July 2010


After six weeks of unrelenting heat and scorching sun, the lawn is as good as dead but the garden is vegetable heaven. Pole beans — especially the purple-streaked rattlesnakes — are my favorite crop so far this season. The trellised vines are lush and pretty and produce handfuls of beans every day. We’ve picked half a dozen fat, pickling cucumbers (first two pounds are now hot and sweet refrigerator pickles) and scores of tiny sungold, red plum, and black cherry tomatoes.  The cilantro has gone to seed, which will yield a full jar of coriander once it’s dried and toasted.

Rattlesnake pole beans

Clockwise from top left: Opalka tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, coriander seeds, bell pepper

July sees our perennial flowers at their best, too.

Rudbeckia, coneflower, coreopsis, and lobelia

Hot, sultry, and downright oppressive, July has but one redeeming feature: vegetables.  (No, make that two: vegetables and peaches!)  And that bountiful summer harvest is all the sweeter when it comes from one’ s very own garden.  Yesterday’s haul from my modest vegetable patch was the inspiration for this fresh and colorful three bean salad.  Long, slender French gold beans, plump and juicy rattlesnake beans, a few early tomatoes, a fat red onion, and a handful of herbs made planning dinner easy.  A grilled flank steak and cornbread from the freezer rounded out the meal without heating up the kitchen.

Three bean salad with tomatoes and herbs

Serves 6

1/2 lb. green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces

1/2 lb. wax beans, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 lb. tomatoes, chopped (and seeded, if you like)

2 stalks celery, chopped

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1 15-oz. can red kidney beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained

10 fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped

10 fresh mint leaves, torn or chopped

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

3 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Pinch of sugar

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Cook green and wax beans in boiling, salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain, run under cold water to stop the cooking, and drain again.

Combine beans and remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Toss.  Let salad stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes before serving.

Tacos go technicolor with this lively combination of grilled chicken and summer vegetables. If you like yours spicy, add a generous pinch of crushed red pepper to the marinade and a few jalepenos to the salsa. Serve with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, and soft corn or flour tortillas.

Tangy grilled chicken thighs

Serves 6

2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/2 c. red wine vinegar

1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes)

6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

2 tbsp. brown sugar

2 tsp. cumin seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant and roughly chopped

1/3 c. olive or canola oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Trim chicken of excess fat and place in a large, shallow dish (or gallon-sized zip-top bag).

Whisk together vinegar, lime juice, garlic, sugar, and cumin seed until sugar is dissolved. Drizzle in oil, whisking well to incorporate.

Pour marinade over chicken and toss to coat.  Refrigerate for a few hours, turning chicken occasionally so all pieces are well-marinated.

Remove chicken from marinade. Discard marinade. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat, turning halfway through cooking, until done, 12-15 minutes.

Avocado-corn salsa

Lime juice can be a little bitter — a spoonful of sugar helps take the edge off. If you prefer, use cider vinegar instead and leave the sugar out.

Makes about 4 cups, serving 4-6

2 large ears corn, grilled if you like, kernels removed (or 1 1/2 c. frozen corn, thawed)

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

2 red bell peppers, diced small

1 large avocado, diced

1 handful cilantro leaves, finely chopped

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 lime)

2 tsp. granulated sugar (optional)

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Combine corn, onion, peppers, avocado, and cilantro in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together lime juice and sugar until sugar dissolves.  Whisk in oil, then drizzle over salsa.  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.