Easy, Tasty & Impressive - summer version
July 9, 2018 1:12 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite beautiful summer dishes? My friends and I are having a ladies weekend this weekend and everyone is assigned a meal. I took our Sat night dinner and am very high on skills but very low on inspiration, so that's where you folks come in.

The place we are staying has a stocked kitchen (in terms of tools) all your essentials plus a slow cooker (No IP), I love cooking/eating and want to eat/serve tasty food but I don't get to see these friends as often as I'd like so understandably I want dinner to be simple so we are mostly enjoying our time together rather than in the kitchen.

Ive searched and found this post, but it seems more wintery than Im looking for.

Food snowflakes:
No Pork
No cheese (mixed in - can be added individually)
No gluten (mixed in - can be added individually)
We are overall pretty healthy so veg heavy/vegetarian is fine. We will be outside a lot and its VERY hot where I live so lighter fresh things are preferred over stewy lentils or something like that.

Bonus points if you have a tasty cocktail that goes with dinner :)
posted by vividvoltage to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
This calls for a beautiful main dish salad (like a niçoise), 2 loaves of great bread for bruschetta (one GF) and a pie from the bakery, warmed up.
posted by nantucket at 1:22 PM on July 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Fresh spring rolls! They are super easy to make but look fancy, especially if you add a rainbow of colored veggies inside (yellow corn, purple cabbage, green cilantro, orange carrot slivers, red quinoa, and then some colored ramen rice noodles was my favorite).
posted by jillithd at 1:34 PM on July 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

I was going to suggest a niçoise too. Ina's recipe is a nice starting point; you could grill the salmon if that's an option, and just leave out the potatoes if it's too hot to boil.
posted by CheeseLouise at 1:36 PM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Panzanellas are your friends! Make it with GF bread and you're all set. Smitten Kitchen* has a couple of my all time favorite panzanella recipes:

Spring Panzanella

Summer Panzanella

I offer margaritas as the ideal drink for summer: Blood Orange Margs!

*SK is my go-to for any recipe idea ever.
posted by Everydayville at 1:39 PM on July 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

posted by Melismata at 1:43 PM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

A charcuterie-ish board meal (what I generally refer to as "breads and spreads") is my favorite summer (and winter, and fall, and spring) meal. You can have a lot of fun arranging everything attractively on boards or serving platters; most of this stuff can be bought from the store in a pinch, or you can choose to make some from scratch if you like. It's very flexible -- you can choose what you like and feed an army or just make a light snack for a few people. Mix up some sangria and go to town!

- Baguette, sliced
- Gluten-free crackers (my current fave: Mary's Gone Crackers)
- Foccacia or whatever else you like

- Pesto (easy to buy or make from scratch; if you make it from scratch, omit the parmesan for your cheese-free folks and it'll still be dang delicious)
- Rosemary Lemon White Bean Dip (so dang summery and delicious, worth making) and/or hummus (easy to buy or make from scratch)

Fruit & veg
- Any seasonal vegetable in dippable portions: baby carrots, strips of red bell pepper, lightly grilled or steamed asparagus, blanched green beans, whatever.
- Caprese salad (aka, slices of ripe tomato tucked in between slices of fresh mozz & basil leaves, dressed with salt, pepper, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar)
- Any seasonal fruit: berries, thin slices of nectarines, plums cut into quarters, etc.
- I've been seeing some beautiful artichokes in the store lately -- a couple of those with some nice lemon and aioli for dipping would be great.

