Fresh ideas using the season's produce
By Lee Svitak Dean
JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) July may be my favorite month, when there's a surplus of everything: from string beans and sunshine to baby zucchini and daylilies or cherries and good spirits. Check out the crowds at the farmers market who, in the midst of summer, seem almost giddy with the food choices before them. This is what we wait for hope for during the long, dark days of winter when "local" means root vegetables. Indulge in the plentiful choices that our markets and farmers have to offer. Then head to the kitchen or outdoor grill, where the first harvest means an explosion of taste. Dinner doesn't get any better than this.
Branch out in your use of watermelon and turn it into a salad. Cube it in bite-size chunks (and get rid of those seeds) and combine with baby greens, sliced red onion, feta, olives and fresh oregano. Toss with a simple vinaigrette, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mmm.
Partial to watermelon? Add it to lemonade and make watermelon-ade. Seed the watermelon and cut into chunks to make 8 cups, then puree. Add to 4 cups lemonade and you've got a treat. If it sits for too long, the liquid gets cloudy, so give it a gentle stir.
Cool off with flavored waters you make yourself. Try adding cucumber slices to water, with or without sprigs of mint or thyme. Or combine cucumber with citrus slices. Pair honeydew, cantaloupe and cucumber. Or slice strawberries and add to the water. Choose only orange, lime or lemon slices. Chill and enjoy.
Make sangria with fresh fruit and either white or red wines. For a white sangria, choose a dry white wine. Pour several bottles into a container and combine with citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges) and a handful of barely crushed berries if you have them. Chill and serve as a spritzer with half sparkling water.
Or perhaps the more traditional red sangria is your go-to summer beverage. Start with fruity red wine and combine with lemon, lime and orange slices. Serve as a spritzer by mixing in lemon-lime soda, or sweeten with your own simple syrup (half sugar, half water, heated to melt sugar) and add to wine with sparkling water. Lovely.
Picnic time: Make a salsa verde potato salad by boiling Yukon golds until tender, then cube and toss them with red onion, bell pepper, salsa verde, chopped avocado and salt to taste. Top with chopped fresh cilantro and cotija cheese.
Think pasta and combine with fresh vegetables. Add chopped tomatoes and onion slices with a garlicky vinaigrette. Thinly slice zucchini lengthwise into ribbons using a mandolin or grater. If adding any other vegetables to the pasta, such as snap peas, blanch them for a minute or two in the pasta water. Serve with grated Parmesan.
Or maybe it's a Greek pasta salad that gets your attention: Cook orzo, the rice-shaped pasta. Sauté chopped zucchini, yellow squash and green onions. Toss with the cooked orzo and add chopped cherry tomatoes, parsley, dill, goat cheese, salt and pepper. Drizzle a little vinaigrette in the salad to finish it off. If you like, place the salad atop baby greens.
Not just for the kids: Make your own frozen treats by combining vanilla ice cream or plain yogurt with berries (strawberries would need to be cut up and sweetened). Put them into molds or other containers such as paper cups, and freeze. Add sticks for handles when partially frozen.
Roast red, yellow and orange peppers over the grill or under the broiler by heating them until the skin blisters and becomes dark all over. Place the peppers in a paper bag or covered dish to let the skin "sweat" off. Rinse under cold water and brush off the blistered skin. Use the roasted peppers in salads, with pasta or on a vegetable platter.
Add a poached egg to just about any pile of steamed vegetables. It's especially good atop haricot verts (the skinny green beans) or cooked greens. For green beans, steam or boil them and cool in ice water; pat dry. Then toss with a vinaigrette. Top with the egg.
Mustard dill sauce for seafood: Whisk together 6 tablespoons Dijon mustard and 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill with 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
Add fresh herbs to any homemade vinaigrette. Start with a 2:1 proportion of olive oil to acid (such as vinegar or juices). Then experiment to find your preference for best ratio for a dressing. Add a mashed garlic clove and a little Dijon mustard. Whisk together with salt and freshly cracked pepper and your favorite herb.
