Peak summer brings sunny beach days, endless Aperol spritzes, and easiest-of-the-easy dishes. I turn to simple recipes that require little in the way of time in the kitchen. This is less about shunning the oven, and more about the beauty of summer produce. When ripe tomatoes and fresh basil are so perfect on their own, why do much to change them?
Topping my list of the best summer meals is the humble BLT. I go basic with mine: crisp bacon, lots of lettuce, drippingly ripe tomatoes, and a thick swipe of mayonnaise on lightly toasted grainy bread. Riffs on a BLT didn't usually entice me—until last summer. There's a secret sauce to blame for this, and that's basil mayonnaise.
There’s a little general store in East Marion, New York called Fork & Anchor. Beachy and laid-back, it sports a royal blue awning and wide, worn plank floors. Their sandwich menu reads like a hungry beachgoers dream: herb-laden green goddess chicken salad, cheesy breakfast burritos, overstuffed turkey clubs with avocado, and so on. I like to ride my bike over for a cold seltzer, a chocolate chip cookie, and most importantly, their basil mayo BLT.
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The first bite was a bit of a revelation: why doesn’t everyone combine these two peak summer foods in one? Basil and tomato are great partners, as the caprese has taught us, and basil mayo elevates a BLT just enough without changing the fundamental flavors of the sandwich. It's essentially a creamier, less sophisticated, more crowd-pleasing cousin of pesto.
Best of all, basil mayo is easy to make. Starting with your own homemade mayo is a bit more labor-intensive, but worth the effort. Nevertheless, a shortcut recipe is still perfectly valid: Just take fresh basil, chop it, and blend it into your mayonnaise. You can either chop the basil finely and stir it into your mayonnaise, or you can give it a quick pulse in a food processor or blender. Using the food processor helps distribute the basil flavor more, so I recommend that, even though it adds an extra step.
Note: You can keep your basil mayo simple, but if you want to make it a bit more savory and complex, add in a tablespoon of nutritional yeast. This gives the umami note of Parmesan without making the mayo taste overly cheesy.
Once you’ve made your mayo, let it sit for a bit in the refrigerator to allow the flavor to develop. Then use it everywhere! (Okay, fine, maybe exercise a tiny bit of restraint. But it’s summer! This won’t last!)
When to Use Basil Mayo
The BLT is a good place to start with your basil mayo, but here are a few other excellent ways to use it.
On hot days, I like to pack a massive veggie sandwich for the beach, and basil mayo is the secret ingredient that takes it from “any old weekday sandwich” to “summer between two slices of bread.” Try the recipe I’ve included here, although you can play around with it to your heart’s content.
Dress your lobster salad with basil mayo for an extra-summery version of a lobster roll. For a flawless grilled cheese, spread the outside of the bread with basil mayo to get a crisper, more golden crust. Mix it into a basic potato or pasta salad to give both a fresh update for warm weather. Egg salad made with basil mayo is excellent. Try grilled corn slathered thickly with basil mayo, a squeeze of lime juice, and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt, elote style.
Lastly, turn to the grill. (This is a summer mantra that never steers me wrong.) Spread basil mayo on your ingredients—anything from fish to fresh vegetables, like zucchini, to meat—before grilling, using it as a faux marinade; or spread the mayo onto your grilled food once you take it off the heat.
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