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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

This easy party menu makes summer classics extra special




By David Tanis


Summer cooking should be a breeze, more pleasure than chore. So keep it simple. Have a simple salad, something for the grill, a homey fruit dessert. If you can find someone to help with the preparation, so much the better.


For an utterly summery first course, consider a shaved zucchini salad. The idea is very thinly sliced, very fresh zucchini or other summer squash, lightly dressed with salt, lime juice and olive oil, and finished with lots of basil, mint and crumbly creamy feta. It’s extremely refreshing and takes no time to make. Adding strips of squash blossom for a colorful garnish is nice, as are other edible blossoms like nasturtium or calendula.


For a casual hot-weather main, whether lunch or dinner, I like spicy lamb burgers with tahini sauce, inspired by the Eastern Mediterranean.


The lamb base is no trouble to put together: You just knead hot pepper, spices, garlic and olive oil into a pound of ground lamb. Press the mixture into small patties as thin as possible and grill them quickly over hot coals for three minutes per side, or pan-fry them with olive oil in a hot cast-iron skillet if you prefer. (The patties will be cooked medium but remain juicy.)


Top the burgers with a dollop of the garlicky tahini sauce you have just stirred up. I like to add sliced tomato and avocado, and a few strips of roasted pepper. They’re heavenly served in toasted pitas but are just at home on a bun.


When it comes to dessert, I’m of the persuasion that fruity desserts are the way to go all year round but especially in summer, when produce is in great abundance. A crumble is both simple and delicious.


Zucchini salad with basil, mint and feta


For an utterly summery first course, consider this shaved zucchini salad. The idea is very thinly sliced, very fresh zucchini or other summer squash, lightly dressed with salt, lime juice and olive oil, with lots of basil and mint and crumbly creamy feta on top. It’s extremely refreshing and takes no time to make. Adding some strips of squash blossom for a colorful garnish is nice.



Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 15 minutes



Ingredients:


4 small zucchini or other summer squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1 teaspoon lime zest plus 2 tablespoons lime juice (from 1 lime)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper

1/4 cup torn or whole mint leaves

1/4 cup torn or whole basil leaves

A few squash blossoms, torn in strips (optional)

Sumac, for sprinkling (optional)

2 ounces mild feta, crumbled



Preparation:


1. Wash and trim zucchini. With a sharp knife or mandoline, cut crosswise into very thin rounds. Wrap slices with a damp towel until ready to use, up to several hours ahead in the refrigerator.

2. In a small bowl, stir together lime zest, juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Place squash slices in a shallow salad bowl and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add dressing and, using your fingers, coat all slices well. Add mint and basil, and the squash blossoms, if using. Toss everything together.

4. Sprinkle with a pinch of sumac, if using, and top with crumbled feta.


Spicy lamb burgers with tahini


This dish, inspired by the warm flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, is a breeze to put together. Hot pepper, spices, garlic and olive oil are blended into a pound of lamb before being formed into small, thin, quick-cooking patties. They’re then cooked quickly in a hot cast-iron skillet and served with a garlicky tahini sauce. Tuck it into a toasted pita, or go with a bun. Either way, it’ll be delicious.



Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 30 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling



Ingredients:


For the burgers:

1 pound ground lamb

1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro, plus sprigs for assembly

2 tablespoons sweet paprika

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground fennel

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

2 large garlic cloves, finely grated

1 serrano chile, finely chopped

Extra-virgin olive oil


For the tahini sauce:

2 teaspoons lemon zest plus 3 tablespoons juice (from 1 lemon)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)

1 or 2 garlic cloves, finely grated

3 tablespoons tahini

1 cup plain yogurt (full-fat or low-fat)

1/4 cup thinly sliced green scallion tops

2 tablespoons roughly chopped dill


For assembly:

Small pitas, toasted

Tomato slices

Avocado slices

Roasted red peppers, jarred or fresh



Preparation:


1. Make the burgers: Place the ground lamb on a rimmed baking sheet or in a large bowl. Add cilantro, paprika, cumin, salt, coriander, fennel, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne, garlic and serrano.

2. Knead mixture until the spices are well incorporated. Wrap the meat and refrigerate for an hour or up to 48 hours.

3. With wet hands, form into 8 (2-ounce) balls, then flatten balls into thin patties. Refrigerate until ready to cook. (Patties can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to a month.)

4. Meanwhile, make the tahini sauce: Put lemon zest and juice in a medium bowl. Add salt, garlic and tahini, and stir to dissolve. Whisk in yogurt, and stir in scallions and dill.

5. Cook the burgers: Heat a wide cast-iron pan over medium-high. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan. When oil is wavy, cook 4 patties at a time, in batches, to keep from crowding the pan, for about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side, until lightly browned. The thin patties will be cooked medium but will remain juicy. (Alternatively, cook over a hot grill for 3 minutes on each side.)

6. To serve, tuck each patty into a pita with a spoonful of tahini sauce, tomato, avocado, cilantro and roasted red pepper.


Mango crumble


Fruity desserts are the way to go all year round, but especially in summer, when produce is in great abundance, and a crumble is both simple and delicious. Here, tangy mangoes bake until jammy under a crisp crust spiced with cinnamon, cardamom and ginger for an unforgettable contrast in textures.



Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 1 hour



Ingredients:


For the topping:

3/4 cup/96 grams all-purpose flour

1/2 cup/110 grams light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 cup/65 grams salted butter, melted


For the filling:

4 cups mango, peeled, pitted and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 4 to 6 mangoes)

1/2 cup/100 grams granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon



Preparation:


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Make the topping: Put flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and cardamom in a medium bowl. Stir in butter and mix together with a fork, leaving mixture crumbly.

2. Make the filling: Toss together mango, granulated sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, cardamom, ginger and cinnamon; transfer to a 9-inch pie pan or a similar baking dish.

3. Sprinkle topping over mango mixture. Bake until bubbling and nicely browned, 35 to 40 minutes.

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