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46 sensational summer sides for your Labor Day celebration

Make sides the star of the show for your summer sendoff.
/ Source: TODAY

When it comes to the Labor Day spread (the ultimate summer sendoff), don't hold back on the side dishes.

Why? Well, aside from being delicious (if you make the right recipe), sides bring personality to the dinner table. They take a meaty or vegetarian main dish and support it with new levels of flavor. Take corn, for example — one of summer's favorite foods. Corn at peak season is incredible on its own, but with certain spices and seasonings, it can transform an entire meal. A side of corn doused in sweet, spicy chili butter will take your grilled steak to a whole other level.

If instead, you decide pair that steak with a chilled noodle salad, dinner is taken in a completely different, cool-you-down-on-a-hot-day direction.

Whether you're hosting this end of summer bash or are visiting a friend or family member's house, lean heavy into the sides. If you've been making the same potato salad for a decade (we know, it's so good!), branch out this year and try something new. Turn to creamy, briny, peppery dips and pickled veggies. Make pasta and toss it in a luscious avocado dressing.

Here are some of our favorite summer side dishes to make Labor Day easy, fun, festive and more sensational than ever. C'mon, go wild. (And don't forget main dishes and desserts!)

Pastas, grains and beans

Cold Shabu Shabu Noodle Salad

Sesame seeds, seaweed flakes, radishes and other nourishing ingredients make their way into this warm-weather favorite that stars cold noodles and lots of fresh, seasonal veggies.

A tangy, white balsamic vinaigrette gives this simple salad lots of great flavor. It can be served cold or at room temperature, making it a great portable option for summer picnics and other outdoor activities.

The avocado cream sauce is both light and refreshing — qualities rarely found in creamy sauces. It also maintains an amazing brightness with the addition of fresh basil and lemon and is extremely versatile.

This spin on pasta salad has bright citrus flavors, smoky and spicy notes from the chiles and loads of freshness from an assortment of vegetables. The best part about this recipe, other than the fact that its flavor improves as it sits in the fridge, is that you can customize it, adding whatever vegetables or pasta you have on hand.

This dish reminds Laura Vitale of her best summer days on the Amalfi coast. It's so light, bright and flavorful — not to mention quick to prepare!

Pearl couscous is especially hearty and toothsome, with means it stands up perfectly even when made days ahead, and it makes for especially tasty leftovers to enjoy the whole week through. Just be sure to keep the herbaceous vinaigrette separate, and combine just before serving.

This simple salad is filled with crisp veggies and fresh herbs, easy to prepare and can be made ahead. Serve it warm or at room temperature.

Peach Baked Beans

Combine of summer's favorites fruits to sweeten up a barbecue staple. This version of the beloved side dish, which can be devoured by the spoonful or ladled onto hot dogs and tender pulled pork sandwiches, has a lively, balanced flavor profile with canned peach filling, pimiento peppers for a subtle kick and some acidity from cider vinegar.

Icebox Pasta Salad

Icebox Pasta Salad

Elizabeth Heiskell

This recipe uses everything in the icebox. If you have red onion, a little piece of squash or zucchini, leftover chicken, berries, peaches, apples or one random tomato, throw it in there. This is also amazing for lunchboxes the next day and delicious at room temperature.

"This is my go-to recipe for summer barbecues," says Dylan Dreyer. "It's super easy, we usually have all the ingredients on hand and it can sit out for a while without spoiling. There are a few things my mom makes that are so my mom, and every bite reminds me of her."

3-Bean Salad

3-Bean Salad

Craig Strong

Don't feel like going grocery shopping? All the ingredients for this simple, pleasantly acidic side dish are probably already in your pantry.

Mexican-Style Street Corn Macaroni Salad

The bright and tangy flavors of Mexican-style “street corn” add a fun twist to this summer party-ready elbow macaroni salad. Prep it just before serving, or make it the night before and chill in the fridge for an easy and ready-to-go potluck recipe that will be an instant crowd pleaser at all your summer bashes.