Meat & Cheese
- Tasty non-pork options: chicken or duck pate, beef cured or uncured sausages, smoked trout, whatever.
- Tasty cheese options: so many! Pick any three (and try a vegan cheese too, if you like)

Other goodies
- Olives, pickles, etc.
- Fig paste, guava paste, or apricot jam
- Any nuts you have on hand. If you want to get fancy, make some Maple Chili Pepitas on the stovetop in about 5 minutes (just toast them in a frying pan, stirring and swirling frequently, then mix in the maple syrup at the last minute, toss to coat, sprinkle on the salt & chili, and keep tossing until they're coated.)
posted by ourobouros at 1:47 PM on July 9, 2018 [7 favorites]

Check out Bitman’s 101 salads. Start with three and then have leftovers plus one new every night. NYT link https://mobile.nytimes.com/2009/07/22/dining/22mlist.html
posted by songs_about_rainbows at 1:48 PM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I like to do a fancy version of a wedge salad, but that includes bacon and bleu cheese. I suggest that you replace the bacon with chopped turkey bacon (or bacos, which are meat free) and switch it to ranch dressing. Provide bleu cheese crumbles for those who want them. I make it fancier by using butter lettuce and the aforementioned crumbles. I like to use cherry or grape tomatoes to cut down on chopping time.
posted by soelo at 2:00 PM on July 9, 2018

I love the look of roasted or grilled vegetables. Maybe roast a head of cauliflower. Grilled steak, served on top of mixed greens, with curls of parmesan. Melon balls are uncommonly pretty. If you grill meat, might as well grill asparagus, too.
posted by theora55 at 2:07 PM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: jillithd is 100% on the money. Look at these beautiful shrimp rolls! And these strawberry ones! OMG FLOWERS. Naturally gluten-free, and so very cool and gorgeous.
posted by apparently at 2:11 PM on July 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Roasted vegetables!

Toss your favorite vegetables in olive oil and the the seasonings of your choice. Roast at 450 for 20 minutes. Some suggestions:

Cauliflower - cumin, salt.
Broccoli - lemon, pepper
New potatoes (saves prep time, cooks faster - cut in half for smaller bites) - rosemary, garlic

I really, really love this roasted chicken recipe which can be altered to use chicken thighs and breasts. And goes very well with the vegetables. And you can just extend the cook time of the vegetables at a lower temperature.

And while I know it may seem crazy to turn on the oven in high heat, the work is quick, does not need too much attention and tastes so good.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 2:12 PM on July 9, 2018

My favorite thing to do with food during summer is follow the produce. Today I had guests for dinner, and what I did was go to a farmer's roadside stall to see what fresh (from today) produce they had, and then to the local supermarket to look for whatever I could buy to enhance my produce. We ended up with a simple roast chicken (though I filled it with the delicious parsley I'd found and used butter rather than oil), new potatoes and a green salad with frisé, fresh peas and fresh cucumber, all harvested this morning. The salad was dressed with a cream dressing using cream from grass-fed cows, and I used a little bit of the cream for the pan sauce as well. And lemon for both dressing and sauce.
What I'm trying to say is: this was a ridiculously simple meal and it only took about an hour to cook (not including desert). But because of the quality and freshness of the produce, my guests were really impressed. My time was spent shopping, rather than cooking. I forage too.
Depending on where you are, and what day it is, the options will vary. Right now, it's very dry here, so there are no mushrooms. It's Monday, so there are no fish. I've done this often in Italy, where the tomatoes and cheeses and fruit are amazing, compared to here. On the other hand, our desert today was a peach and raspberry pie, because I found small but intensely delicious wild raspberries in huge amounts outside the house.
I love making complicated and interesting meals during fall and winter, but summer calls for simplicity and freshness.
For a drink, again, can you make something fresh and local? I was caught up in a business call just before beginning to cook, otherwise my plan had been to make a fresh rhubarb-vanilla cordial and mix it with vodka and soda for the adults, and just soda for the kids. Lots of ice. Now we just had wine and soft drinks.
posted by mumimor at 2:37 PM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

One thing that's not too hard if you have decent knife skills and a sharp knife on hand, but which is very impressive, is a suprêmed citrus salad, like this one.

