Summer eating is the best eating of the year, as far as I’m concerned. It’s light and quick and relaxed and far less labor-intensive all the way around. The foods of summer are perfect in every way.
Kohelet tells us that there is a season for everything. Summer is the growing season, and it is also the time for the freshest eating of the year. So many fruits and vegetables are harvested in the summer that eating the rainbow is easy (especially if you have your own garden)!
Those fresh and healthful foods are filled with all the nutrition we need. Yes, you can add meat, chicken and fish, or other proteins like rice and beans, but summer eating makes it so easy to be a vegetarian.
On the other hand, summer is also the fun eating season. For dinner, we can enjoy breakfast — or just fruit, cheese and toast (one of my childhood favorites). Ice cream is everywhere and, if you prefer, frozen yogurt shops are giving ice cream vendors a run for their money. Frozen custard is incredibly rich and delicious, and gelato is a delightful treat that has a tad fewer calories than ice cream but is just as delicious.
I remember my mother making really healthful summer dinners for us. A huge salad with lettuces, cucumbers and tomatoes and then some grilled chicken, sweet corn, broccoli, zucchini and more — all from my dad’s garden. Then, later, my dad would drive us to the local ice cream parlor for a delicious summer treat. A mix of the healthful and the fun.
My mom used to make a delicious pound cake. It seemed she made it every week in the summer (there always seemed to be some in the glass-domed cake plate in the pantry). She would then toast it and add raspberry sorbet and a Hershey’s syrup drizzle. Or she would top it with raspberries or strawberries and some whipped cream. Sometimes, we would toast marshmallows and place them atop the toasted cake and then drizzle with chocolate syrup. We would work hard to make up the strangest concoctions of ice cream, fruit, cake and more. Summers were made for that kind of eating.
Sadly, summer is almost gone as are the easy breezy days of super healthy, freshly picked seasonal vegetables. We certainly need balance in all things, but make summer last as long as possible with some summer kitchen fun for just a little while longer.
Hot and Spicy Grilled Chicken Thighs (Meat)
1/2 to 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. sweet paprika or smoked paprika, more to taste
1 to 3 Tbsp. onion powder
1 to 3 Tbsp. garlic powder
1/2 to 1 tsp. cayenne pepper, more or less to taste
1-1/2 Tbsp. black pepper, to taste
2 to 3 tsp. kosher salt, to taste
10 to 15 chicken thighs or legs
1/2 to 1 cup canola oil
Place oil in a bowl and dip all chicken pieces in the oil to coat. Shake off excess and place on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the rub generously on all sides of the chicken.
Let marinate for 20 minutes. Sprinkle again and let sit 5 minutes. Place on preheated grill and cook until cooked through, turning as needed. Sprinkle again once during cooking.
Cheesy Zucchini Rounds (Dairy)
These are great with salads for summer lunches or dinners.
2 to 3 medium zucchini and/or yellow summer squash
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Optional: 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
Slice the zucchini into 1/4-inch rounds. Place in a large bowl, drizzle with the olive oil and toss well to coat evenly.
Place the cheese, breadcrumbs, and spices in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Toss in 2 to 3 zucchini rounds and toss gently to coat. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until golden and crispy. Serve with any dipping sauce such as marinara, hot, sweet and sour sauce, barbecue sauce, green goddess dressing, etc.
Makes about 25 to 35 rounds.
Individual Cookies and Ice Cream Cupcake Pies (Dairy)
Easy, perfect summer desserts. Use any kind of crust and ice creams you like and let the kids get creative here.
1/2 package chocolate sandwich cookies
1/8 cup butter, melted
1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 qt. chocolate chip ice cream or your favorite flavor
1/2 pint hot fudge topping
1/4 cup chocolate sprinkles
Whipped cream topping:
1 cup heavy cream
2 to 3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 12-cup cupcake tin
12 cupcake papers
Place the cookies in the bowl of a food processor and process until small crumbs form. Add the brown sugar and the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs begin to stick together a bit. Add more melted butter if needed. Firmly press 2 Tbsp. of crumbs into each cupcake tin.
Add 1 small scoop ice cream and press down firmly. It should come about halfway up the cup. Add a spoonful of fudge and top with another scoop of ice cream. Top with some crumbs and place in the freezer. When ready to serve, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add the sugar slowly and then add the vanilla extract. Whip until firm peaks form. Top each cupcake with whipped cream and then some sprinkles or any remaining crumbs. Makes 12 cupcake pies.
Strawberry Frappe (Dairy)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup strawberry ice cream
1 cup strawberries, washed and hulled
1 Tbsp. strawberry jam
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup ice cubes
Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Garnish with a whole strawberry, some whipped cream or a mint leaf. Makes 1 large glass or two small ones.
Optional add-ins: Bananas, chocolate cookies, mini chips, chocolate sprinkles, vanilla bean paste, fresh raspberries or watermelon.
A version of this column was published in 2017.