Favorite summer recipes

It’s probably hot where you are, and if you’re like me, your motivation to cook is low when the temperature is high. Below is a collection of some of my favorite summer recipes — all easy, quick, and light. Some don’t even require heat from a stove! (And yes, many of them are pasta, but it’s a good variety of types of sauces!)

Light meals

Sides and sweets

Mixed citrus salad with feta and mint (~4 servings)

I know I've said this before, but every damn smittenkitchen recipe I make is fabulous. Deb is some sort of culinary sorceress; each recipe comes out perfectly seasoned and intensely flavorful. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've never been let down by any of her creations. Now if only I could replicate her photography skills...

Here in Durham, the last two days' weather has been the meteorological equivalent of a cold, soggy sponge abandoned in the kitchen sink by an inconsiderate roommate. Days like this beg for happy, invigorating recipes like this one. Its vivid colors and succulent flavors are like optimism on a fork. They'll have you longing for sunnier days, warmer temperatures, and carefree afternoons with friends.

Then, perhaps, you'll remember pollen allergies. And mosquitoes. And sunburns. And stifling Carolina humidity. And sweaty thighs singed by car vinyl. And sinus headaches just ahead of summer thunderstorms.

You decide that maybe, for now, you're content with summery recipes and can wait on the other junk.

You will need:

  • 2 scallions
  • 4 pieces of citrus (I used a ruby red grapefruit, one blood orange, a navel orange, and a tangelo)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard (Read the label carefully if you're going for gluten-free)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • ~3 Tbsp crumbled feta cheese
  • a handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped or slivered

Steps:

  1. Thinly slice the green parts of the scallions into the bottom of a tall bowl. (I used my herb scissors for this step and for slivering the mint later on. Thanks, Mom!) Place a strainer or colander over the bowl.
  2. Next, you want to cut the peel off each piece of fruit and then slice it horizontally into 1/4"-thick wheels. The goal is to cut the white pith off (Oh, you pith off!) to avoid any bitterness. (Honestly, the best way to explain the cutting method is to provide this video, which illustrates the process beautifully. Pluck out any seeds as you go.)
  3. Place the slices of fruit in the strainer, which is now resting over the scallion bowl. The acidity from the juice will mellow the scallions. Allow them to drain a few minutes while you clean up your cutting board and find a shallow serving dish.
  4. Spread the citrus wheels out on the dish, overlapping the pieces as necessary. Use a fork or slotted spoon to fish the scallion slices out of the bowl; scatter them on top of the fruit, leaving the citrus juice behind in the bowl.
  5. Add the lemon juice, Dijon, and olive oil to the citrus juice in the bowl. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Whisk well.
  6. Drizzle the dressing over the fruit, then sprinkle with crumbled feta and chopped mint. Serve chilled.

This is a true appetizer: one that whets the palate without weighing it down with anything fried, bloomed, or stuffed. (Not that there's anything wrong with fried, bloomed, or stuffed, but there's a time and place for everything, you know.)

Chickpea salad with roasted red peppers (4-6 servings)

I've been sitting here for 20 minutes, clicking back and forth between this editing page and various favorite distractions (ahem, Dogshaming) as I try to think of what to say about this recipe.  What can I say about chickpeas, roasted peppers, tomatoes, and vinaigrette that hasn't already been said elsewhere? 

This is a simple recipe, and sometimes simple is best. It hails from the ever-popular Smitten Kitchen, and even usually-illustrative Deb (Did I ever mention that I met her a few months ago?) couldn't find much to say about it. It's not that it's boring -- it's definitely not -- but it's reliable, and it tastes exactly the way you'd expect it to taste. The chickpeas are plump and slightly salty, the peppers are smoky and sweet, the tomatoes add a little more sweetness, the herbs lend some earthy flavor, the lemon brightens everything a bit, and the oil brings everything together with a touch of richness.

There: I did find something to say after all.

You will need: 

  • 2 large roasted red peppers, either jarred or homemade
  • 2 15-oz cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 medium tomato, cored and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp chopped mint leaves
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Steps: 

  1. Cut the peppers into small-ish strips (no need to be exact) and place them in a bowl. Add the tomatoes, parsley, and mint, tossing briefly.  
  2. Whisk the lemon juice, salt, garlic, and oil together in a separate bowl, or shake them up in a jar with a lid. 
  3. Pour the dressing over the chickpeas mixture and toss to combine. You're ready to go! 

