When Sandbar executive chef Wesley Dennis isn’t working at that Granville Island restaurant, you can find him in his garden, teaching his kids how to plant and grow vegetables and herbs. They love to gather freshly picked ingredients and use them to create new dishes.
Although summertime cooking might first bring to mind firing up the grill (see other story on this page), there are all sorts of other ways to make the most of the season’s vibrant flavours without spending hours in the kitchen. It’s time to put away the roasting pan to make way for simple meals that will yield equally delicious results.
“You don’t always need to turn on a stove to make dinner,” Dennis tells the Straight, pointing to ceviche as an ideal summertime dish. “Lemons, limes, oranges, or even yuzu: use citric acid to cook your favourite fish or seafood. Try B.C. spot prawns that are currently in season, halibut, or snapper.
“Pair the citrus with a fresh herb like cilantro or mint,” he says. “Serve it with tortillas or on top of greens and you get a fresh, light dinner.”
Tacos are an easy crowd pleaser, whether you’re filling them with grilled peppers and avocado, chicken and black beans, or even last night’s leftovers.
Big salads are a summer go-to: “Make your favourite salad and add protein and quinoa, farro, or any other type of hearty grain to turn it into a meal,” Dennis says.
A simple but show-stopping dinner is a seafood boil. Cook up any combination of prawns, crab, clams, mussels, halibut, scallops, lobster—you name it. “This is an easy one-pot dish,” Dennis says. “You can throw your favourite ingredients in a nice stock. Use veggies like corn on the cob, potatoes, and onions. Then pair that with your favourite seafoods or meats—maybe add a nice smoked sausage like andouille or chorizo.”
Just remember that different types of seafood cook at different rates, so put in the items with the longest cooking times first. The seafood boil can be served as is or with a leafy green salad, side of asparagus or broccolini, or loaf of crusty French bread.
One of Dennis’s favourite summer dinners that doesn’t involve a barbecue is a simple charcuterie platter with any assortment of meats, cheeses, bread, and “pickled things”. “This dish is best enjoyed with friends, laughter, and, of course, lots of wine,” he says.
Even a sandwich can be elevated to a full meal that bursts with flavour. Kafka’s Coffee recently launched Lil Bird Sandwich Co. inside its Main Street location, where head chef Nitzan Cohen (of Mensch Jewish Delicatessen) has come up with several varieties of sourdough goodness.
“Our Uncle Antipasto sandwich is a perfect summer sandwich,” Cohen tells the Straight. “It combines the freshness of summer tomatoes, basil leaves, and arugula with creamy, light bocconcini cheese and roasted red peppers marinated in olive oil and balsamic, fresh herbs, and garlic. Almost all of these are local ingredients, so you can truly get a taste of British Columbia in one package. All of that with balsamic aioli creates a light and fresh sandwich that is perfect for a picnic in a hot summer day.
“Grab one and head off to the beach or take it with you on a hike,” he says. “Sandwiches can also be a social and socially distanced meal, with each person having their own individual portions. For your own bubble, you can bring a selection of breads and fillings, and folks can make their own.”
Cohen’s tips for making a knockout sandwich include prioritizing seasonal ingredients like sweet, firm tomatoes. He suggests always adding something crunchy for texture, like fresh cucumber. Don’t overdo it on sauces; let the fillings shine. And always use fresh bread.
“Every sandwich needs a bright flavour like a squeeze of lemon or some fresh greens,” Cohen says. “A crusty sourdough works best. The crust has so much flavour. Plus, the chewier the crust, the more flavour your sandwich will have.
“Try new things and combinations, because you never know what you will like,” he says. “Don’t judge people for what they like or do not like. Sandwiches are a personal preference.”More