What’s Cooking: On the side for Labor Day

What’s on your Labor Day cookout menu? We’re willing to bet that there will be some burgers, and maybe hot dogs or sausages. Or the smoker aficionados among you might be aiming for ribs or brisket. Classic choices for a holiday that traditionally marks the end of summer.

For the side dishes, however, we have a few fresh ideas – and these might become your new favorites.

The butternut squash and apple Waldorf salad is a lighter alternative to mayo-heavy potato salad, with yogurt and herbs in the dressing.

Seven-layer salad are classics at barbecues and picnics, but they are often loaded with fat. The healthier version here features a yogurt-based avocado dressing and turkey bacon.

And if you’re going for barbecue instead of grilled burgers, we have the perfect accompaniment via North Carolina: classic Piedmont-style slaw.

Finally, we offer a dessert that serves a crowd and is a breeze to put together: chocolate cheesecake bars. (And how can you resist anything with that title?)


Butternut squash and apple Waldorf salad

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Serves 6

Recipe from The Associated Press.


1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/4 cup light mayonnaise

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons finely minced fresh rosemary

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

3 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, cored and chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the squash and boil for 5 to 7 minutes, or until just tender. Be careful not to overcook. Drain immediately and spread on a rimmed baking sheet to cool completely.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise, vinegar, chives and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir in the apples, celery, walnuts and cooled squash.

Per serving: 180 calories; 80 calories from fat (44% of total calories); 8 g fat (1 g sat.; 0 g trans); 5 mg chol.; 25 g carb.; 5 g fiber; 12 g sugar; 4 g protein; 180 mg sodium.


Healthy seven-layer salad with avocado dressing

Serves 6

Seven-layer salad can get a bad nutritional rap. This recipe, adapted from, removes any of the guilt without sacrificing flavor.


1 package (10 ounces) spring lettuce mix

1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

2 medium red bell peppers, diced

1 cup halved cherry tomatoes

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

6 slices turkey bacon, cooked and crumbled

Avocado dressing:

1 avocado

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons honey


In a large glass bowl or trifle dish, layer spring mix, beans, peppers and tomatoes. Refrigerate several hours. Before serving, layer with cheese and bacon.

Blend all dressing ingredients in a blender until smooth and add to top of salad.


North Carolina Piedmont slaw

Serves 6 to 8

In the 1920s, Miss Dell Yarborough was working in the Lexington, N.C., restaurant owned by her brother-in-law, Sid Weaver, when she introduced the barbecue-eating world to an unusual vinegar slaw based on what her family ate at home. Miss Dell’s “barbecue slaw” caught on in the North Carolina Piedmont, where it remains the side dish of choice to this day.

In most of the South, coleslaw serves as a cooling contrast to the heat of barbecue sauce, but Piedmont slaw is, in effect, made with barbecue sauce. This is a typical example, based on the one served at Lexington Barbecue.

Make ahead: The slaw needs to rest in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours and preferably overnight. Adapted from the forthcoming “Barbecue: A Cookbook,” by John Shelton Reed (UNC Press, 2014).


1 medium head cabbage, cored and chopped (5 to 6 cups)

1/4 cup ketchup

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Generous dash hot sauce, such as Texas Pete Hot Sauce or Tabasco brand


Place the cabbage in a large bowl.

Combine the ketchup, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper and hot sauce in a liquid measuring cup. Pour over the cabbage and toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, and preferably overnight, before serving.


Chocolate cheesecake bars

Prep time: 20 minutes, plus at least 4 hours chill time

Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves 25

If you need a dessert to feed a crowd, here’s one to try. These bars require mainly pantry ingredients and are simple to put together. When making them, be sure to plan on the chilling time. They need to chill at least four hours in the refrigerator, but overnight is best.

If you need a lot, cut them smaller or double the recipe. Use a large (10-by-15-inch) sided baking sheet. Bake as directed, but plan on about 10 to 15 minutes more baking time. The center should be just almost set. Be sure to cool thoroughly before refrigerating. To serve, cut bars into desired-size squares, but keep in mind these are rich; a small taste is all you need.

Adapted from Tested by Susan Selasky in the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen.


For crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons baking cocoa

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed

1 egg yolk (reserve white for filling)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans

For filling:

1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons grated orange peel, optional

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 whole egg, lightly beaten

1 egg white, lightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate shavings or sprinkles, optional


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line an 11-by-7-inch pan with foil, allowing foil to overhang on short sides of dish; grease the foil.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking cocoa, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in egg yolk, vanilla and walnuts. Press onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in sour cream, flour, orange peel and salt. Beat in egg, egg white and vanilla on low speed just until combined. Pour filling over warm crust. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until center is almost set. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 1 hour.

Garnish with chocolate shavings or sprinkles if desired. Refrigerate overnight. To serve, lift out of pan and remove foil. Cut into 1-inch to 2-inch squares.

Per square: 116 calories (64 percent from fat), 8 g fat (4 g sat. fat), 8 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 142 mg sodium, 37 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber.