Light lunches to keep the summer doldrums at bay
The start of what appears to be a long, hot summer is here.
Daylight lingers after dinner’s done, and the sun’s up before the coffee starts brewing.
During the hottest afternoons, we rest in air-conditioned spaces or find refuge at a shaded swimming hole. We take time to smell the peaches and feel the smooth skin of the tomatoes and remember how to thump watermelons.
Even if we don’t think of ourselves as seasonal eaters, those small changes are there, and this is the time of year when I try to notice them.
We’re enjoying honeydew melons for breakfast and lemonade at lunch. Rather than cooking a big meal, I piece together sandwiches and salads or eat a plate of cheese and figs. When I’m craving something sweet in the middle of the day, I’ll steal a bite of chocolate stored in the freezer.
My family is eating dinner later, sometimes after 8 p.m., in part because it’s easy to lose track of time after months of trying to stay home.
This spring has been unlike any other in memory, and this summer looks to serve as another period of unknowns, but what we can trust is that humans are good at changing with the seasons because we’ve been doing so for longer than we’ve had words to describe them.
Even when everything else feels volatile, recognizing this shift helps me feel more grounded, more stable, more present.
As you experience your own shift, whatever that might look like, you might be looking for some light, summery dishes to provide an anchor for your day. I pulled together a handful of dishes from some really excellent new cookbooks that can bring new energy to your hot weather cooking.
Some of them, like the vegetable curry soup with wontons or the stuffed quinoa peppers with Hungarian paprika, have a little spice to make you sweat, while others, like that tomato confit on toast and Thai basil stir fry, are bursting with the flavors of summer.
If you’re already feeling the summer doldrums, consider picking up a new cookbook, shopping for food from a new place or finding a new food show on TV to watch while you’re escaping the Texas heat. This will be the summer to remember: It’s the small changes that can make the biggest difference.
Anchovies With Tomato Confit on Toast
Bart van Olphen loves tinned fish, especially anchovies, which he says earned their place in kitchens the world over because the little fish is found virtually everywhere. In this recipe, he pairs them with a tomato confit made by gently simmering tomatoes in olive oil, garlic and thyme. Feel free to use other types of canned fish in this recipe — the higher quality, the better — and to use the confit over scrambled eggs or alongside a plate of cheese, pickles and crackers.
— Addie Broyles
Extra-virgin olive oil
10 cherry tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/4 bunch of thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 loaf of ciabatta (or your favorite bread)
1 (2-ounce) tin of anchovies in olive oil, drained
1/2 bunch of basil, leaves only, shredded
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a splash of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place them in the oil with their cut side down. Turn down the heat, add the garlic and thyme, and, with the lid on, leave the tomatoes to soften for 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Slice the ciabatta and toast the bread in a toaster or toaster oven.
Top the warm bread with the confit tomatoes and discard the garlic and thyme. Divide the anchovy fillets between the slices, sprinkle with the basil leaves, and drizzle with olive oil to taste.
— From “The Tinned Fish Cookbook: Easy-to-Make Meals From Ocean to Plate” by Bart van Olphen (The Experiment, $18.95)
Quinoa’s distinctive nutty taste works brilliantly against the smoky paprika and aromatic fennel in these super-savory stuffed peppers. Oh, and if you’re cooking your own rather than using ready-cooked quinoa, try toasting it in the pan before adding your liquid, which will bring out even more nuttiness. Any extra quinoa stuffing can be spooned onto a baked potato or mixed with some salad leaves for a quick, healthy lunch.
— Camilla Stephens
4 red, orange or yellow peppers, or a mixture, halved from stalk end to base, cored and deseeded
Olive oil, for sauteing
1 white onion, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely diced
1 teaspoon paprika, preferably Spanish pimentón or Hungarian hot paprika
1/3 cup dried quinoa, cooked according to the pack instructions (or 2/3 cups ready-cooked quinoa)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted (can substitute other nuts)
1/3 cup pitted black olives, roughly chopped
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped, plus extra to garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the peppers, cut side up, in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle over some salt and pepper and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, heat enough olive oil to coat the base of a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and fennel to the pan with a pinch of salt and saute, stirring regularly, for 15 minutes until soft, sweet and translucent and starting to brown in places. Stir in the smoked or sweet paprika and toast for a minute or so.
Tip the sauteed vegetable mixture into a mixing bowl and stir in all the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Divide the quinoa and vegetable mixture between the pepper halves and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the peppers are soft to the point of a knife.
Remove from the oven and leave the peppers to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, which helps the filling to firm up, before lifting them out and serving garnished with extra chopped parsley. Serves 2 to 4.
— From “The Higgidy Vegetarian Cookbook: 100 delicious recipes for pies, tarts & more” by Camilla Stephens (Mitchell Beazley, $24.99)
Thai Basil Stir-Fry
To make your own ground chicken, chop breast and thigh meat with a knife and freeze the chunks just until firm. Add the chicken to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not pasty. You can serve this stir-fry with rice or in a lettuce wrap, topped with the shredded carrots and basil leaves.
