It's the end of the long workday (or the start of an extra-long week) and we're hungry. Like, "can't-think-straight" hungry. Luckily, Food52 contributor EmilyC wants to do all the thinking for us. In Dinner's Ready, her monthly column on weeknight wonders, she shares three simple, flavor-packed recipes that are connected by a single idea or ingredient. Stick with Emily, and you'll have a good dinner on the table in no time. Today, three hearty, make-ahead salads to eat on the porch, in the park, anywhere.
If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself in a cooking rut at least once, if not a hundred times over, during this pandemic. I often find that my best laid dinner plans vaporize at the end of a long work day, when all I want to do is get outside and remind myself that it’s August (not March!). Even take-out—an exciting treat at first—has lost its allure.
So how do we climb out of these ruts? I don't have all the answers, but I’ll share what’s been working well for me lately: Portable, make-ahead dinners full of summer produce.
These types of dinners have buoyed my motivation in the kitchen for several reasons. One, I can make them whenever I have time—either entirely or in stages. Some days, that means I’ll get a head start by marinating chicken at lunchtime, or shaking up a vinaigrette in a Ball jar between video conferences—small-but-impactful steps that make getting dinner ready that much easier.
These sturdy meals can also be toted anywhere, even on the hottest, stickiest summer days: dinner on the patio, a picnic blanket, or really anyplace outside you want to be. Lately, we’ve been dining on our back porch, and even the small act of eating somewhere other than our kitchen table is a welcome change of scenery.
Maybe the thing I appreciate most: these meals taste good—now, later, or whenever. If our plans change, or if one game of Exploding Kittens turns into four, a rewarding dinner will still be waiting for us. They make a swell lunch the next day, or a satisfying dinner the day after that. For me, cooking once, and reaping the (delicious) rewards over the next few days, is reason enough to invest the up-front time.
Below are my go-to dinners to assemble in advance and tote around. They’re all easily customizable based on what you have on hand. On each recipe page, I offer ideas for substitutions and make-ahead strategies.
Inspired by jambon beurre, the classic Parisian sandwich of ham and cheese on a buttered baguette, this salad never fails to put a smile on my face. Aside from toasting chunks of crusty bread in lots of salted butter, the rest of the salad is a no-cook affair. In a big salad bowl, toss together thinly sliced ham and cheese (aged Gruyère or other types of Swiss cheese work well), cucumbers, torn Castelvetrano olives, arugula, and those glorious, buttery croutons with a simple Dijon vinaigrette. Eat inside or outside, and pretend the Tour Eiffel is your backdrop.
This hearty, umami-packed rice salad has been on repeat in my kitchen this summer. Not only does it last for days (my WFH lunches have never tasted so good!), assembly is easy. Cook basmati rice and, while it's going, sear mushrooms in a skillet until deeply browned and caramelized. Make a quick salsa verde, and smash and marinate cucumbers in it. To finish, toss the fluffy rice with the mushrooms, cucumbers, salsa verde, currants, pistachios, and a fistful of fresh dill. The currants are the surprising star ingredient; their sweetness nicely contrasts the anchovy, mushrooms, and cucumber and bridges all the flavors.
This super-customizable, spunky chicken salad is a template for make-ahead dinners in any season. It relies on the broiler (perfect for nights when you want char-grilled flavors fast) and a trusty sheet pan. First, broil chicken thighs that have been marinated in a zesty chile-lime vinaigrette until juicy and charred, and set them aside. Second, add shaved broccoli and freshly cut corn to the sheet pan, toss them in the rendered chicken fat (and more of the vinaigrette), then broil until singed yet snappy. From there, this salad is all about the toppings. I like ripe cherry tomatoes, toasted almonds, and tons of cilantro, but let your imagination (and the contents of your pantry and fridge) guide the way.
What's your favorite make-ahead, totable summer dinner? Let us know in the comments.
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