Oven off, grill on
Cooking Buzz is produced in partnership with the Junior League of Houston, a women’s charitable and education organization founded in 1925.
June is a great time to regain balance after the hectic weeks of May finals and ceremonies and before fun but exhausting summer vacations. Temperatures are rising, but the intense Texas heat is still at bay. As the days get hotter, I am less inclined to turn on my stove or exert any more energy than required to serve a delicious meal.
There is no better time than June to bid farewell to kitchen appliances and head to the back porch for simple, relaxed suppers. The smoky and caramelized flavors from the grill make dinner taste like an early vacation. As someone who dreads scrubbing pots, meats seared on an easy-to-clean outdoor grill are the perfect antidote to winter stews and roux cooked in a Dutch oven.
Houston’s climate makes it possible for us to enjoy a variety of fresh produce all year long. But June brings an especially rich variety of fresh, local vegetables, fruits and herbs. Grilled Eggplant and Tomato Pasta Salad from Stop and Smell the Rosemary is a great way to showcase that royal purple eggplant you picked at the farmer’s market or the sweet tomatoes you planted in February that have finally ripened in the backyard.
While I am sure I could find ways to grill a multi-course meal from soup to dessert, sometimes a cool salad full of fresh herbs is the best accompaniment to a smoky main course. Minted Tabbouleh, also from Stop and Smell the Rosemary, fits that bill. It requires boiling water for the bulgur, but it can cook away from the stove in a covered container. Combined with fresh tomatoes and mint, this is a refreshing accompaniment to grilled meats.
For the main course, Grilled Lamb with Savory Mint Relish from Peace Meals provides bold flavor. While you may have to briefly break the no-stove prep rule, aromatic white or nutty brown rice pairs well with the meat. If lamb is not your meat of choice, try substituting flank or flat iron steak or chicken. Packed with herbs and lemon, the relish complements all of these meats. Grilled Salmon Steaks with Watercress Mustard Butter from Stop and Smell the Rosemary is another great entrée. The tangy mustard-based butter is a good match for the rich flavor of salmon.
Grilled Marinated Vegetables from Peace Meals is a versatile side for most grilled main courses. Simply combine balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper with your favorite fresh vegetables, marinate and toss into a grill basket. The marinade is substantial enough to coat, but light enough to highlight the flavor of your vegetables. Try selecting a different combination each time you prepare these. My family is partial to asparagus, peppers, summer squash and tomatoes in June, but we return to this recipe with winter root vegetables in a few months.
For a light and easy dessert, I love to make the classic Strawberry Pie from Houston Junior League Cookbook. This pie features a layer of cream cheese and whipped cream worth every calorie. It takes about fifteen minutes to prepare and two hours to chill. As much as I love it with strawberries, a caveat is in order. Houston-area strawberries are typically in season April to May; therefore local may not be an option by June. I heartily recommend that you substitute Texas blueberries. They are best enjoyed right off the bush in June, and we are fortunate to have lots of local blueberry farms that allow you to pick your own.
If you crave an easy beverage that can change with the seasons, try Monica Pope’s T’afia Ratafia from Peace Meals. This refreshing cocktail features a foundation of vodka and white wine, vanilla bean and sugar and a cup of seasonal fruit and vegetables. I offer up a June version: try a cup of Texas blueberries with muddled mint and/or basil.
May you find the perfect menu to relax you into summer and may your stove stay cold until the fall.
Editor’s note: To buy a Houston Junior League cookbook, see jlh.org or call 713-871-6608.
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