I walked out this morning to the sun shining, the birds chirping, flowers blooming. Ah…to behold the beautiful weather of summer! The Creator of the world set into motion the seasons of the year, each one acting in a different way to affect our emotions and senses, and of course, our palates. When the weather is cold and dreary, we retreat to the shelter of our homes, longing for the comforting foods that will warm our souls and get us through the winter. But when the heat of summer arrives, what we naturally crave is something light and juicy that will satisfy our need to be refreshed. It’s easy to cook by rote, making the same heavy food year round – but often we fail to adapt to the changing seasons because we are afraid to be creative in the kitchen.
When it’s 90 degrees outside, our appetites are often sapped, leaving our bodies in an unnecessary state of lethargy after a heavy meal. Oneg Shabbos (the enjoyment of Shabbos) as well as the enjoyment of any weekday meal can be found in lighter and more refreshing foods if we dare to be creative and explore new choices. Let’s go for a walk on the cooler and lighter side…
- Salad it up! In the warmer weather, replace those heavy kugels and side dishes with more salads: green leafy salads, grain salads, marinated salads and pasta salads.
- Cold Soups. There is nothing like coming home on a hot summer day, all red and flushed, to a beautiful bowl of cold fruit soup. Guests always appreciate being cooled off, too!
- Reconfigure your serving style. Instead of serving a single appetizer and then a much larger main course, expand your appetizer to a larger first course with dips, spreads and crudités. Then serve a more moderate main course to allow for more balanced eating.
In my family, we love serving grilled meat or chicken salads as a main dish for a light summer dinner or as an entrée on Shabbos afternoon. It is not nearly as heavy, and everyone enjoys the different combinations we try. Mix it up with different types of greens and dressings, raw or pre-roasted/grilled vegetables. Have fun! Be improvisational and creative with your cooking! Here is a delicious family favorite – when basil is abundant, a little pesto makes all the difference.
Grilled Steak and Portobello Salad with Honeyed Pesto
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
½ tsp. dried or 1½ tsp. fresh chopped thyme
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup olive oil
2-3 large Portobello mushrooms (caps only)
1 pkg. baby arugula
1 pint grape tomatoes
Whisk balsamic vinegar and spices together in a large mixing bowl until blended. Drizzle olive oil into mixture while continuously whisking until all of the olive oil is incorporated. Add steak and mushrooms to the mixture and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Preheat grill to high. Carefully oil grates to prevent sticking (I use an oil-soaked paper towel with tongs for this job). Remove steak and mushrooms from the marinade (discarding marinade), and place on the grill directly over the heat. Grill steak on each side for about 5 minutes, mushrooms on each side for about 3-4 minutes, turning once during grilling. Transfer to a plate or cutting board.
Place arugula on a large serving platter, spreading to create an even layer of greens. Thinly slice steak across the grain and transfer to the center of the greens. Repeat with mushrooms, and place on either sides of the steak. Garnish with grape tomatoes and dress with spoonfuls of Honeyed-Pesto dressing.
Pesto can be made in advance and stays for weeks in the refrigerator, perfect for dressing up salads or sandwiches anytime.
1 bunch fresh basil (2 cups packed leaves)
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup honey (scant)
Juice of half a lemon
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Place basil leaves, pine nuts, honey, lemon juice and garlic in food processor bowl. Pulse in food processor until ingredients are pulverized. Then with the motor running, slowly drizzle olive oil in a continuous stream until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.