It's been a hot, hot summer with a relatively miniscule amount of rain. That means being outside should be a priority, unless you're a vampire in which case you should stop reading. While the sun is out and the weather is hot, we should be trying to get as much time in as we can.
Some of us are lucky enough to have patios and decks in our backyards. Add a grill to the mix and you have the makings for a proper summer gathering or a really damn good meal. However, hot dogs and potato salad get old. There's no reason why you can't be adventurous with your deck dining.
We're not going to sit here and tell you that burgers are exotic, but there's definitely room to kick them up a few notches if you know what you're doing. Instead of simply throwing a couple ground chuck patties on the fire, give these Greek-inspired lamb sliders a shot.
While you can most definitely use 100-percent ground lamb, I chose to use to half ground lamb, half ground beef. Season the burgers liberally with dried oregano and mint, diced fresh onions, salt and pepper. Cook them to your liking and serve on mini pita bread instead of a bun. Top with tzatziki, slices of Persian cucumbers and a slice of chili pepper.
Greek style sliders are not the only way to go. Like Mexican? Top with guacamole, jalapeno and queso fresco. Middle Eastern? How about hummus and tabouleh? The sky's the limit, really, since burgers are a very versatile concoction. However, since we're eating on the deck, sliders are a more appropriate choice than a normal sized burger. Sliders can be eaten in a couple bites, while a larger burger takes more of a time investment and is usually messier. Plus, you can eat four or five sliders instead of just one big burger.
Since my burger had a Greek (read: Mediterranean) focus, the side and appetizer had better follow theme. For the appetizer, hummus was the inspiration, but instead of using the traditional chickpeas and tahini, I went with cannellini beans. These white beans have are smoother and have a more mild taste than chickpeas.
In a high-speed blender, dump two cans of drained of beans, two to three cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. Start the blender and watch until the desired consistency is reached. Add more olive oil as needed. White bean hummus straight from the blender will be warm, which is not a bad thing. Served on a crudité platter or with your favorite pita bread or chips.
My crudité platter consisted of baby carrots, Persian cucumbers, multigrain tortilla chips and celery. A well was dug into the center of the hummus and filled will more olive oil and slices of Serrano and Anaheim chiles studded the perimeter of the dip. Of course, any vegetable works in this situation.
The key to fun deck dining is not only good weather, but also choosing foods that are both versatile and easy to eat while conversing and moving around. Sometimes, though, it is okay to have a dish that requires a little more concentration – you know, like eating with a fork instead of fingers.
Since it is summer, I figured something fresh should be on the plate with the sliders and not a pile of fries. Don't get me wrong; I like french fries as much as the next dude, but a salad in the summer is where it's at.
And to make the salad even more hip, use quinoa. If you're not familiar with quinoa, it is a grain similar to rice or couscous and is gluten-free. With its flavor profile being relatively close to bulgur wheat (an integral ingredient in tabouleh), substituting quinoa for wheat in tabouleh seemed like a fun idea.
Boil the quinoa according to the directions on the package. (Note: when quinoa is ready, it sprouts a tail – don't be alarmed by this – it's harmless and kind of cute.) Once cooked, scoop quinoa into a bowl and put in the fridge while prepping you're the other ingredients.
Chop up locally grown tomato, cucumber, parsley, green onion and whatever other veggies you love to have in your salad. Yes, it's "tabouleh," but no one cares what you add. This is your canvas – be artistic.
Keep the dressing light, though, and don't overthink it. Fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper are all you need. In fact, that dressing can be used on just about any salad and you'd be a hit at every party you go to.
If all of that quinoa and vegetable goodness isn't enough, feel free to top the salad with some crumbled feta cheese. In fact, if sliders aren't your thing, this salad could be topped with grilled chicken or seared ahi tuna and then it becomes a fantastically fresh summer meal.
With all of this great, summery, outdoorsy food, you'll need to consider some beverages, too. My default is always beer and in the summer I gravitate toward citrus notes, which means I'm drinking Atwater Brewery's Dirty Blonde, Short's Brewing's Nicie Spicie, or literally anything by Jolly Pumpkin. As the flavors become more tart, I'm more willing to add them to my summer rotation.
For the cocktail side, pick up some New Holland Artisan Spirits Knickerbocker Gin. Pour some on the rocks with a splash of soda and a wedge or two of lime and prepared to be refreshed and blown away by this juniper and spruce laden libation. | RDW