Landscape designer and all-season Up-Island girl, Tara Gayle, sips strawberry horchata
amid a profusion of lady’s mantle, white astilbe, and creeping geranium.
Ever notice how summer gets under your fingernails? Garden dirt, beach sand, a stinging gooseberry thorn, the nagging mosquito bite you scratch. Sometimes essence distills to particles.
The essence of our summer recipes distills to particle size, too. We’ve got ground toasted rice, blender-crushed rice, polenta softening in fresh ricotta. We have toasted oat flour lining a buttered pan. The finest particles come in the form of in flour milled from black hulled green buckwheat.
Moving among these particles are a procession of seasonal flavors and crisp textures: shaved raw okra, quick pickled cukes, young alliums, bruised lemongrass, summer herbs, grilled dry-rubbed steak, strawberries, blueberries, and the ever-ready overripe banana.
Every summer in the kitchen, we experience a fresh wave of gratitude for regions whose cuisines produce superior hot-weather fare. Spain, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, Morocco—to name a few—just seem to understand summer’s dining aesthetic. In this spirit, we offer two main course dishes—one Japanese, the other Thai—that offer make-ahead elements and room-temp serving virtues.
And we have cake! Two absolutely drop-dead simple, no-frost, eat-with-your-fingers cakes so delicious they will elicit enthusiasm—and require restraint—from anyone who makes their acquaintance.
A click on each image will take you to its recipe.
Strawberry and Toasted Almond Horchata
Summer’s most soothing beverage must be horchata. Its evanescent near-sweetness, the flavorful non-flavors of fresh almonds and rice, and its innocent milky pallor invite full-screen projection of attitude and attributes. For instance, horchata looks and swallows almost like a milkshake, but the ice cubes slinking behind its opacity add a cocktail level chill and sophistication. Feed it cinnamon and lime and it nods to Mexico—like the lovely horchata recipe we have on site now. Horchata also welcomes a shot or two of dark rum. But add strawberries and toasted almonds, and it moves back in time to Persia where ice cream first discovered itself and where nutmeats and fruits were mixed for healing and pleasure. Strawberries prefer a neutral palette to express their floral complexity, and rice and almond milk work on them like cream—maybe even more so. In this recipe we go strictly native with whole rice or rice grits and freshly skinned whole almonds. No shortcuts here. The payoff is worth the modest effort. Cheers—clink!
Grilled Thai Beef Salad
A mesmerizing bricolage of flavors, textures, and sensations collide in this grilled beef dish: abundant hot spice and piquant lime juice, Thai fish sauce’s signature je ne sais quoi, the green metallic tang of cilantro, bracing mint, scallion rings, and toasted ground rice—all drip and pool their way around slices of grilled rare skirt steak. You keep eating it in wonderment while making furtive passes at the rice bowl.
Tasty, willing, and able partner to our Thai Beef Salad, this recipe proves that an adjective’s flexibility proves the rule. The adjective is “sticky” and the term, in this case, relative. Never mind. What our Charleston rice may find wanting in sticking power, it over-compensates with flavor. A simple, superb dish.
Summer Soba Salad
Homemade soba noodles and light seasoned vegetables in dashi float between two sensory spheres. The first is solid with herbaceous and deep forest flavor at first bite in the pleasant snap of soba and bursts of crisp, barely pickled, delicately sliced okra, and cucumbers. The second sphere commences with a liquid rush and unfolding sensations of salt, faint sweet, and mysterious dark caramel and citrus pooling in a cool dark broth. Dive in.
Toasted-Oat Banana Bread
Not many overripe bananas end up on our counter—discipline alone allowed them to advance to the rotting edge. But because the bread is so much more than even a great raw banana, sacrificing an entire bunch to a loaf pan was easy. Baked using Anson Mills pastry and toasted oat flours, and a pound of peeled bananas, this bread had local landscapers and growers dropping by our cottage on a regular basis during baking trials. You need only a couple of mixing bowls and a rubber spatula to throw it together. Moist to the nth power and crisp all around from the oat flour used to dredge the pan, this bread (which is essentially a cake) loves coffee, tea, milk—and cognac.
Blueberry Polenta Cake
It was Dawn who made me yearn for a summer tea cake with blueberries, a moist, open crumb, and hints of fresh sweet corn in grain form. Getting that fantasy on the table required each of us working against deadline on two separate paths, from two different coasts, and with two husband tasters. (Sounds like Iron Chef meets Wife Swap. Oof.) One of us started with oil, one with butter, and we both provisioned ricotta, polenta, and blueberries. The creamed butter cake won over the stirred oil cake in the end, but real progress came down to polenta strategy. “Soaking” the polenta in ricotta overnight persuaded it to perform more like a soft flour and less like fine granular corn. But that isn’t all. Because heirloom corns are profoundly pH (acid/alkaline) responsive, the mild acidity of the ricotta worked magic on the polenta’s flavor, creating an explosion of bright citrus and orange blossom. This cake has sunny summery appeal.