Kaitlin here. It’s already the end of June, which seems entirely improbable. 2020 dragged on, and for a scary bit there, it seemed like 2021 might be one big repeat of last year. But 2021 is passing at lightning speed!
I think it’s because we’re all scrambling to make up for lost time, and the old distractions of everyday life are (thankfully) starting to crop up again. It seems everyone is determined to have the best summer literally ever—no hyperbole intended.
Now that we’re vaccinated, we’re looking to balance everyone’s safety with our excitement over having the great summer that we decidedly didn’t last year.
I think the best part has been seeing the friends and family that are close to home, but have felt worlds and oceans away for the past year and a half.
Even if it’s just been for a casual dinner at home (though, who am I kidding, even a casual spread at our house is pretty elaborate), a small get-together with friends, or a weekend at our cousins’ house, bumming around the suburbs.
With the passing of a spring of cautious optimism, we’re coming up on July 4th! The elephant in the room is the crazy, tumultuous year that we Americans have had, and the always uncertain future ahead of us. With the world and our communities intersecting in challenging ways all around us, it’s been a tiring year—an important one, but a tiring one.
Having gotten this far, it could feel entirely odd to make a big deal of July 4th this year, yet it also feels important to do just that–at least in the way that feels true to you.
In terms of menu planning, usually we aim to go for non-traditional July 4th fare—most of you are here for the Chinese food after all—but this year has us craving the dishes outside of our wheelhouse.
The recipes I’ve picked out here are “all-American” dishes. I don’t mean just the standard burger or hot dog (though I know we won’t be able to resist throwing some of those on the grill, too), rather an array of dishes that certainly didn’t originate in America, but have become beloved recipes nonetheless, woven into the fabric of our communities.
Food for thought
This article from Tasting Table by Ruth Tobias asks, Is There Such a Thing as ‘American Food’? and parses through the subtleties a little bit more. Think of American food as a “mixed tape” rather than a “melting pot.”
“All-American” Recipes for July 4th
To the food! It might seem like a bit of a hodgepodge, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Hopefully you find some recipes that you’ll love, or some inspiration to kickstart your own creativity in the kitchen this Independence Day!
May I humbly say that this empanada recipe doesn’t get NEARLY enough love around here. It’s my recipe, and selfishly, I’m putting it first, because I can! I don’t have the authority to attest to its authenticity, but we love making these at home. Bonus, they can be fried or baked! One dough, two cooking methods. If only Emeril were here. Okay, I’ll do it. B A M.
2. BBQ Char Siu on the Grill
If you’re feeding a crowd for July 4th, it’s hard to make a misstep with pork. Not only is it delicious, it’s AFFORDABLE. And while our oven recipe for BBQ pork (Cha Siu) really can’t be beat, this version on the grill adds that excellent charred flavor, and will save on your A/C bill. If you’re looking for easy, utensil-free ways to eat this, make Chinese Roast Pork on Garlic Bread.
Bonus: you can set some aside for Roast Pork Fried rice or BBQ roast pork buns the next day. July 4th isn’t just a day. It’s a weekend-long affair!
This recipe takes a little bit of patience and some love on the grill, but it’s worth it!
3. Instant Pot Ribs
These ribs take just SIX INGREDIENTS! Six! Bonus points if you make the cornbread too.
4. Pernil-style Roast Pork
A recipe learned years ago from fellow kitchen staff at the Holiday Inn in Liberty, NY, when my dad was a teenager working alongside his father. Aside from our grandfather and one part-time Chinese chef hired for summer crowds, the rest of the kitchen staff were from Puerto Rico. My dad picked up the flavors and a lifetime love for Latin cooking! This is a go-to when we need to serve a crowd!
5. Steak bites with ginger miso dressing
This is a delicious dinner option for a small group, or you could serve up a larger batch of steaks off the grill with a bowl of this ginger miso dressing on the side. This was one of our favorite recipes inspired by our last trip to Maui. Don’t forget the Hawaiian mac salad!
6. Baked stuffed lobster with shrimp
Every summer, I find myself wanting to make an escape to Maine for a platter of clam strips and lobster galore, as we almost never have it the rest of the year. This year for Father’s Day, we had an indulgent surf and turf spread of lobster and steak, and nothing beats the simplicity of lobster + butter. But it all gets a lot more delicious with herby breadcrumbs in the mix. The addition of shrimp baked in is optional, but it really ups the ante for that seafood lover in your life.
7. Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri
If July 4th dinner party is more your speed than daytime BBQ, grilled skirt steak with chimichurri makes for a pretty excellent centerpiece. Note for loyal readers who may remember this post: the chimichurri recipe has been updated! :)
8. Grilled Ribeye With Soy Butter Glaze
If you have a lovely ribeye you’ve been waiting to eat and don’t want to botch, this ribeye with soy butter glaze is a pretty great number, if I, as the unofficial grill master, do say so. In our family’s opinion, a delicious home-grilled steak pretty much always beats out a restaurant steak dinner. (Smug? Yes. Are we eating really good steak? Also, yes.) You can also slather the glaze on pretty much any cut of beef you care to put on the grill! It’s July 4th. And that means FREEDOM!
9. Grilled tandoori chicken with indian-style rice
While Indian food may not have the same status as it does across the pond, we can’t get enough of it all the same. This grilled version of Tandoori chicken mimics the hot hot temps of a tandoor, and is perfect for a backyard party.
10. Philly italian pork sandwich (dinic’s copycat)
This pork sandwich hails from the Italians of Philadelphia, and man is it a beauty. Plus, we’ve updated it with INSTANT POT DIRECTIONS! If you don’t have a grill or outdoor space, you can still party with this recipe. This is not a drill. Get thee to thy Instant Pot!
11. Smashed Asian Cucumber Salad
Salads can sometimes either fall flat into boring iceberg lettuce territory or quickly become tedious with seemingly endless toppings. This smashed cucumber salad makes for a quick and easy, yet refreshing and healthy side. Lots of fresh garlic and chili oil gives it tons of flavor, and the crags in the “smashed” cucumber really pick up the flavors!
12. Vegan Korean BBQ “Samgyupsal” Bowls
This is a new twist on Korean BBQ, made plant-based friendly! If you’re craving Korean food, check out our favorite 15 easy Korean recipes!
13. Tostones with tomato salsa
Tostones are definitely a favorite of ours. Sometimes, my dad will fry some up for an impromptu pre-dinner appetizer if we’re feeling particularly peckish. They are surprisingly easy and fast to make. If you’re looking for a shortcut, buy some salsa from your local taco joint.
14. Vietnamese Summer Rolls with Seared Shrimp
These Vietnamese summer rolls are refreshing and a tasty alternative to all of the grilled meats. They’re light, relatively healthy, and maybe the best thing of all–require very few heating elements in your kitchen! We’re pretty sure you’ll be happy chilling with a plate of these while sitting inside or outside this weekend!
15. Smoked Turkey Legs
If you want to get just a little bit fancy this July 4th, try your hand at making these Disney/Universal-style Smoked Turkey Legs. These are quite possibly one of my favorite foods *ever* (if there is an event / venue / etc. that is hawking smoked turkey legs, I will magically appear). The recipe is courtesy of my aunt, who has a knack for figuring out old standbys at home. Plus, you control how smoky, salty or sugary you want them when you make these on your own! What’s more, they don’t cost $13 a piece! Rejoice!
16. Lemongrass Chicken Banh Mi
This is a real sleeper hit on the blog. Some recipes come and go around here—mostly when it comes to our older posts, but this one always has a steady stream of commenters and five stars to boot! Sarah calls for a cast iron skillet or grill pan but it would undoubtedly be just as stellar on the BBQ.
17. Caesar Salad with Tuscan Kale
If you need a salad to balance out the meat-fest, round out your table with our go-to Caesar salad recipe, which is close to, if not straight up better than, what you might get at your favorite steakhouse.
18. Blistered shishito peppers
Dare I say, we started eating blistered Shishito peppers with coarse sea salt before it was cool? After a trip to Spain, we had a minor obsession with this healthy and easy finger food, which there is often made with Padrón peppers, which are a similar variety, but perhaps more likely to have the odd spicy one. For whatever reason, Shishito peppers are a bit easier to find stateside, and now it seems they are as common an appetizer as a charcuterie board. We make ours in a wok—no surprises there—because it gives a super blistered, absolutely delicious result.
19. Fresh Berry Tart with Sweet Mascarpone Filling
A classic red, white, and blue dessert feels appropriate this year. This fresh, lightly sweet fresh berry tart with a light and creamy sweet mascarpone filling will give you the festive flair your Instagram yearns for.
20. Basil Berry Cake
If you’re tired of your standard berry cakes, this basil berry cake is a major showstopper–looks, but more importantly, taste-wise. We’ve piloted this little gem at picnics and it gets positively gobbled and coveted. The combination of summer berries and light yellow cake laced with tart lemon-basil sugar makes for a unique and memorable dessert. People will be asking you for the recipe. Whipped cream is obligatory.
21. Grilled peach crisps with yogurt
It’s technically not yet peach season here in Jersey, but we have had some excellent nectarines lately. Either way, this recipe is truly fantastic. You can sub the yogurt for ice cream, or per one of our reader’s suggestions, mascarpone. Delishhh.
Happy July 4th, everyone!