Summer on Display

In this heat, dinner 'rules' melt away

A couple weeks back, Daniel and I hosted the community chat on summertime eating, a head-exploding thread of ideas that ranged from farmers market finds and clean-out-the-fridge salads to impromptu sandwiches and refreshing cocktails. The takeaway: As long as there's fresh produce and sometimes, a grill, anything qualifies as dinner in hot weather. 


Corn and Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Feta, and Mint

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

After a fan raved about Mark's raw corn salad, I posted the recipe in the original recipe in the thread. Now here's how to spin the super easy — and somewhat shocking — crowd-pleaser into lunch or dinner. My latest version includes some farro; its pleasant earthiness and chew offer heft in a salad of sweet corn, mint, and tomatoes. You could also use rice, bulgur, quinoa, or steel-cut oats. Just make sure the grains — or pasta for that matter — aren't straight out of the fridge, which exacerbates the starch and makes for unpleasant eating. If you don't have anything already cooked, start a pot going first thing, then toss the corn salad with the warm grain for a room temperature feast. (Or chill it all down for a few minutes in the freezer before serving.) Other ideas for bulking: crisp salad greens, black beans or chickpeas, grilled chicken, or cooked shrimp. 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked farro

  • 3 large ears corn

  • 1 large or 2 medium fresh tomatoes

  • 1 bunch fresh mint

  • 4 ounces feta cheese

  • Salt and pepper

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, or more to taste

  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar, or more to taste

Instructions

1. Put the farro in a large bowl. Husk the corn and cut the kernels from the cob (you should have about 3 cups); add them to the bowl. Core and chop the tomatoes and about 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves. Add all that to the bowl, too.

2. Crumble in the cheese and sprinkle with a little salt and some pepper. Drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar and toss. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more oil and vinegar if you'd like, and serve.

— Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian 10th Anniversary Edition

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Soy-Simmered Tofu Dumplings with Zucchini and Tomatoes

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

The idea of dumplings might seem heavy-ish for summer, but when silken tofu is involved and the poaching liquid is studded with seasonal vegetables, you end up with seasonally appropriate comfort fare (even though I sort of don't like that cooking cliché!). The gingery, lemony, slightly sweet simmering liquid is plenty bright but to lighten things up even more, substitute vegetable stock or seaweed broth (kombu dashi) for the water and soy sauce in Step 4. 

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons good-quality vegetable oil

  • 1 pound zucchini

  • 1 large tomato

  • 1 small onion

  • 2 inches fresh ginger

  • 1 lemon

  • 12 to 16 ounces firm silken tofu (1 package)

  • 1 1/4 cup flour, plus more if needed

  • 2 tablespoons white or yellow miso

  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce, plus more to taste

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

  • Several sprigs fresh herbs for garnish (like Thai basil, chives, or cilantro)

  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

1. Put 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Trim and chop the zucchini, add it to the skillet and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally until it sizzles, about 3 minutes. Then lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pieces crisp and brown in places, 5 to 10 minutes.

2. While the zucchini cooks, core and chop the tomato. Trim, peel, halve, and slice the onion. Peel and chop the ginger. Halve the lemon and keep it handy.

3. Drain any liquid from the tofu and put it in a large bowl with the flour, miso, and sesame seeds. Stir and fold with a rubber spatula until smooth. The mixture should look like cookie dough. if it's too loose, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time.

4. When the zucchini is ready, add the tomatoes, onion, and ginger and return the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften, about a minute. Then add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and 3 cups water. Stir to scrape up any browned bits and bring the mixture to a boil. 

4. Use two large spoons to drop the tofu mixture into the broth, forming 12 dumplings the size of small biscuits. (It's OK if you don't make exactly 12.)

5. Adjust the heat so the broth bubbles steadily but not too wildly. Cover the skillet and cook undisturbed until the dumplings expand, become firm, and absorb broth all the way to their centers, 5 to 10 minutes. (You'll have to peek into one to check.) Use this time to chop the herbs.

6. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the simmering liquid and stir. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more soy sauce and some salt and pepper if you like. Scoop the dumplings and vegetables into shallow bowls with a slotted spoon, ladle in some of the broth, garnish with the herbs, and serve.

— From the upcoming How to Cook Everything Fast, 2nd Edition

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Chicken Skewers with Italian Sausage and Lemon Wedges

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 30 minutes |

Perfect companions to thread on the same skewer: The fat from the sausage bastes the chicken, ensuring meats are tender with crisp edges, while the lemon keeps the flavors lively. Be sure to cut the sausage pieces as directed so they’ll cook at the same pace as the chicken. And of course as always, if you don't have a grill, spread the skewers onto a rimmed baking sheet and pop them under the broiler. All you need to round out the meal are steamed corn on the cob, cucumbers and red onion tossed with sour cream and hunks of torn bread.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • Salt and pepper

  • 1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage

  • 2 lemons

Instructions

1. If you’re using bamboo or wooden skewers, soak them in hot tap water while the grill heats 30 minutes. Meanwhile, start the coals or heat a gas grill for medium direct cooking. Make sure the grates are clean.

2. Cut the chicken into 1-inch pieces, toss with the oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cut the sausage into 1-inch chunks. Cut each lemon into 8 wedges and remove as many seeds as you can.

3. Alternate the chicken, sausage, and lemon on the skewers, packing the food fairly tightly. (Using 2 skewers as shown in the photo makes the kebabs easier to handle. You can assemble the skewers several hours ahead, cover, and refrigerate until ready to grill.)

4. Put the skewers on the grill directly over the fire. Close the lid and cook, turning the skewers several times, until the chicken and sausage are no longer pink in the center, 8 to 12 minutes total. (Nick with a small knife and peek inside.) Transfer to a platter and serve.

— From How to Grill Everything

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