By David Tanis, The New York Times
Speaking of summer weather, or weren’t we? I pronounce it “exceedingly hot and humid.” While that’s not true of everywhere, of course, I know many people who would emphatically answer yes when asked, “Hot enough for you?” And emphatically no when asked, “Are you going to cook?” Some won’t even turn on the oven or boil a pot of water from June to October.
My friends, cooking in the heat, summertime or not, is part of being a cook. Embrace it. People the world around routinely cook in hot climates every day. Even if you do all your cooking outdoors, you won’t escape without breaking a sweat.
There are strategies to summer cooking. Early morning, before the day heats up, is a good time to get a head start on dinner. And if you can cook today for tomorrow — in the cool of the evening, perhaps? — so much the better. The recipes in this month’s menu can all be prepared a day in advance, though it is certainly not required.
It’s hard not to wax prosaic when you hit the farmers market right now. Drop-dead gorgeous fruits and vegetables, bursting forth in every color — be still my heart. Fine, fat and glistening eggplants, check! Ripe tomatoes in every size — to cry for! Runner beans and green beans and fresh shell beans. Peak berries and particularly swoonworthy stone fruit. I’m breathless. Make dinner with that kind of flavorful haul, indoors or out, today or tomorrow, and how can you lose?
With the eggplant, make a smoky spread, flecked with cumin, to smear on flatbread. The first step of the process is fun: You get to burn the heck out of the eggplant. Place them directly on hot coals or in the flames of a gas burner, turning, until they are completely blackened. The inside flesh will have steamed to softness, then it’s just a matter of scraping away the charred skin and mashing the tender, smoke-tinged innards with aromatics, garlic, tahini, lemon and olive oil.
Serve a bright tomato salad to serve alongside. As I learned from a friend in Istanbul, pomegranate molasses, sumac and toasted walnuts really lend spark to the tomatoes. Or spread shards of warm pita or lavash with the smoky eggplant and top with tomato, if you wish. It’s casual.
At the Santa Monica farmers market, several stands sell farm-raised meat as a small sideline. From one, I picked up a boneless lamb shoulder, which I knew would braise to succulence if cooked slowly for three hours or so. I would do it either in a covered grill over indirect heat or inside in a slow oven.
Then, the plan was to tear the meat into strips and combine it with beautiful green and yellow runner beans and some of the braising liquor. And to shower it all with lots of refreshing chopped dill, mint and parsley. It’s a combination so winning that I chopped the same herbs to garnish the eggplant and tomatoes, too, and served everything together.
Dessert for this meal is all about stone fruit, melon and berries. A chopped fruit salad, if you will, or a compote. (In times past, a dish like this was called a Macedonia.) The trick is to do a little more than just macerate the fruits. Instead, dilute a little homemade jam with a splash of wine or liqueur for them to sit in. You’ll add very little sugar, if you use it all. Serve chilled. It’s just the thing on a hot summer day or evening, especially if there’s a breeze. That, and another glass of rosé.
Tomato Salad With Smoky Eggplant Flatbread
Buy lavash or pita at a local Middle Eastern market, heat the flatbreads in a skillet or toaster oven, and smear them with this delicious eggplant spread, enriched with spices and tahini and pleasantly smoky from a cook over an open flame. Serve the flatbreads with this Turkish-style tomato salad, a variation on one I learned in Istanbul from Turkish chef Gamze Ineceli. Hers is more traditional — finely chopped tomato is customary — but you can also choose the colorful cherry tomatoes at the market and cut them in halves or quarters.
By David Tanis
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 30 to 40 minutes
- 1 large eggplant (about 1 pound)
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 2 small garlic cloves, grated
- 2 tablespoons plain whole-milk yogurt
- 1/2 teaspoon toasted ground cumin
- Pinch of ground cayenne
- Pinch of ground cinnamon
- Salt and pepper
- 1 small red onion, finely diced
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1/2 teaspoon sumac
- 3 cups chopped tomatoes, preferably a mix of larger multicolored tomatoes and cherry tomatoes (about 1 pound)
- 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
- Warm lavash or pita bread, for serving
- 3 tablespoons chopped dill, for garnish
- 3 tablespoons parsley, for garnish
- 3 tablespoons chopped mint leaves, for garnish
1. Set the whole, unpeeled eggplant directly over a bed of hot coals, over the open flame of a gas burner at full blast or under the broiler. With a paring knife or skewer, poke a few holes into the eggplant to allow steam to escape. Let the skin of the eggplant blacken and blister, turning the eggplant continuously until it is soft, collapsed and completely charred, about 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Set the cooked eggplant on a chopping board, and, when cool enough to handle, cut in half from top to bottom. Let cool to room temperature (about 15 minutes), then scoop out flesh with a spoon, discarding any large seed pockets. Tear or roughly chop eggplant flesh and put in a medium bowl.
3. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, tahini, garlic, yogurt, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, and salt and pepper. Beat mixture with a fork, leaving it somewhat rough. Set aside to let flavors meld at room temperature, then taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to a serving dish.
4. Put diced onion in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add pomegranate molasses, sumac and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil.
5. Add chopped tomatoes and fold into onion mixture, sprinkling with a bit more salt, if necessary. Transfer to a serving dish and top with walnuts.
6. Spread eggplant mixture on pieces of warm lavash or pita, keeping the edges clear, and arrange on a platter. Spoon some of the tomato mixture onto each piece. Sprinkle dill, parsley and mint liberally over it all.
Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder With Green Beans
There are many ways to achieve a succulent braised lamb shoulder. In a covered grill over indirect heat or in a low oven, it will take about 3 hours, but you could also use a countertop slow cooker. It’ll take longer but you’ll know the meat is ready when it’s well seasoned and nearly falling apart. For convenience, you may prepare the braise a day or two in advance. Then finish it, cooking it with green beans (or a mixture of various summer beans) and hot pepper, then showering it with chopped parsley, dill and mint.
By David Tanis
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 3 1/2 to 4 hours
- 1 (3-pound) boneless lamb shoulder roast
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon roughly chopped garlic
- 4 rosemary sprigs
- 6 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 pound green beans, preferably a mix of green beans, romano beans and yellow wax beans
- Red-pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish
- 2 tablespoons chopped dill, for garnish
- 2 tablespoons chopped mint, for garnish
1. Prepare a covered gas or charcoal grill for medium indirect heat, or heat an oven to 325 degrees.
2. If the roast is tied, remove netting or string. Lay the roast on a work surface and open it flat. Sprinkle the insides with salt, pepper and chopped garlic. Reroll the roast, leaving the garlic inside. Place the roast seam side down in a small roasting pan or 9-by-13-inch baking dish just big enough to hold it.
3. Tuck rosemary and bay leaves under the meat. Season the top with salt and pepper, allspice and cloves. Drizzle with olive oil and smear the oil over the surface. Add 2 cups water to the pan.
4. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and place in a covered gas or charcoal grill, on set up for medium indirect heat, or in a 325-degree oven. Cook until the meat is fork-tender, 3 to 3 1/2 hours. (Be sure to remove the foil about 30 minutes before the end of cooking so that the meat browns.) From time to time, check that there’s sufficient liquid in the roasting pan, adding more water as necessary. When the meat is done, set aside until cool enough to handle, then tear into large shreds, reserving any remaining pan juices.
5. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to the boil and add salt. Blanch beans for about 1 minute, then remove spread out on a baking sheet to cool.
6. When ready to serve, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add blanched beans and stir-fry for 1 minute, then add a pinch of red-pepper flakes. Cook just a bit longer, until the pan juices and shredded meat are warmed through, tossing well. Transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle with parsley, dill and mint.
Summer Fruit Compote
In another era, this kind of chopped fruit salad was called a Macedonia. Use as many kinds of ripe fruits as you wish, including melon, stone fruit, grapes and berries. The simple combination of homemade jam dissolved with a splash of white wine or liqueur marries beautifully with the fruits’ natural juices. Leave the compote to macerate a bit and serve chilled for a completely refreshing dessert.
By David Tanis
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 5 minutes, plus optional chilling
- 2 cups melon, such as cantaloupe or honeydew, peeled, seeded and cut into small cubes
- 3 large apricots, pitted and cut into small cubes (about 2 1/2 cups)
- 2 nectarines, pitted and cut into small cubes (about 3 1/2 cups)
- 2 red plums, pitted and cut into small cubes (about 1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons apricot jam
- 2 tablespoons white wine or 1 tablespoon brandy or other liqueur
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 cup raspberries, blackberries or a mix
- 6 ripe figs, halved, for garnish (optional)
1. In a large bowl, combine melon, apricots, nectarines and plums. Add apricot jam, wine and lemon juice. Toss well to coat. Refrigerate for up to 4 hours, or serve immediately.
2. To serve, add berries to macerated fruit and gently fold together. Spoon into bowls or glasses, and garnish with figs, if using.
And to Drink …
When you’re preparing a weeknight meal for two, one bottle will certainly do. But this multicourse summer meal for a group calls out for a white wine with the tomato salad and eggplant spread, and a red for the lamb. In keeping with the Mediterranean vibe of the appetizer, why not an assyrtiko from Santorini, which can carry the eggplant’s smoky note? Or maybe a dry Lebanese white? If these are hard to find, a Provençal white or even a good dry rosé would be delicious. Try a red that will take well to a light chill for this lamb dish. A pleasant red with no higher purpose than to quench thirst would be great. Or perhaps a cru Beaujolais after 30 minutes in the fridge. — Eric Asimov
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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