If you’re someone who tends to get giddy at farmers markets or exuberant at C.S.A. pickups, these are your golden days. As much as the first bunches of asparagus or baskets of strawberries get me excited in the spring, it’s these weeks that straddle August and September that bring me the most joy.
Nearly every fruit and vegetable is within your grasp—whether it’s juicy peaches and watermelon, sugar-sweet tomatoes and corn, peppers and eggplant of all sizes and colors, and even the very first crisp apples.
It’s also these weeks that I find myself doing my best cooking. There’s just something about the colorful abundance that makes me feel totally unencumbered in the kitchen. Maybe it’s because the produce that’s ripe right now is so full of vibrance and flavor, none of it needs much tending to. Rather than fuss in my preparations, dinner comes together so effortlessly, a deserving glass of wine is almost always (scratch that...absolutely always) in order.
My very first cookbook, Mediterranean Every Day, is built around these acts of effortlessness amid seasonal abundance, which shouldn't be confined to these in-between days, but enjoyed year-round.
After years of living and studying in Italy, I learned that simple food and feel-good food tend to go hand in hand. Embrace wholesome ingredients, let them do the talking, and dinner always has a way of ending up to be not only delicious, but also pretty darn good for you. That right there is essentially the Mediterranean diet—an everything-in-moderation approach that celebrates fruits and vegetables, right alongside chocolate and wine.
Each recipe in my book takes the least-fussy road to an inspired meal. There are 3-ingredient cocktails and snacks, lots of vegetable-packed pastas, and desserts for the spur-of-the-moment sweet tooth. Its impending release, during my very favorite food season, is all a bit kismet. While it’s truly a book to turn to every day, some of the recipes I am most excited to share are the ones borne of this time we’re in right now—when summer bleeds into fall.
My Braised Harissa Eggplant and Greens is just the kind of dinner I implore you to dig into right now. It honors the seasonal overlap when tomatoes are still juicy and ruby red, orbs of deep purple eggplant are taut and smooth, and dark, leafy fall greens finally make their grand debut.
Concurrently, it’s the perfect marker for the slow and steady (though sometimes, quick and bracing) turn in the weather. As sticky summer evenings transform into cooler, darker, sweater-grabbing ones, our cravings for crisp salads are not unexpectedly replaced by cravings for warmer, spicier things.
Don’t worry, this quick braise still prevents the kitchen from overheating in case you’re still reaching for your A.C.. But, what emerges is a cozy, stew-like situation with meltingly tender eggplant, saucy chickpeas, ready-to-burst tomatoes, and wilted kale. Spicy harissa lends a fragrant heat to the braise, which is grounded by earthy cumin, then balanced and lifted with a generous squeeze of lemon.
All this one-pot dinner is begging for is good, crusty bread for dunking and swiping, a cool evening with the windows open, and your last bottle of rosé.
When do you find yourself doing your best cooking? Tell us about it in the comments!
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Sheela Prakash is a food and wine writer, recipe developer, and the author of Salad Seasons: Vegetable-Forward Dishes All Year and Mediterranean Every Day: Simple, Inspired Recipes for Feel-Good Food. Her writing and recipes can be found in numerous online and print publications, including Kitchn, Epicurious, Food52, Serious Eats, Tasting Table, The Splendid Table, Simply Recipes, Culture Cheese Magazine, Clean Plates, and Slow Food USA. She received her master's degree from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, holds Level 2 and Level 3 Awards in Wines from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), graduated from New York University's Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, and is also a Registered Dietitian.
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