I’ve always been of the belief that summertime meals are the greatest of all seasons. Some may argue for the soul-warming benefits of the hearty stews and braised meats of winter, the sweetly inviting aroma of roasted vegetables in the fall, or the refreshing first salads of spring. I would grant these meals as thoroughly enjoyable, but the best? I think not.
Summer meals have the benefit of vast arrays of colorful fresh produce, and encourage eating in varied abundance. As you already know, in my family, we support colorful eating, and there is no time better than now to have a colorful meal, no place better to eat such a meal than outdoors, and no way better to prepare and eat it than with a bunch of people – family style.
A couple of weeks ago, my parents, brother, sister, and I fixed a taco spread with flank steak, a pepita chimichurri, black and white beans, and grilled local veggies. Another night my parents and I feasted on chilled cucumber soup (the cucumbers picked fresh from the garden), caprese salad, fresh avocado, and bread and cheese. The meal lay somewhere between snacking and dining, an embrace of all things casual and fresh.
Later that week, my aunt, uncle, and cousin roared through, bringing my grandmother into town for a trial stay at an assisted living home. Earlier that day, my mom had stopped at a fruit stand and picked up fresh okra, limas, and lady peas (of all summer vegetables, fresh peas are one of the greatest gifts, especially when they’ve been pre-shucked). I had been itching to try another one of David Tanis’s recipes,* a variation of succotash, using jalapeño butter instead of plain. His recipe called for green beans and zucchini, but I subbed in the limas and okra, and used extremely fresh (and cheap!) local white corn.
My dad threw pork ribs (marinated in Mojo sauce instead of BBQ, for a more subtle and less sticky flavor - you can actually taste the pork!) on the grill, my mom made another caprese salad, and we sliced up some crusty bread. American summer food all the way, baby.
For dessert I baked a raspberry-blueberry galette. I used cornmeal in my crust again – I’m coming to think that even a small addition of cornmeal adds a wonderful crumble to the crust, with just a slightly nuttier taste that helps to balance the sweetness of the berries. My cousin was a huge fan, and fought (and won, mind you) with my dad for the last piece.
For your next summer meal, here is my version of the succotash – use as fresh ingredients as possible! It's the difference between good food and great eats.
(loosely adapted from A Platter of Figs … again)
about 3 cups fresh lima beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Vidalia onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 ears of corn, shucked, and kernels cut off
about 3 cups okra, washed and then sliced into bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper
½ stick butter, at room temperature
1 jalapeño, minced (use the seeds if you want it spicier, or leave them out)
zest and juice of 1 lime
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add the lima beans, and gently simmer for about 20 minutes, or until just under al dente (you’ll finish cooking them with the rest of the veggies, so stop when they’re almost-but-not-quite done). Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large, somewhat deep skillet or pot over medium. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic, corn, okra, and limas. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat up to high and cook for a minute or so. Add about a cup of water and cover the pan. Steam the vegetables for about 5-7 minutes, or until they’ve reached your ideal consistency.
Meanwhile mix together the butter, jalapeño, lime juice, and lime zest in a small bowl. When the vegetables are done, mix in the butter and serve right away, or let sit and serve at room temperature, with other summer treats.
*I promise I source my ideas from other places as well. I promise my next post will have something different!!