Summertime and the cooking is easy

Summertime and the cooking is easy

By Margi Lenga Kahn, Special to the Jewish Light

Pantry staples and a few fresh ingredients can make simple, delicious summmer dishes

Perhaps summertime poses the same challenge for you as it does for me: How do I balance my passion for cooking and eating great food with my love of everything outdoors? 

The glorious days of summer beckon with live theater and concerts on the lawn, long lazy walks, biking and hiking trails, gardens that need weeding, games of tennis to be played, and, of course, picnics in the park and dining al fresco. 

While getting take-out or visiting the supermarket’s frozen- or prepared-food aisles might be tempting, the result would be more expensive and less enjoyable than the pleasure that comes from preparing a delicious home-cooked meal. Furthermore, too many restaurant meals and too much processed foods weigh heavily on our health, in more than one way. 

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The better option by far: meals that are fresh and fast and easy to prepare. Better yet, that fast and easy meal can be a spectacular one-dish wonder.

Summertime offers an abundance of local farm-fresh produce where great flavors are built in. No need to potschke. Just keep lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your kitchen, your pantry stocked and a few of your favorite cheeses in the refrigerator. 

And don’t forget the eggs. Whether hard-boiled, fried or poached, as a garnish, part of a composed salad, or even in a more leading role, eggs help a side dish take center stage. You can even toast a slice of bread, pile some of your

dressed salad greens on top, and finish it off with a fried egg, a very healthful and sophisticated presentation indeed.

Your freezer can hold lots of options for last-minute meals. If you always have some boneless chicken, a steak or even fish in the freezer, turning a side dish into a main dish couldn’t be easier. Of course, if you are able to swing by the market for fresh chicken, steak or fish, so much the better. Our Yiddishe grandmothers called this method of cooking a shitteryne, cooking by the seat of your pants, adding just a little bit of this and a little bit of that to create culinary bliss. 

Summer is the time to be flexible if you prefer using a recipe. If your recipe for quinoa salad calls for quinoa and you don’t have quinoa, you can substitute the same amount of cooked rice, couscous, pasta, wheat berries  or potatoes. If you have a pasta recipe that calls for roasted asparagus and you don’t have any, substitute another vegetable that can be similarly roasted, such as carrots, green beans, broccoli or cauliflower. Chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the combination, and your family may actually prefer the substitution. 

To take it up a notch, pick an herb or two that you like. Plant the herbs in small pots in your garden or place them in a sunny window in or near your kitchen. Or grab a bunch of fresh herbs at the supermarket and store them, roots in water changed daily, on your kitchen counter. A handful of fresh whole, chopped or minced herbs in every dish you serve will be a difference-maker.

If you are hosting a Fourth of July event at your home or meeting others for a potluck in the park, these fast and easy salads might be the best part of the meal. 

If your family tradition includes grilled hamburgers or hot dogs, simply omit the protein in these dishes and you will have transformed a main dish into a perfect accompaniment. 

Only you need to know that this is fast and easy summer cooking, no long hours spent over the stove.

Here are some suggestions for foods you might want to have on hand to create a quick summer meal, and a few recipes to get you going. 

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of five. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes comments and suggestions at [email protected].