Sweet heat: A summer menu that will make you shine

Chef Nancy Wilson prepares a dish.

Summer is a time to take advantage of this season’s fresh vegetables and seafood and especially in Louisiana’s sizzling heat.

The big thing is to incorporate all those summer vegetables into a rice base or pasta base,” said Hahnville’s Nancy Tregre Wilson, author of “Memere’s Country Creole Cookbook.” “Just do wonderful things with that. It can be Italian or Mexican and certainly Cajun flair with all our great seafood, and they’re easy things to throw together.”

Wilson said it makes her laugh when people say it’s too hot to cook, but there are always ways to make it simple.

“Beat the heat by keeping the AC on and just cook a little as you can,” Wilson said of easy dishes that taste great. “Boil that pasta and steam those vegetables (don’t over cook them and immerse them in cold water right off the stove) and then go have some fun.”

Even without access to fresh vegetables, she has substituted canned vegetables successfully into these dishes.

“Grab some cans of vegetables and add a Greek dressing to have on the side with hot dogs or grilled chicken,” Wilson said. “Black beans are great in a salad, and there are all kinds of variations on hummus. You can use it with fresh vegetables with tahini, some herbs, lemon juice and olive oil.”

The veteran cook said she loves basil pesto in pasta as side dish, but Wilson’s also eaten as a main dish.

At Ormond Plantation in Destrehan, Chef Richard Kiral agreed a great summer menu is about using what’s in season.

“Right now you have so many great things … crab meat and shrimp, and some Gulf fish like snapper,” Kiral said. “I would stress using what’s in season. Fruit and vegetables tend to be at their peak and it’s the best time of the year for crab.”

Keeping the dishes light and fresh is key to a successful menu, he said.

Creole tomatoes are in season and make great appetizers, as well as add blueberries and smoked chicken to salads topped with some feta cheese.

Kiral also suggested a watermelon margarita to highlight the meal.

“They’re so sweet right now,” he said. “Watermelon really smooths it out.”

Wilson suggested cheesecake for desert while Kiral has been serving a frozen peaches and cream dish (tip: he grills the peaches) and spices them up with brown sugar and cinnamon. Whip in some heavy cream and vanilla then put in the freezer.

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