Amber Pollei writes, cooks, and gardens in Austin, Texas, with her husband Ryan and their dog Fin. Read more about her backyard-farm-to-table adventures at sustainable-diet.com.
Food-wise, I have to say that few things have brought me more joy than serving a meal straight from our garden. The garden plan has worked — planting a smaller variety of vegetables means that, already, I’ve harvested more zucchini and summer squash than we can keep up with. For a couple of weeks, zucchini made its way into each and every meal; zucchini bread at breakfast, raw zucchini “noodles” at lunch, and zucchini enchiladas for dinner…with some zucchini brownies for dessert.
So goes it when you’re eating with the seasons. One of the great things about fresh, seasonal vegetables is that very little work is needed to put an impressive meal on the table. In fact, half of what we’ve been eating this gardening season has been made up on the fly, randomly subbing one fresh veggie for another when a recipe comes to mind. And often, fresh is the best way to serve these seasonal gems.
Local vegetables — whether they hail from a farm nearby or your very own container garden — arguably taste better than something flown in from halfway across the world. When picked at the peak of freshness, the flavors are so concentrated that simple meals are the best way to showcase these ingredients.
Here are three menus that I’ve put together from our summer harvest. If you’re not growing these vegetables in your backyard, check out what your nearest Whole Foods Market® has to offer from local farms. Simple Salads For a quick, refreshing dinner, I like to serve a composed salad. One of my favorites this season has been a riff on Salade Niçoise: parboiled green beans, boiled red potatoes, tuna, capers, and cucumber slices atop a bed of Bibb lettuce. The dressing even showcases some of our summer herbs: olive oil and red wine vinegar spruced up with shallot, oregano, and basil. For something sweet to round out the meal, I like to toss cubed watermelon with some freshly picked mint leaves and a squeeze of lime juice for a refreshing treat.
Fire Up the Grill If you’re dining al fresco, use the grill to impress with these unbelievably tasty Grilled Summer Squash and Brie sandwiches. I even forgot to add the sprouts and garlic, and they were still delish thanks to the fresh zucchini and slices of purple Cherokee heirloom tomatoes. As a side, I put together a cool salad, based loosely on this green bean and tomato salad recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and added sliced cucumbers.
You could also try this simple Grilled Zucchini with Kalamata Vinaigrette. Keep the coals hot for dessert and grill the season’s best stone fruit: try this recipe for glazed peaches — best served à la mode.
A Tex-Mex Feast One word: enchiladas. These Zucchini and Black Bean Enchiladas Verdes offer a double-dose of my favorite backyard cucurbit. Not only are they filled with zukes, but they’re also covered in them — that’s right, the salsa verde made with zucchini will have everyone wondering what the secret ingredient is. Serve the enchiladas with a side of brown rice and then enjoy homemade popsicles for dessert.
My favorite so far? Peach and Tequila Popsicles. With super-ripe peaches from a farm just up the road (and showcasing a couple of tablespoons of a tequila distilled in my home state), they capture the flavor of my perfect summer day.
What’s your favorite fresh summer menu?