Quick Summer Dinners

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This time of year, no one really wants to cook. And as the weather heats up, no one wants heavy meals.

Despite the dismal trend of “intermittent fasting,” we humans have to eat, so I have devised a few simple, healthy, tasty recipes that serve as one-dish meals with minimal fuss.

The falafel salad came to me by way of my daughter, who spent the month of June taking a course in Boston and living in her own apartment for the first time. She and her roommate had plenty of fun shopping and cooking, and she often sent me Instagrammable photos of dishes they had prepared — one being this tasty salad, which uses some premade, bought ingredients, as well as some fresh items prepped from home.

The pasta dish arose out of the classic scenario: “It’s midweek, it’s been a busy one, the pantry is bare and it’s 6:30 p.m.” Some tired tomatoes, a few basil leaves from my garden, a can of chickpeas, pasta, Parmesan and … bon appétit.

Finally, the corn salad is the most versatile of the offerings here in terms of usage: It’s a meal! It’s a side! It’s a relish! It’s delicious!

Falafel salad
Falafel salad

Falafel Salad

Serves 2 for a meal

I am generally a homemade cook and tend to avoid premade ingredients. But I make an exception for things that are just as good (or better) bought than what I could create in my kitchen, or that are so labor intensive and messy to prepare that I can’t justify the effort. Falafel ticks both boxes.

This salad can be adapted to your preference and your pantry. Olives would be a nice addition. Ditto peppers, either mild or hot, and red or sweet onions. If you can’t find halloumi, feta is a reasonable substitute. And if you want a pareve salad, skip the cheese entirely.

The heat/texture contrast of this dish make it unique and tasty. It also makes it feel a bit more substantial than a mere salad for dinner.

  • 4 ounces halloumi cheese, sliced in ¼-inch pieces
  • Oil to spray cheese
  • 6 store-bought falafel
  • 6 cups lettuce, such as spring mix, romaine or Boston, rinsed, spun and torn
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • ½ cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • ¼ cup prepared hummus
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sprinkle of ground cumin, salt and pepper, to taste

Spray the cheese with oil and pan fry it in a skillet over medium high until crisp. Place on paper towels and set aside.

Prepare the falafel according to package directions. If no prep is needed, simply heat them up.

In a shallow bowl, mix the lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Make the dressing: In a small bowl, mix the hummus, lemon juice, oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix with a fork and taste for seasoning.

When all the components are prepared, place the cheese and falafel on top of the salad and drizzle with dressing. Serve immediately.

Quick Pantry Pasta

Serves 2-3

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes a bit past their prime
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ pound pasta
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • A few sprigs fresh parsley or basil leaves
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, for serving

In a large pot, boil the water with about a tablespoon of salt for the pasta.

While the water is heating, place the oil, salt, pepper flakes and garlic in skillet on medium until fragrant.

Add the tomatoes to the skillet and allow them to cook rather intensely until the skins burst, about 8 minutes.

Add chickpeas to the tomato mixture and continue cooking.

Cook the pasta to just al dente, generally a minute less than the package indicates, reserving ¼-cup cooking water. Drain and pour the pasta into the skillet with the tomatoes. Toss the pasta, add the basil or parsley (or both) and continue stirring until the pasta is coated with the tomato mixture and the ingredients are well distributed. Add small amounts of pasta water to help move the sauce around if needed.

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

corn salad
Corn salad (Photos by Keri White)

Mexican Corn Salad

Serves 4 generously as a side

This dish is delicious, seasonal and keeps well, especially if you don’t use avocados, which can turn brown after a day or so, although they still taste fine. Because it contains black beans, the dish delivers a portion of protein, so it can serve as a light meal on a hot day.

But it is also a wonderful side — or topping — to any grilled meat or fish. If you are skipping the meat and want to amp up the protein and heft, crumble a half-cup of cotija (or feta) cheese into the salad.

It tastes divine with fresh, in-season corn, but good-quality canned or frozen can be a reasonable substitute if fresh is not available.

  • 6 ears fresh corn
  • ¼ cup red onion, chopped finely
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, rinsed and cut in half
  • 1 avocado, cut in small chunks and spritzed with lime juice to retain color
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

For the dressing:

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced jalapeño pepper (or more to taste)
  • ¼ cup mild oil (canola, corn, or light olive oil)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin

In a large pot, heat the salted water to a boil. Place the corn into the pot, cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove the corn from the water with tongs, and place it on a plate to cool.

Meanwhile, mix the onion, tomato, avocado, black beans and cilantro in a large bowl.

Make the dressing: Mix all the ingredients well in a mini chopper or blender; set aside.

When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cob and place them in the bowl with other vegetables. Mix, dress, mix again, taste for seasoning, adjust as needed and serve.

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