Another thing that I like to do is make a normal guacamole and add pomegranate arils scattered on top (like this). It is super simple, but it looks very beautiful and fancy. Apparently adding fruit to guacamole is very common in avocado-bearing regions, but is something a lot of people haven't encountered before outside of there.
posted by ITheCosmos at 2:47 PM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Kukuye sabzi is a perfect summer dish. It's basically a Persian frittata with a ton of herbs and can be served warm or cold. This is a good recipe. It contains a small amount of self-raising flour but this could be omitted without any problems.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 3:52 PM on July 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

I made Smitten Kitchen's Chicken Gyro Salad for guests last summer and it was a huge hit! I added a couple other vegetarian items to round out the meal - I think baba ganoush and a Moroccan carrot salad. The nice thing was that everyone could pick and choose as they liked and customize their meal to their preference - on a pita, as a salad, vegetarian, non-vegetarian etc.
posted by peacheater at 4:51 PM on July 9, 2018

Oh, I was building a salad with whatever I had an accidentally struck gold.

The core is watermelon , kale, and lemon juice. The tender watermelon and tough kale give each other amazing contrast. And the sweet watermelon and tart lemon juice, contrast each other. The result is an amazing delicious surprise.

Other Ingredients are salt, olive oil, fresh moz, walnuts, blueberries etc.
posted by rebent at 6:01 PM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would do tacos. Either do a slow-cooker chicken (I like to make chicken with the same seasonings as pork carnitas, but the sky's the limit here) with boneless skinless thighs or oven roast a bunch of skin-on thighs or leg quarters simply seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin, garlic, onion, and oil or ghee the skin so it comes out chicarrone-crispy, remove the skin and set on paper towels immediately so it doesn't steam on the chicken, shred the meat off the bones, dress with more of your seasonings plus lime juice.

Then taco bar it up with avocado slices or good guacamole, cheeses, lettuce or cabbage or curtido (make now, let ferment until then in fridge), canned pickled jalapeno slices, good canned verde/green salsa, a mild chunky salsa, and maybe some orange sauce, a bottle of Tapatio, you could make good beans ahead or just buy a good canned pinto or black or white bean. Limes, crema in a squeeze bottle for ease of use, flour and corn tortillas plus tortilla chips if someone wants crispy (so much easier to deal with than taco shells), fresh tomatoes. Rice is not traditional but easy enough to make, and I like a little base of it in my tacos to catch sauce drips.

You can do much the same thing with a good broiled whitefish (don't do tilapia because you never know when it's going to taste swampy), and/or shrimp if you'll be near an excellent source.

For a big friend gathering, I actually like a taco table - everything piled in the middle/down the center - so that people can sit and eat one taco at a time, trying it this way and that, more grazing-style.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:46 PM on July 9, 2018

it's really easy to do a glowing rainbow fruit salad this time of year with blueberries so easy to get.

watermelon (and/or strawberries)
nectarine and/or mango
kiwi (and/or mint leaves if you are sure everyone likes)
purple grapes

Very beautiful, very tasty, very summery.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:08 PM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

oh or green grapes instead of kiwi if you want. Kiwi is so pretty but it's a PITA to cut up.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:24 PM on July 9, 2018

Corn, tomato and avocado salad! Dice up 2 avocados, chop half of a red onions and halve one pint of multi-colored cherry tomatoes. Cut off the corn kernels from the 2-3 corn cobs (you can also wrap the corn with damp paper towels and microwave for 3-4 minutes before cutting kernels off.) Combine gently with a swirl of olive oil, salt and pepper, the juice and zest of half a lime and cilantro. It's very forgiving so you can adjust everything to taste and add anything else such as garbonzo beans, arugula, spinach and cucumbers. Looks beautiful and summery.
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 12:06 PM on July 10, 2018

Response by poster: Hi y'all! Thank you so much for your helpful advice. I marked those that inspired me for the actual meal (menu below) but I needed ALL of these answers so bad. This summer has been stress and I've forgotten how to no-cook cook in these hot months and all your answers were so helpful and I'll be referring to them for the rest of the summer!

The menu was traditional spring rolls with home made furikake seasoning sprinkled into them (not exactly thai, but an excellent addition that had everyone asking about it. This watermelon thai gazpacho that was also ooh'd & ahh'd over. And finally this Lemongrass coconut cocktail - but I found a 'coconut water' flavored white rum at my liquor store instead of saccrhine malibu rum - with that sub it was a great cocktail recipe.
posted by vividvoltage at 5:07 PM on July 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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