— Good Housekeeping
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound ground chicken
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice
Steamed rice, for serving
1 cup shredded carrots and additional basil, for topping
In a 12-inch skillet on medium, cook onion and garlic in canola oil 6 minutes or until garlic is golden, stirring occasionally. Add ground chicken.
Increase heat to medium-high. Cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally.
Add fish sauce; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in basil leaves and lime juice.
Serve over steamed rice, topped with shredded carrots and additional basil. Serves 2 to 4.
— From “Good Housekeeping Chicken!: 75+ Easy & Delicious Recipes (Good Food Guaranteed)" by Good Housekeeping (Good Housekeeping, $16.95)
Lemongrass Chicken, Lentil Hummus and Pickled Veggies
I love hummus because it’s so versatile; you can top it with just about anything and it will taste amazing. That’s why I’ve put all the fixings of a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich in a hummus bowl: the umami flavor of the hummus perfectly complements the fresh herbs and pickled vegetables. For the hummus, I’ve used red lentils instead of garbanzo beans because they have a super creamy, velvety texture that goes perfectly with the crunchy, vinegary quick-pickled veggies.
— Adeline Waugh
For the chicken:
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 lemongrass stalk, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
4 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons coconut sugar
2 tablespoons avocado oil
Juice of 1/2 lime (about 1 tablespoon)
4 (4-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenders
For the pickled veggies:
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup thinly sliced daikon radish
1 cup julienned Persian cucumber
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
For the red lentil hummus:
1 cup red lentils
4 garlic cloves
1 small shallot
2 tablespoons fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons avocado oil
2 teaspoons coconut sugar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons tamarind paste or rice vinegar
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Make the chicken: In a food processor, puree the garlic, shallot, lemongrass, vinegar, fish sauce, red pepper flakes, coconut sugar, avocado oil and lime juice until garlic, shallot and lemongrass are finely minced and a sauce is formed. Place the chicken in a large bowl and pour the marinade over until the chicken is completely submerged. Cover with plastic and let marinate in the refrigerator for 6 hours to overnight.
Make the quick-pickled vegetables: In a medium bowl, combine the carrot, radish, cucumber, rice vinegar, coconut sugar and salt. Let the vegetables sit in the brine, uncovered, at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Make the hummus: In a medium saucepan, bring the lentils and 4 cups water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, half-covered, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until soft and mushy. Drain any excess liquid and let cool for at least 10 minutes.
In a food processor, pulse the garlic and shallot until very finely minced. Then, add the cooked lentils, fish sauce, lime juice, avocado oil, coconut sugar, red pepper flakes and tamarind. Puree until smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust as needed. Add more vinegar or tamarind for acid, and fish sauce for salt.
In a large skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon avocado oil over medium-high heat. Once shimmering, add the marinated chicken. Cook undisturbed for 5 to 7 minutes, then flip and cook 10 minutes more, until the chicken is cooked through and browned on all sides. Let the chicken rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing.
To assemble, spoon 1 cup of hummus into a shallow bowl or onto a plate and top with some chicken and pickled vegetables, then garnish with mint and cilantro to taste. Store leftovers separately in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to a week. Serves 4.
— From “Vibrant and Pure: Healthful Recipes for Bright, Nourishing Meals from @vibrantandpure: A Cookbook“ by Adeline Waugh (Clarkson Potter, $24)
Vegetable Wontons in a Coconut Thai Curry Broth
The recipe for the wontons makes a lot of wontons. Only use about half for this soup, and freeze the rest to save time the next time you want to make this dish or another light soup; cook from frozen, adding a couple more minutes to the cook time. Fresh lemongrass can be found in the produce section of most grocery stores. If you can’t find it, just skip it.
— Amanda Frederickson
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided
2 shallots, minced, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced, divided
2 (1-inch) pieces lemongrass, finely chopped, divided
8 ounces fresh shiitakes
3 small heads bok choy, divided
40 wonton wrappers
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 (15-ounce) can of coconut milk
1 1/4 cups of vegetable stock
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
In a wok or skillet, warm toasted sesame oil over medium heat. Add ginger, half of the minced shallot, half of the garlic and half of the lemongrass and saute for 30 seconds. Add 8 ounces of thinly sliced shiitakes and saute for 4 to 6 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft. Chop and add 2 of the bok choy and saute until the bok choy is wilted, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Coarsely chop the mixture.
Place 1 teaspoon of filling in one of the corners of wonton wrapper, leaving a small border. Brush the edges of the wonton wrapper with water, fold one side of the wonton wrapper over the filling, and press the edges to seal. Repeat with the remaining filling and wonton wrappers.
In a Dutch oven, warm remaining toasted sesame oil over medium heat. Add remaining lemongrass and add remaining garlic and remaining shallot and saute for 30 seconds. Add red curry paste and saute for another 30 seconds. Add coconut milk, vegetable stock and fish sauce and mix well. Chop and add the last bok choy and saute until barely wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the wontons. Cook the wontons for 2 to 3 minutes, until they float to the top. Transfer to the broth.
Serve the dish topped with coarsely chopped fresh basil and lime wedges. Serves 4 to 6, with extra wontons.
— From “Simple Beautiful Food: Recipes and Riffs for Everyday Cooking" by Amanda Frederickson (Ten Speed Press, $22)