This can be served as is, or it can be stuffed into a pita or a wrap. I'd imagine it would also be good over salad greens, but I haven't tried it that way myself. I like to make a batch, stick it in the fridge, and come back to it as the week goes on. The flavors intensify as time passes!

A note about the peppers: If you've never roasted your own, you really should try it. I used to think it was a complicated process that involved paper bags and fancy knives, but it really isn't difficult at all. Newbies should check out this detailed explanation of a truly simple process. All you need is peppers, an oven, some sort of baking vessel, tongs, and your hands. The jarred kind taste good, but they usually contain excess oil and salt and sometimes preservatives. If you make your own, your peppers contain peppers and only peppers. I definitely prefer making my own when I have time.

 

Tomato and nectarine salad (8 servings)

tomatonectarine.jpg

Last month, I attempted a tomato-peach combination that failed, but I said I wasn't ready to give up. When I opened the September issue of Vegetarian Times and saw a recipe for heirloom tomato and nectarine salad, I knew I had another excuse to try. After all, a peach and a nectarine are practically the same thing, right? And although the VT recipe was for a side dish instead of a main course, it still featured the sunshiny, acidic-sweet combination I was hoping for with the peach-tomato sauce, and it still spotlighted ripe, juicy, in-season ingredients.

You will need:

  • 2 1/2 lbs tomatoes (heirloom or not; beefsteak, cherry, or a combination thereof), cored and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 lbs nectarines, peeled (I didn't peel them because I'm lazy) and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 8 green onions, white and light green parts thinly sliced (I omitted them)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp orange juice
  • 3 Tbsp mild vinegar (the original recipe suggests sherry but I used rice)
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 - 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup mint and basil leaves, roughly chopped

Steps:

  1. Put tomatoes and nectarines in a serving bowl. Add green onions, if using.
  2. Add remaining ingredients (minus mint and basil) to a measuring cup or jar with lid. Stir or shake until thoroughly mixed. Pour over tomatoes and nectarines; add mint and basil and toss until combined. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed.

Look at those colors! I don't think there's anything more summery than fiery reds, sunny oranges and yellows, and flecks of lush greens. I promise it tastes just as delicious as it looks!

Creamy avocado and white bean wrap (4 servings)

Guess what? It's hot. It's not as hot as it was last week, but still, it's hot. And when it's swelteringly uncomfortable, who wants to cook? Summer is a great time for "recipes" that require a little chopping, a little mixing, and not much else. This wrap recipe from Eating Well is a good example. Now admittedly, I made this recipe after a tough gym workout, when my brain was a tad sweat-addled, so I made it harder than it needed to be. I didn't take a picture of the results because there wasn't much room on the counter among all the shredded cabbage bits and spilled vinegar. (Yes, it was one of those mornings.) But for the average alert, coherent home cook, this recipe is simple, quick, and easy.

You will need:

  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp canola oil
  • a dash chipotle powder (to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups shredded red cabbage (And please -- make sure your food processor is on the correct setting, or you'll get cabbage confetti all over the place. Trust me.)
  • 1 medium carrot, shredded
  • 1 15-oz can white beans, rinsed and drained (I used Great Northern)
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (the recipe says sharp cheddar, but I used smoked mozzarella and would suggest that)
  • 2 Tbsp minced red onion OR dash of onion powder
  • 4 8 to 10-inch sandwich wraps (I used multi-grain)

Steps:

  1. Whisk vinegar, oil, chipotle powder, and salt in a medium bowl. (If you're using onion powder instead of minced onion, add that in, too.) Add the cabbage and carrot to the bowl and toss to coat.
  2. Add beans and avocado to another bowl and mash to combine. Stir in cheese (and minced onion, if using).
  3. If needed, microwave the wraps for a few seconds to soften them. Spread 1/4 of the bean-avocado mixture across each wrap and top with 1/4 of the cabbage-carrot mixture. Roll up and serve.

The leftover wraps kept surprisingly well in the fridge until the next day!