Summer is a time for barbecues, backyard feasts and picnics -- and mayonnaise-drenched potato salads galore. But this Fourth of July may well be the perfect time to declare your independence from those same-old-same-old dishes, ditch the coleslaws of yore and try something new.

Alan Jackson's casual Lemonade cafes have been popping up across Southern California with seasonal comfort food that's inspired by farmers markets, childhood lemonade stands and grade school cafeterias. If, that is, your school cafeteria served Green Zebra Tomato and Sweet Corn Salad, sprinkled with toasted pepitas and dressed with a spicy, zesty ancho chile vinaigrette. Jackson just opened his 15th Lemonade in Dubai. If you've flown through LAX any time recently, you may have encountered No. 14 in the Delta terminal -- and when we caught up with Jackson, he'd just returned from San Francisco, where he was scouting possibilities.

But his Fourth of July will be spent on the Rogue River with his daughters, fishing for salmon and, of course, cooking outdoors. "We're doing a whole roasted pig in a pit, and I'm in charge of sides," he says. "The green tomato salad is a perfect accompaniment to that."

But you don't need an entire pig to make a splash on the Fourth. Whatever comes off the grill will be improved by the addition of some dazzling sides.

"I don't see them as side dishes. I see them as the main event," Jackson says. "How to accompany the main protein -- the vegetables and sauces -- has always been the thing that most inspires me. It's the most exciting part of the dish. I think that's how we should eat -- make vegetables unctuous and craveable and fun to eat."

The tomato-corn salad brings not only Southwestern flavors to the table, but a smokiness from ancho and chipotle chiles. "It's barbecue without any of the guilt," Jackson says. "It's light on oil, high on flavor and crunch. It's great under a slab of ribs or next to a grilled sweet potato. This is food you'd get on my day off at home."

Prefer something more along the Asian line? Jackson's Chinese Long Bean and Pluot Salad is a thing of beauty, all greens and purples and velvety textures. It works equally well with regular green beans, but Jackson prefers long beans, cutting the leggy lengths into bite-size pieces, blanching them and then pan-roasting them so "you get more character. We run this when pluots are in season -- now -- and riffing off the Asian influence we have in California and San Francisco."

JoAnn Cianciulli, the co-author of his new "Lemonade Cookbook" (St. Martin's Press, $30, 240 pages), is a major salad fan, too. If her name rings bells, it's because she has written 10 cookbooks, including one with Michael Mina, and produced "Master Chef" and a slew of other food shows. (Her next is "Restaurant Start-Up" with Joe Bastianich -- think "Shark Tank" for restaurants -- which debuts on CNBC July 8 at 10 p.m.) Cianciulli belongs to the Hoodwinked Dining Club, a potluck supper club whose members are all chefs, so she gets teased for bringing salads. And yet, that's always the first dish to disappear, whether it's a kale Caesar, the green bean-pluot riff or her current favorite, a raw Brussels sprouts salad with mint that requires no recipe.

"I shave Brussels sprouts on the mandoline, add pecorino, mint for brightness, lemon juice, good olive oil, salt and pepper," she says. "Let it sit a little bit. It's like slaw, but different -- like confetti. It's so yummy."

The beauty of salads like these is that they're not mayonnaise-based or lettuce-dependent. "You can take it on a picnic," Cianciulli says, "not worry about the temperature."

Classics are classics for a reason, but that doesn't mean you need to keep making them the same way. Take two summer standbys -- Greek salad and watermelon -- and do a mash-up, a la Miami chef and frequent "Top Chef" guest judge Michelle Bernstein. Or mix the coleslaw concept with the bright freshness -- and explosive heat -- of quick pickled jalapeño and onions, the way San Francisco chef Ryan Farr, of 4505 Meats fame, does.

Think of it as fireworks on a salad plate.