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Today: The perfect tailgate salad -- it's portable, meaty (but easily made meatless), and goes great with beer.
Like bringing lunch to work or pie to a bake sale, if you don't think strategically about what you're taking to a tailgate, you're going to get a soggy, disheveled mess (or worse, a passenger seat full of barbecue sauce).
With just a little strategy, this cornbread salad recipe, from grilling book co-authors Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, is surprisingly portable and resilient. This is despite the fact that it's chunks of cornbread tossed with juicy tomatoes and chipotle-lime dressing, plus temperamental avocado and herbs.
It's the rare recipe that can withstand a trip to a tailgate or barbecue, sit out as it does, and still be delicious at the end of the night. Burgers, dips, and the entire genre of mayo-based salads have shown us how unsavory post-party food can get, not to mention who the least discerning party-goers are by the end of the night. (Finger-in-onion dip guy, you should go home.)
A few things contribute to this salad's longevity: The avocado isn't going to brown under a good coating of thick, citric dressing. Unlike sour cream-based dips and time-bomb egg salads, that chipotle was just in a can on the shelf. And, as Food52er Diana Kang explained when she sent me this recipe, "The cornbread isn't that absorbent."
You'll want to keep the dressing separate till you get there, but as long as you're not traveling too far, the rest can be combined before you go. You can either grill the sausages beforehand too, or at the party -- it's good either way.
Though tailgate food is usually either piles of meat or chips on dips, this is as bright as salads get, even if it is salad only in the most generous sense of the word, and more like meat sauced with pico de gallo, plus carbs.
For a grilled sausage salad, it's also surprisingly good for vegetarians -- because it's really easy to leave the grilled sausage on the side. There's more than enough smoky spice from the chipotle and richness from the avocado and sweet cornbread.
The only question that remains is how to eat it -- if you have the luxury of sitting down, pile up the salad and leave the sausage whole to make it feel more interactive and meal-like. Provide a fork and knife.
Or, if you slice the sausage up before serving, as Schlesinger and Willoughby intended, people can eat it while milling around, from a bowl or a plate, with just a fork or even a spoon.
But don't be surprised if you find yourself at the end of the night, picking up sausages with your hands and spooning the leftover cornbread out of a tupperware. Unlike onion dip guy, people won't be judging you.
Adapted from Let the Flames Begin: Tips, Techniques, and Recipes for Real Live Fire Cooking (W. W. Norton & Company, 2002) and Sam Sifton's version of Schlesinger's East Coast Grill Cornbread (New York Times Magazine, 2012).
Serves 4, with leftover cornbread
Dressing and Salad:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 cup chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, puréed
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
2 ripe tomatoes about the size of baseballs, cored and diced large
1/2 red onion, peeled and diced small
1 ripe Hass avocado, pitted, peeled, and diced medium
1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
1 pound fresh sausage links of your choice
2 cups 3/4-inch cubes cornbread, toasted golden brown
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cups white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup melted butter
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you to Diana Kang for this one!
Photos by Alpha Smoot