This pasta salad takes advantage of all the top-of-its-peak summer produce, packs a flavorful punch, and the light pepperoncini and pecorino vinaigrette is the perfect pairing on a hot day.

Ginger-Miso Pasta Salad

Ginger-Miso Pasta Salad

Valerie Bertinelli

No mayo alert! This Japanese-inspired pasta salad is filled with edamame, carrots and bell peppers, and its dressing is made with miso, ginger, soy and sesame. It gets better as it sits, which means it's perfect for picnics.

Adding tuna to pasta in a zippy vinaigrette is a great way to make this salad shine as an entrée. And with fresh herbs and red onion, it's a perfect foil to the heavier dishes on the table.

No need to boil water to prep this no-cook grain salad! Couscous just needs to be rehydrated before serving. For this recipe, you'll combine the couscous with a few staple pantry ingredients, then let it soak in the dressing for a couple hours (or even overnight, if you'd like to prep it in advance). Serve it chilled or room temperature — no heat required!

It's true — everything is better with bacon! In this recipe, the beloved BLT sandwich is transformed into pasta perfection. It's a unique and versatile dish that can be a side at barbecues or an entrée all on its own.

A colorful salad that's a mix of different vegetables hits the spot on a steamy summer evening. Everything can be prepped ahead of time and, while the recipe serves six, is easy to double for a larger gathering.

Sides that make the most of fresh produce

Burrata Caprese Salad

Burrata Caprese Salad

Valerie Bertinelli

"This is my go-to recipe for warm-weather entertaining," says Valerie Bertinelli. "It's no-cook, full of flavor, only requires a few ingredients and so refreshing. All the elements pair so well together and make for an easy and impressive starter."

If you find yourself in a love pickle — you love salsa and you love pickles — make this "pickle" de gallo! It’s the ultimate marriage of flavors and has all the makings of a scrumptious salsa, sans tomatoes, for a unique taste you can relish.

As vibrant as it is fresh, this salad is all about using ripe, in-season ingredients. Juicy tomatoes, cool watermelon and zesty herbs make this summery salad sing. It's also best served at room temperature, so there's no need to occupy extra space in the fridge.

The trick to this dish is to choose peppers with the deepest ripe-red hue possible to create the perfect sweet pepper spread. The secret ingredient is a backdrop of sweet and tart pomegranate molasses to brighten all the other flavors. Snack on this with fresh flatbread or toss it into your pasta. There is no wrong way to eat muhammara.

Chef Bryant Terry's family has found multiple uses for this tangy condiment: stuffing it into tacos, serving it atop beans and simply sautéing it to serve as a side dish. Try one serving option or all three, but definitely try it!

Loaded with sweet and spicy pickled vegetables to go along with the herby and briny feta dip, this platter requires only a few minutes of cooking, which means you'll have a cool kitchen while preparing a veggie-packed dish that is light, fresh and robust in flavor.

Grilled Corn (Maíz Rustido)

Maíz rustido is Spain's version of Mexican street corn. Like its south-of-the-border counterpart, this sweet corn is charred and served with salty cheese, smoky spices and zesty citrus. It will be on the plate in less than 30 minutes.

This recipe is really tasty and easy to throw together for a picnic or an afternoon barbecue. It lasts for days in the fridge, too, so you can make it a few days before your picnic without worrying about a soggy salad.

Grilled Vegetable Salad

If you have leftover baked potatoes, make this salad. It tastes great made fresh and equally good refrigerated and served a day or two later. It's a great barbecue dish to bring to someone's house, too.

We love a salad that’s loaded up with goodies, and this one definitely fits the bill! With lightly pickled cucumbers, grapes, blueberries, pistachios and gorgonzola cheese, it’s got a ton of amazing flavor going on.

According to Pati Jinich, summertime salads work best with a pop of refreshing fruit, a little heat, something creamy and salty, all tossed lightly in a bright, citrusy vinaigrette. Her watermelon-tomatillo salad shows off all her best summer salad-making tips in one gorgeous recipe.

