Either cut and cube the watermelon or use a melon baller and set aside.


Peel and slice the onion into rings. I sliced my onion super-thin in the food processor.
In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, pepper, and whisk until salt is dissolved. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, a few drops at a time. Add in the chopped mint, taste, and adjust seasonings.

In a large bowl, combine the melon, onion, and feta. Pour the dressing over the melon mixture and toss gently until everything is coated and evenly mixed. Garnish with mint sprigs.

Corn Zucchini Saute–adapted from Cooking Light

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
  • 1 cup sliced onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups (1/4-inch-thick) sliced diagonally cut zucchini (about 3 large)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Wrap the corn ears in a damp paper towel and cook in the microwave for 12 minutes. When finished, take husks off and let cool. When cool, cut the kernels off and set aside.

Place corn on a ramekin in the center of a larger bowl. Everything you cut will end up in the bowl instead of all over the floor.

Zucchini fresh from farmer’s market

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Saute onion and garlic for five minutes or until lightly browned. Add the zucchini, cumin, salt and chiles, and sauté 6 minutes or until tender.

Stir in corn and cilantro. Cook all mixture for another 2-3 minutes.

Stir it all up and let cheese melt

Remove from heat; sprinkle with cheese. Cover and let stand 5 minutes or until cheese melts.


Tortellini Cherry Tomato Salad

This is a great answer to a pasta salad. My kids would eat tortellini stuffed with dogfood if I made it. I promise this version is just cheese.

  • 1 pkg cheese tortellini
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled but left whole
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes cut in half
  • 3/4 cup green onions sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, sliced in ribbons
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • balsamic vinegar and olive oil
  • optional: fresh cut cooked corn and Parmesan cheese

Prepare cheese tortellini according to package directions (basically BOIL WATER, insert noodles into boiling water and drain when they are cooked). While pasta cooks, cut tomatoes and onions. In a large bowl, take the peeled garlic clove and rub all over the bowl. Discard clove or chop it up and use it another time. You just want the essence of the garlic on this pasta.

Plain old cherry tomatoes

Plain old green onions

Place drained pasta into a large bowl. Top with tomatoes, basil and green onions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the top (maybe 2 tbsp) and olive oil. You can top with Parmesan cheese or add fresh cut cooked corn to this as well.

Fancy tomatoes, green onion, basil and tortellini