WND – Paean to Summer Vegetables

August 7, 2008

The hard part about Dinner isn’t making Dinner, or figuring out how to time everything so that it’s ready at the same time. That’s just a question of practice. The hard part about Dinner is coming up with something to make every week. There comes a time in every week, usually sometime between Friday afternoon when I’m willing the work day to end and Sunday morning when I’m making a grocery shopping list, when I say plaintively, “I don’t know what I’m going to make for Dinner this week.”

There are certain things that I never make for Dinner. Some of them are predicated on allergies – fish. Some of them are based on personal dislikes – lamb (other people’s dislikes, I love lamb). Some of them are centered around practicality – pancakes, pizza, corn fritters. This narrows down my choices, but that does still leave an almost infinite variety of things to do with chicken, eggs, cheese, and vegetables.

Sometimes I get fixated on an ingredient and scour the internet for recipes involving say mint, to choose something not at all at random (I had a ridiculous amount of mint leftover the other week and nothing to do with it, although mohitos were suggested). There’s a search feature on epicurious that I love. You can do an advanced search and put in a key ingredient and then narrow down your options by type of cuisine, season, type of meal, etc. You can ask it not to search for common allergens like nuts, eggs or shellfish, or you can write in your own eliminations, like lamb. It does have its limitations. If you tell it not to search for eggs it’ll still give you recipes that involve mayonnaise which is made with eggs, and you can’t tell it not to search for just fish you can only eliminate by specific kinds of fish. But overall, it’s pretty useful.

Of course the search function that I really want is the one where you can put in a list of ingredients and it’ll tell you what you can make out of them. There are nights when I stare at my fridge and think, okay so I have eggs and some spinach and some left over chicken and some beans in the pantry. What can make out of that? Sadly, as of yet this only exists in my fevered imagination.

There is a lesson to be learned here. If you casually mention that there’s something you’d like to eat there are better than even odds that it’ll turn up on the dinner table the next week. The chicken sate with peanut sauce we had the other week is a case in point. It was ever so casually mentioned as we were cleaning up, and come Sunday it was not only an idea it absolved me of having to think before I went to the grocery store it was something that I was actively craving because I’d been thinking about it since Wednesday.

Moroccan-style Roast Chicken
Grilled Lemons & Limes
Grilled Summer Squash
Couscous Salad

Moroccan-style Roast Chicken (serves 8 )
This is cribbed from an epicurious recipe called Moroccan-style Roast Cornish Hens with Vegetables.

I could have made this as written, it actually sounds pretty good. But, we’re in the middle of summer and roasted root vegetables sounded a little heavy for mid-August. And while I probably could have found Cornish hens my roommate would have been so horrified by the prospect of eating them that it wouldn’t have been worth the effort. Everyone’s got food quirks, and one of hers is eating things that still look like the animal they were when they were alive. Me, I’m heartless and will cheerfully dismember lobsters and crab, shell shrimp and suck the meat off of lamb chops, but she’s a little more squeamish about it. Mind you, she puts milk in her ice tea which I think is just so revolting I can hardly look at it whereas milk in ice coffee is not only perfectly acceptable it’s practically a requirement, so like I said everyone’s got their food quirks.

I swapped out the Cornish hens for bone-in chicken breasts (which I then sliced off the bone to serve – but cooking them with the bone in gives you juicier, more flavorful meat). I added grilled lemons and limes as garnish instead of the chopped herbs that the original recipe calls for – which were parsley, cilantro and mint and are how I found the recipe in the first place (key word search = mint). Of course, since I changed the garnish I still have handfuls of leftover mint.

6 bone-in chicken breasts

2 tsp caraway seeds
3 tsp salt
8 cloves garlic
½ cup honey
½ cup lemon juice
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp paprika
8 tsp cumin
4 tsp ginger
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne
2 tsp black pepper

Coarsely grind the caraway seeds with the salt in a spice grinder, or crush them with a rolling pin. Mince the garlic and then mash it to a paste with the salt mixture using the flat side of your knife*.

Transfer the paste to a small bowl and whisk in the rest of the ingredients.

Rub the paste into the chicken breasts and roast at 375 for 40-50 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 170-180.

* I admit, I cheated and put the caraway seeds, the salt and garlic in the blender and pulsed until very finely chopped and paste-like.

Grilled Summer Squash
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of summer squash. I love winter squashes in pretty much any form – roasted, grilled, made into soup, baked in the oven. But summer squash has a tendency to get bitter and watery when you cook it. However, baby summer squash from the farmer’s market lightly grilled is excellent, and using the mandoline to slice them is a socially acceptable way to play with your food.

1-2 summer squash/person
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Toss the sliced squash with a little olive oil, cinnamon, salt & pepper until evenly coated*.

Grill until done, about 1-2 minutes per side depending on the temperature of your grill and how thinly you sliced the squash.

* I used cinnamon to tie the flavor in with the chicken, but you could use pretty much any herb in its place. Thyme would probably be good, or finely chopped fresh rosemary.

Grilled Lemons & Limes
This isn’t so much a recipe as it is something to do with a hot grill that looks amazing as a garnish and takes about 45 seconds.

Cut lemons and limes in half. Place them cut side down on a hot grill for 1-2 minutes or until the sugars start to caramelize and you get grill marks.

Arrange decoratively on a plate and serve. The heat from the grilling cooks some of the sugar in the juice and gives you this interesting mellow citrus flavor.

I usually do this at the very end of cooking and let them sizzle away while I’m putting food on the table and everyone is getting drinks before sitting down.

Couscous Salad
I’m about to commit one of those epicurious reviews where the reviewer changed 70% of the recipe but ends by saying, “and it was really good” (as opposed to those reviewers who say things like – well I don’t like mayonnaise so I used tofu instead, and I was out of cheddar so I substituted cheetos, and I used applesauce instead of butter because it’s healthier for you and I have to say this recipe was terrible and I would never make it again).

Recipe stolen from Jes: Couscous Salad!

To start, I don’t like cilantro and neither do most of the people who come to Dinner so I substituted basil instead.

I couldn’t find any red bell peppers at the farmer’s market and I think the green ones taste bitter, so I eliminated the peppers from the recipe. Instead I found the prettiest little lemon cucumbers* and chopped those up and added a basket of heirloom cherry tomatoes.

I sautéed the onion until soft and starting to caramelize and then I added the corn and cumin and I added a little cinnamon and cooked it for another 4-5 minutes until the corn was done.

I mixed all of that with the couscous and dressed it with lime juice and olive oil.

And it was really good.

*I freely cop to the fact that I frequently buy vegetables at the farmer’s market just because I think they’re pretty. Lemon cucumbers don’t taste like lemons, and while on a scale of lemon to cucumber I suppose they look slightly more like a lemon than a cucumber mostly I bought them because they were different and interesting and kind of cute. I’m shallow that way.



  1. Yea, the couscous salad is one of my favourite things to make… mainly because it’s so forgiving. Add, subtract, change – and it still tastes good. We discovered the tomato addition because I roasted tomatoes with it last summer. Served it with salmon on top last week; also good.

  2. Correction: I cut (or more properly destroyed) the chicken. 🙂 It was the first time I’ve been involved in the cooking of MND, actually…I’m not sure why I feel the need to bring this up. That chicken was boss, by the way. And no, it’s not shallow to buy things at farmers’ markets because they’re cute. I have a house full of heirloom tomatoes right now for that very reason.

  3. This is true, I delegated the dismemberment of the chicken to Jen so that we might get around to eating before 9pm. It was not destroyed, it was very nicely sliced off the bone whatever she maintains.

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