Cool as a cucumber, this herby salad features bright and refreshing flavors that will woo your taste buds. You're the boss of your toss — throw in parsley, mint, dill, basil or cilantro — most fresh garden herbs will work. This is best enjoyed the same day since the cukes are the crunchiest, but it will last up to three days in the fridge. Scoop up a hearty serving and enjoy the taste of summer.

Summer Corn Succotash

Summer Corn Succotash

Sweet Potato Chronicles

With only three ingredients that may already be in the pantry, this is a sweet and simple summer side that's a great recipe to keep going back to every weekend.

Pandan, also known as screw pine or the vanilla of Southeast Asia, brings out a wonderfully smoky sweetness from the corn. It can be found in the Asian food section of some grocery stores or in many Asian specialty stores.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

Meredith Brokaw

Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, fried green tomatoes are a quintessential summer staple. We recommend pairing these delicious bites with fresh homemade ranch dressing.

Imagine smoky-sweet grilled corn with sizzling garlic butter and fragrant basil — aka what summer food dreams are made of.

Tomatoes are at their peak right now, and so is sweet and juicy corn. It couldn't be a better time to throw all these seasonal vegetables together to make a delicious salad. And grilled halloumi adds a little Middle Eastern flair to it.

This savory tomato tart is just as delicious to eat as it is beautiful to look at. Pick up as many fresh, colorful tomatoes as you can to really make this unique side dish shine.

Potato salads and slaws

Grilled Potato Salad

If you're firing up the grill, why not use it for everything, including the potato salad? The open flame gives this classic starchy dish a new wave of flavor. It calls for Yukon gold potatoes but works well with any potato you have on hand for ultimate versatility.

When it's hot outside and you don't want to turn on your stove, this light, bright salad is the perfect antidote. Use a grater or your food processor to get the broccoli as small as possible, then combine with the fresh zing of lemon and the brininess of feta to get the perfect summer slaw.

No-Mayo Potato Salad

Seriously, no matter which side of the mayo divide guests fall on, they are going to go in for seconds of this potato salad. Instead of mayonnaise, a mixture of heart-healthy tahini, apple cider vinegar and a splash of starchy potato-cooking water help bind this tangy dressing to each bite. Deceptively creamy, this filling and refreshing classic picnic side dish will be piled high on everyone's plates.

Perfect Potato Salad

The key to a perfect potato salad — as with all cooking — is having the best ingredients. When you stumble upon the most precious baby potatoes, it's time to make potato salad. Then, instead of making a heavy, mayonnaise-y salad, toss just-tender potatoes with olive oil, shallot vinaigrette and whatever fresh, green herbs you can get your hands on.

Honey-Jalapeño Coleslaw

The grated jalapeño and hint of honey give this slaw a delicious balance of sweet and heat, which makes this classic side dish more exciting and dynamic.

This twist on traditional slaw is the perfect lunch or dinner to make ahead of time and pack for a mobile feast. It's delicious and hearty while still being healthy, plus it's packed with a good dose of protein, grains and vegetables.

Curry Cauliflower Slaw

Make some curry roasted cauliflower ahead of time and toss it with bagged slaw for a flavorful side or meal.

Cauliflower 'Potato' Salad

Cauliflower 'Potato' Salad

Valerie Bertinelli

This is a lighter spin on classic potato salad. The potatoes are swapped with cauliflower, resulting in a delicious and satisfying dish … you won't even miss the potatoes!

Bludso's Potato Salad

If you don't get your elbows dirty, you aren't making potato salad right. You have to mix it with your hands to make sure all the flavors are mixing in. It should taste good every step of the way.

Baked Potato Salad

Baked Potato Salad

Alex Guarnaschelli

If you have leftover baked potatoes, make this salad It tastes great made fresh and equally good refrigerated and served a day or two later. It's a great barbecue dish to bring to someone's house, too.