Summer is a terrific time to explore the great outdoors. Home gardens, roadside farm stands and farmers’ markets are overflowing with a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruits that are ripe for the picking.
Simple suggestions to make mealtime preparations a breeze:
• Serve foods that can be enjoyed cold or at room temperature and require no heating. To prepare salad greens ahead of time, wash well, cut in bite-size pieces and spin dry in a lettuce spinner. Wrap them up in either paper towels or tea towels, place in a large Ziploc bag and refrigerate. The towels will absorb any excess moisture and the greens will stay fresh and crisp for a week.
• Grilled vegetables taste terrific either hot or at room temperature. My favorites include portobello mushrooms, chunks of red and yellow peppers, zucchini and onions tossed with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, salt and pepper. They only take about 10 minutes to cook on a hot grill. They are excellent as a side dish, or in wraps and salads.
• Grill/barbecue extra steaks, hamburgers, chicken and fish. Let cool, then wrap individually and freeze extras for another day. They can be thawed and heated quickly in a microwave and will taste as if they just came off the grill.
• Your slow cooker is ideal when the weather is hot. Assemble ingredients the night before in the insert of your slow cooker, cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, place the insert into the heating unit and set the timer. Go out for the day and enjoy the sunshine. When you return, dinner will be done!
• Watermelon Ice Cubes: Cut watermelon flesh into 1-inch chunks and discard any seeds. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth, pour into ice cube trays and freeze.
• Freeze fresh fruits such as berries, peaches, nectarines and kiwi. They’re perfect to have on hand for making refreshing smoothies. No need to thaw the fruit first—just toss them in the blender or food processor with a little orange juice, milk or yogurt and process until thick and frothy. If necessary, add a little honey or sugar to taste.
Yields 6 servings
No cooking required! Gazpacho is a classic Spanish soup made with ripe tomatoes and other summer vegetables. This uncooked chilled soup is very refreshing on a hot summer day and is a wonderful thirst-quencher. Be careful not to over-process the vegetables.
1 English cucumber (do not peel)
1 green or red bell pepper, cored and seeded
1 medium onion
6 firm, ripe tomatoes, cored
4 cloves garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon (or 2 tablespoons lemon juice)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon fresh minced basil (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)
2 1/2 cups tomato juice
Additional chopped vegetables and basil for garnish
Cut cucumber, bell pepper, onion and tomatoes into 1-inch chunks. Insert steel blade in processor bowl. Process cucumber with quick on/off pulses, until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with green pepper, onion and tomatoes, adding each in turn to the mixing bowl.
Drop garlic through the feed tube while the machine is running and process until minced. Add lemon juice, oil, chili powder, basil and salt. Add half the tomato juice and process until smooth.
Add juice mixture to chopped vegetables along with remaining tomato juice. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Ladle soup into a serving pitcher, cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight to blend flavors.
Serve chilled. Garnish with additional chopped vegetables and basil if desired.
Note: This keeps about a week in the refrigerator.
Do not freeze.
Yields about 8 servings
This easy and healthy appetizer tastes best when fresh tomatoes are in season. The tomato mixture also makes a terrific topping for grilled fish, chicken or burgers.
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
4 firm, ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of cayenne pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice (preferably fresh)
Eight 1-inch slices French or Italian crusty bread
2 additional cloves garlic, cut in half
Insert steel blade in processor bowl. Process 1 clove garlic with basil until minced.
Add tomatoes and process with several quick on/off pulses, just until coarsely chopped. Do not over-process.
Season with salt, pepper, oil, lemon juice and cayenne. Process with 3 or 4 quick on/off pulses, until tomatoes are coarsely chopped. (Can be prepared in advance and refrigerated.)
Crostini: Toast or grill bread slices on both sides until crisp and golden. Rub 1 side of bread slices with cut garlic. Brush lightly with remaining olive oil.
Shortly before serving, top each crostini with some of the tomato mixture. Serve immediately.
Note: Recipe doubles easily. Tomato mixture keeps 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. Don’t freeze.
Bruschetta is also delicious topped with grated mozzarella, Swiss, Monterey Jack or Parmesan cheese. Broil briefly before serving. These are perfect as a light main dish when served with a big garden salad.
Use any kind of tomatoes you have on hand. Italian plum tomatoes (Roma) have less seeds and juice, making a thicker mixture.
Choose tomatoes that are vine-ripened, firm and heavy for their size. For best flavor, store tomatoes at room temperature, not in the refrigerator. They will keep 4 to 5 days.
Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, a cancer-fighting antioxidant that gives tomatoes their bright red color. When tomatoes are cooked, more of the lycopene becomes available.
GRILLED MEDITERRANEAN CHICKEN SALAD
Yields 6 servings as a main dish
This scrumptious meal-in-one-salad is packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Instead of basil, you can easily substitute other dried or fresh herbs such as rosemary, oregano or thyme.
6 skinless, boneless, single chicken breasts
3 red bell peppers, cut in quarters
6 large portobello mushrooms, stems discarded
1 package (10-ounce) mixed salad greens
1 medium red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds, for garnish
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, basil, salt and pepper. Place chicken breasts in a resealable plastic bag and add 1/4 cup of the dressing. (Refrigerate remaining dressing.)
Marinate chicken for at least 30 minutes or up to 48 hours in the refrigerator. Turn bag over occasionally to coat chicken on all sides.
Preheat grill. Brush peppers and mushrooms with 3 tablespoons of the reserved dressing. Grill over indirect medium-high heat, turning once, for about 8 to 10 minutes.
Grill chicken breasts over indirect heat until juices run clear and meat is no longer pink in the center, about 8 to 10 minutes (4 to 5 minutes per side). Discard any leftover marinade from the chicken.
Remove chicken, peppers and mushrooms from the grill and transfer them to a cutting board. Cut into 1/2-inch wide strips. (Can be prepared up to a day in advance and refrigerated until serving time.)
At serving time, combine salad greens and red onion slices in a large bowl. Drizzle with reserved salad dressing and toss well. Season with salt and pepper.
Transfer salad mixture to a large serving platter or individual serving plates. Add grilled peppers and mushrooms. Top with sliced chicken and sprinkle with almonds.
Substitute 12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs for chicken breasts.
CONFETTI QUINOA SALAD
Yields 8 servings
Quinoa is high in protein, cooks quickly and is gluten-free. It makes an excellent alternative to rice or couscous in salads and pilafs.
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 1/2 cups quinoa
3/4 cup diced red onion
1 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup diced celery
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds or chopped pistachios, for garnish
Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Place quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water for 1 to 2 minutes, until water runs clear. (Note: Some brands of quinoa don’t require pre-rinsing.)
Add quinoa to boiling liquid. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool. (Can be prepared in advance and refrigerated.)
Combine quinoa with onion, cucumber, peppers, celery, basil, parsley, dried cranberries, olive oil, orange juice and honey. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle with nuts at serving time.
Note: This will keep 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Do not freeze.
Copyright ©Norene Gilletz
Norene Gilletz of Toronto, Canada, is the author of nine cookbooks, including The NEW Food Processor Bible: 30th Anniversary Edition (Vancouver, Canada, 2011) and Norene’s Healthy Kitchen (Vancouver, Canada, 2009). She is a freelance food writer, culinary consultant, cookbook editor, lecturer and culinary spokesperson.