Summer is like nature’s long weekend: three months of long days, slow sunsets, and great weather. It’s a time for reading books on the beach and enjoying meals prepared outdoors and eaten under a clear blue sky. But summer cooking is more than just burgers and hot dogs – this is nature’s most productive time of year, and with all of the fresh flavors to choose from, there are plenty of options for easy but sophisticated small-plate dishes that take advantage of the best summer has to offer.
Barbecuing is a quintessential summer activity, and while the basic seasoned meat and barbecue sauce pairing is a classic, it’s by far not the only option for using your outdoor kitchen. Vegetables, bread, and even fruit can be deliciously prepared on the grill and combined to create unique and tasty appetizers or side dishes. Because summer’s bounty is already so flavorful, it usually doesn’t need much complex preparation or enhancement to produce taste bud tantalizing results. Grilling a combination of fresh vegetables, onion slices, and Italian seasoning in olive oil adds a caramelized layer to veggies’ already vibrant flavors.
This trendy cut is hugely popular among meat eaters, with all the flavor of bacon and a tender, crispy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Soak a slice of this favorite in a marinade featuring soy sauce, honey, ginger, and garlic and cook until browned and crackling, then cut it into bite-sized pieces. Pork belly is supremely versatile and tantalizing in combination with almost anything else you have on hand. Toast some artisan bread on the grill to make toast points, and stack the meat on top of with a bit of fresh summer lettuce, a slice of tomato, a little aioli, a sprinkling of fresh herbs. Accentuate marinated pork belly’s sweetness with corn flan or grilled peach slices and arugula.
There’s more to salad than lettuce and dressing. The enormous variety of produce available during summer leaves plenty of options for creatively pairing vegetables, fruits, cheeses, grains, or herbs in unexpected ways. Fresh tarragon enhances salads with its subtle, anise-like flavor, basil provides a peppery essence, and the cool zing of mint – which is available in an amazing array of permutations, including orange, apple, and chocolate mints – brightens the flavor of almost any salad. Summer is also the season for “putting up pickles” – and the possibilities extend far beyond the cucumber. Pickled beets, watermelon rind, strawberries, onions, or peaches can add an unexpected zing to a summer salad.
With all of the options summer offers, there’s no end to the possibilities when it comes to fun, fresh appetizers and hors d’oeuvre.