Although complicated recipes can be satisfying to prepare, every cook undoubtedly has a deep appreciation for simple meals, particularly during hot weather, when spending time over a stove can be uncomfortable.
One of the supreme pleasures of summer is what I call the messless meal. In this scenario, everyone eats well yet there are no pots and pans to wash and the cleanup might entail putting a few plates and pieces of silverware into the dishwasher. Within five minutes of the end of the meal, the cook is lounging with feet up and cold drink in hand. Ta-da.
The secret of the messless meal contains two parts. The first, obviously, is the grill, where the meat course is prepared. With the exception of a dish for marinading and barbecue utensils, there's no burdensome cleanup here. In addition, the kitchen stays cool.
The second component, and the one that makes the messless summer meal something more than a time-saving maneuver, is a variety of refrigerated summer salads. Whether these are old standbys, such as potato salad, cole slaw and tabouli, or something more unusual, the trick is to have them in the refrigerator ready to serve.
Fresh vegetables themselves can be their own salad. Once tomatoes come on in the garden, I slice them for every meal and often eat them with pesto made from basil in the garden. Cucumbers, too, can be sliced up into a quick salad, combined with sliced onions, and served with a vinegar-based dressing.
These are the flavors and experiences that are possible only in summer, and the fact that they can be enjoyed without a huge mess in the kitchen is simply an added bonus.
One of my favorite summer salads is a black bean concoction. I wasn't able to locate the recipe this summer, so I had to figure it out from memory. That's another beauty of the summer meal: Improvisation is not only accommodated, it's encouraged.
This is a colorful salad, which should be refrigerated overnight before the first serving so that the flavors can merge. It can be made with canned black beans and corn, but it tastes fresher with dried beans that have been soaked and recently simmered and with fresh corn sliced off the cob. Unfortunately, that complicates things a bit and undermines the whole messless meal theory, so I've offered a quick version here. Feel free to substitute fresh ingredients where I list canned.
Black bean and corn salad
2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can whole kernel corn
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
juice of 2 large limes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
Place the vegetable ingredients and the cilantro in a large bowl. Drizzle the lime juice and olive oil over the top, and mix the salad with a spoon to blend the ingredients and coat them with the oil and lime juice. Sprinkle the salt and cumin over the top and stir again to combine thoroughly.
Cover the salad and place it in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. After 2 or 3 hours stir the ingredients lightly and correct the salt to taste. Return to the refrigerator. Makes 6 servings.