Okay, it’s not quite summer yet — the random 50-degree weather here in New England this week proved that pretty conclusively (insert shaking of fist at the sky).  But be honest with me.  You’re THINKING about summer, right?  The outdoor fun, the picnics, the barbecues?

The thing is, every summer, people are just dying to get together with friends, grill some stuff, share some salads, and rejoice in beautiful weather and good food.  And the thing is that every summer, most of the people I know — and since this is my blog, these people are therefore a representative sample of the ENTIRE WORLD in my skewed little version of the scientific process — get kind of bored with the same old recipes after just one or two cookouts.

Now, there are classics like your Aunt Ida’s potato salad, which I understand are the Holy Grail of all barbecue fare and are therefore immutable.  I humbly bow to Aunt Ida’s superior spud skills.  But there are other classics that, even though we can’t quite bear to give them up, could definitely use a facelift after the first nice weekend of the summer grilling season.  Let’s face it — unless the coleslaw is the big family recipe in your house, how many times can you eat the stuff without finding that you’re scraping half your portion into the trash because it got left behind while you filled up on the burgers?

So I hereby declare tonight pre-barbecue night on RRG.  I’m serving up two recipes for summer staples: Barbecue sauce and that damnable coleslaw.  Now, I know barbecue sauce can be easily bought in a convenient bottle.  I also know that most bottles contain stuff many of us don’t really want to think about, so we either “forget” to scan the ingredients or bury our guilt in the pile of napkins and rib bones.  I’ve seen many, many requests on various blogs and Facebook pages for a barbecue sauce recipe that’s easy and doesn’t call for a pound and a half of ketchup to start with; so I figured it couldn’t be hard to create one myself.

Turns out, it wasn’t that hard.  I know barbecue sauce is a very personal thing, and it’s likely that many people will want to take this recipe only as a starting point from which they can add their own flair.  That’s fine.  I highly recommend tweaking ANY recipe of mine to suit your individual tastes, and I especially recommend that you tweak this sauce as you see fit, because I don’t want to be the cause of any spoiled barbecue experiences.  But J., the boys, and I found this sauce to be simple and tasty on pulled pork, so I think it’s worth sharing with you all.

As to the coleslaw, I must confess that I cannot.  Stand.  Mayo.  Can’t abide the stuff.  Never was a fan, never will be a fan, and as a result, most coleslaw is just beyond me.  I’m also always intrigued by the annual realization that we appear, as a culture, to have created a whole series of mayonnaise-heavy recipes just in time to set them all out under the blazing sun to serve to our dearest friends.  Really, people?  Why not just add Sal Monella to the guest list and be done with it?

So this coleslaw recipe contains NO MAYONNAISE.  None.  No dairy of any kind, in fact — so it’s a perfectly safe potluck/picnic/barbecue/buffet offering.  It’s also quick, simple, and cheap, which as far as I can tell are the other requirements of a coleslaw recipe.  This is the side dish, after all, not the star of the show,  But I should point out that THIS coleslaw is not likely to find its destiny in the trash can under all the corn cobs at the end of the night.

Simple Barbecue Sauce
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons ketchup (HFCS-free, please)
1 ½ cups tomato puree (I used jarred “strained tomatoes”)
¾ cup chicken stock
¼ cup molasses
1 tablespoon honey
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. celery salt
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon dried mustard
2 tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. allspice

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and saute the onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes.  Add the apple cider vinegar and ketchup and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.  Add the tomato puree to the pan and stir in the chicken stock, molasses, honey, and spices.  Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer 30-40 minutes, until thick and reduced to about 2 1/2 cups.  If desired, puree the sauce to make it completely smooth (I didn’t bother).  Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Tahini coleslaw

Tahini Coleslaw
4 cups shredded Napa cabbage
1 cup finely grated carrot (I used a microplane to shred mine)
1/4 of a medium onion
3 tablespoons tahini
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Combine the cabbage and carrots in a large bowl.  Finely grate the onion over a small bowl to capture the juices as the base of the dressing.  Again, I used my microplane for this task.  Whisk in the tahini, lemon juice, honey, and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss to evenly coat.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.  If desired, you could serve this with some chopped toasted peanuts or cashews over the top.