Speaking of summer weather, isn’t it? I pronounce it as ‘extremely hot and humid’. While that isn’t the case everywhere, I know many people who would emphatically answer yes to the question, “Hot enough for you?” And emphatically no to the question: “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, summer or not, is part of being a chef. embrace it. People around the world routinely cook every day in warm climates. Even if you do all your cooking outside, you can’t escape it without breaking a sweat.
There are strategies for cooking in the summer. Early in the morning, before the day warms up, is a great time to get ahead of dinner. And if you can cook today for tomorrow – maybe in the cool of the evening? – so much better. The recipes in this month’s menu can all be prepared a day in advance, but it’s certainly not mandatory.
It’s hard not to get prosaic when you hit the farmer’s market right now. Drop dead beautiful fruits and vegetables bursting with every color – be still my heart. Delicate, fat and glittering aubergines, check! Ripe tomatoes in every size – to cry! String beans and green beans and fresh shell beans. Peak berries and especially sweet stone fruit. I’m out of breath. Make dinner with that kind of flavorful appetite, indoors or out, today or tomorrow, and how can you lose?
Make a smokey spread with the aubergine, sprinkled with cumin, to spread on flatbread. The first step of the process is fun: you get to burn the eggplant completely. Place them directly on hot coals or in the flames of the gas burner, rotating, until they are completely black. The meat on the inside is steamed to tenderness, then it’s a matter of scraping off the charred skin and pureeing the tender smoke-tinted giblets with aromatics, garlic, tahini, lemon and olive oil.
Serve with a light tomato salad. As I learned from a friend in Istanbul, pomegranate molasses, sumac, and toasted walnuts really give the tomatoes a spark. Or spread shards of warm pita or lavash on the smoked aubergine and garnish with tomato, if you like. It’s informal.
At the Santa Monica Farmers Market, several stands sell farm meats as a small afterthought. From one I picked up a boneless lamb shoulder, which I knew would braise to succulent if slow-cooked for about three hours. I would do it either in a covered grill on indirect heat or in a slow oven indoors.
Then the idea was to tear the meat into strips and combine it with beautiful green and yellow string beans and some of the smoldering liqueur. And to top it all off with lots of refreshing chopped dill, mint and parsley. It’s a combination so good that I chopped the same herbs to garnish the eggplant and tomatoes as well, and served it all together.
The dessert for this meal revolves around stone fruit, melon and berries. A sliced fruit salad, if you like, or a compote. (A dish like this used to be called Macedonia.) The trick is to do a little more than just macerate the fruits. Instead, dilute a bit of homemade jam with a splash of wine or liqueur so they can sit in it. You add very little sugar, if you use everything. Serve cool. It’s just the thing on a hot summer day or evening, especially when there’s a breeze. That, and another glass of rosé.
Recipes: Tomato Salad With Smoky Eggplant Flatbread | Slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with green beans | Summer fruit compote