Looking for no-cook options? Make zucchini carpaccio: Thinly slice zucchini crosswise use a mandolin or grater and spread out on a platter, covering it completely. Drizzle olive oil over zucchini, along with a little lemon juice. Top with finely grated Parmesan, a little salt and chopped fresh mint.
Beet salad your style? Thinly slice beets and cut into matchsticks (wear rubber gloves to prevent staining). Add thin red onion slices and chopped flat-leaf parsley. Toss with an orange juice vinaigrette (2:1 olive oil to OJ) and let sit about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle a little more vinaigrette.
Make breakfast parfaits by layering plain yogurt with berries or pitted cherries and granola. What a way to start the morning.
Take advantage of the fleeting cherry season by puréeing pitted cherries with hibiscus tea, sweetened with sugar. Serve over ice.
Add fresh mint to lemonade, homemade or prepared. Or add sliced strawberries. To make your own lemonade, use about 2 cups fresh lemon juice with a simple syrup to taste (half water/half sugar, heated until the sugar melts; cool before adding to the lemonade). Add water until it's the right tartness.
Grill your favorite vegetables on skewers (soak skewers for 30 minutes beforehand if they are wooden). For even heating, place like vegetables on a single skewer or make all vegetable pieces roughly the same size. A nice combo: bell pepper chunks, yellow summer squash or zucchini, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, onions.
Toss cooked snap peas with pesto, salt and freshly cracked black pepper for a tasty side dish.
This is homemade salsa time as tomatoes begin to ripen. Seed tomatoes and chop them. Combine with onion, serrano or jalapeño peppers, a little lime juice and salt. Add chopped cilantro if you like it. Or use diced zucchini and cucumbers as the base with just a little tomato. Add a little vinegar and olive oil and a handful of chopped chives.
Make curried onion chutney to serve with grilled vegetables or sesame or rice crackers: Saute 3 chopped sweet onions with 2 or 3 minced garlic cloves in 1 tablespoon oil for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool and put onions in blender with 2 tablespoons sesame oil, leaving some chunks. Serve at room temperature.
Is there anything as refreshing as cucumbers in the summer? For this old-time salad, thinly slice a cucumber and onion. Add it to about 1/2 cup white wine vinegar and 1/2 cup water. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and, if you wish, a tablespoon or two of sugar. Marinate in the refrigerator.
Need a summer dessert? Make a layered trifle with berries or other fruit, slices of pound cake and plenty of whipped cream. Want more flavor? Whip in a little mascarpone cheese when you're beating the cream.
Beyond stirfry: Peel carrots and cut them into large chunks of equal size. Toss with olive oil and sprigs of fresh thyme. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast them in the oven until tender, about 1 hour at 400 degrees (any temperature is fine, if something else is in the oven).
Bruschetta: Seed and chop tomatoes and mix with a little olive oil, chopped fresh basil, salt and pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes or more. Toast 1/2 -inch thick slices of a baguette. Rub one side of each with slice of garlic; brush same side with olive oil. Top bread slices with tomato mixture and serve immediately.
Make your own green goddess dressing: Combine 1/3 cup minced parsley, 1/3 cup minced chives, 1 tablespoon minced green onions, 1/4 cup minced fresh tarragon with 2 ounces of anchovy paste, 3 cups mayonnaise and 1/3 cup tarragon vinegar. Chill and dress green salads. Makes 4 cups.
A simple smooth blueberry sauce: Puree 1 pint of blueberries in a blender or food processor with 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Taste and add more juice or sugar, if needed. Serve with pancakes or waffles or over ice cream.
Toss new potatoes with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Seal in a foil packet and grill over medium-high heat until tender, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with herbs before serving, such as fresh parsley or thyme.
Whether it's lemonade for the kids or daiquiris for the adults, garnish your summer drinks with fruit kebabs on skewers or cocktail picks. Get your 5-a-day on a stick.
For breakfast or dessert: Combine bite-size chunks of cantaloupe with blackberries or blueberries, a bit of sugar, a little grated fresh ginger and a little fresh lime juice and zest. Let marinate at least 30 minutes. Toss with bits of fresh mint before serving.
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© 2012, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) Distributed by MCT Information Services