Just because the days are getting shorter doesn’t mean we need to hunker down and stay inside. This time of year, the nights are cooler but the sun is still warm and shining. Even with the cooler temperatures, one can still feel the warmth of the sun on their back and soak in all the rays. Sit back on a picnic blanket with friends and family and close your eyes to the sun and relax. A late summer/early fall picnic is a wonderful way to enjoy the season. Gathered here is a collection of easy picnic food ideas and recipes to inspire you for your next outing.
Picnic food and your spread do not need to be a Martha Stewart event. In addition to serving fresh and delicious food, great picnic food should be easy to transport, have minimal prep work, and keep its freshness over time. You can make it as fancy as you want, but eating outside is a relaxing casual affair, so the food prep should be easy and relaxed too.
In my childhood, the standard picnic food was sandwiches or hot dogs cooked over an open fire. There is a reason these items are still popular. Sandwiches are perfect picnic food. You can make them gourmet, or PB and J, and they do not require plates or utensils to eat them. Wrap them up in parchment or wax paper, then later the paper performs double duty as the “plate”. You can eat half, then cover them up in the wrapping it came in. Then run off for a game of Frisbee.
I included a recipe for grilled chicken sandwiches made on focaccia, with smoked mozzarella, avocado, arugula and basil mayonnaise. Use your favorite bread, but make sure it will last for a couple of hours without getting soaked or smashed. Smushed sandwiches are never fun to eat so pack your sandwiches carefully.
What is it about the fresh air that causes people to want to snack on salty food? I don’t know, all I know is I am right there with everyone else chomping down on chips when I play outside, go to the beach or hike. Nibbles or snacks are always great picnic food, but you don’t have to go crazy and buy out the store. I recommend, one item for an appetizer, and one salty crunchy snack, like chips. It is easy to go overboard with the snacks, but they are not the only food items at the picnic. No one will return home hungry.
A terrific picnic appetizer is tapenade. Pictured in my picnic photographs is artichoke tapenade, a recipe I made from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. The recipe I used from this book is a little different from the recipe on his website, but it is still delicious and easy to make.
Another great spread or dip is muhammara, roasted red pepper dip. Muhammara is one of my favorite vegetable spreads. Both spreads are gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan. Serve either with crusty bread, pita chips, or cut vegetables.
I believe every picnic should include some fruit. Ripe fruit is great picnic food because most fruit is naturally designed for individual servings. Fruit provides a bright and fresh taste to counterpoint the rich sandwiches and salty snacks. It is very refreshing. I am craving watermelon now so I included it for this blog post, but any fruit will suffice. You can either slice the watermelon, cut it up into chunks for easy picking, or make a fruit salad.
For this article, I decided to make a fruit salad made with watermelon, nectarines, mint, basil, with a honey lemon and chili pepper vinaigrette. I love herbs with fruit and adding the bit of hot pepper brings out the sweetness in the fruit. Included in the post is the recipe for this fruit salad. Making a fruit salad requires having serving utensils and plates, or you can bring additional beverage cups to use. Then all you need are utensils.
Dessert should be simple and there are many options. One option is a light unfrosted loaf or single layer cake like gluten-free Nifty cake. This cake is made with oat flour and has a slightly nutty flavor. It is a light sponge cake that everyone will enjoy. For ease of transporting it, make it a single layer cake, (and without the whipped cream frosting as pictured in the recipe), and serve with the watermelon fruit salad.
Another dessert option is cookies. Children young and old love cookies and they travel well. Kitchen sink oatmeal cookies are perfect for picnics. They are loaded with rolled oats, raisins, butterscotch chips, and chocolate chips. They can stand up to the heat of the day without melting and falling apart. Also pictured is, Ginger Molasses Cookies from Flour by Joanne Chang. Joanne is the owner of Flour Bakery in Boston. I love molasses cookies and wanted to test her recipe. In the link from the Boston Globe, her recipe is the second cookie recipe on the first page.
If you plan on bringing beer or wine, also include a non-alcoholic beverage like lemon-cucumber water or strawberry lemonade. Picnics are a time to drink responsibly, so keep your beer and wine on the low alcohol level.
Helpful Tips for Prep and Picnic Food :
If you are picnicking with friends, divide and conquer the food preparation. I have found people really like to participate and help.
Tapenade or Muhammara can be prepared the night before your picnic. You can also prepare the chicken and dessert the night before. This leaves making the sandwiches, fruit salad, and packing for the morning of.
Along with your choice of beverage, bring water for drinking and cleaning scrapes or sticky hands. Also paper towels come in handy if something spills. They are light weight and easy to stuff into a pocket.
Pack everything in a couple of insulated tote bags with ice packs. Keep your load light in case you need to hike to your picnic spot. Also bring a blanket to sit on.
Don’t forget the trash bag. A lot of places are carry-in / carry-out parks, and often it is hard to find a trash can when you need one.
Bring a First-Aid Kit, especially if you are traveling with children. At a minimum bring Band-Aids and an antiseptic lotion. They are easy to carry in your wallet or zip-lock bag to store in your picnic basket.
Bee stings are common at picnics. The general advice is to get the stinger out quickly and apply ice, (or cool pack). Read the link for more bee sting information.
If you are serving alcoholic beverages, please drink responsibly.
Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Summer and Fall- Grilled Chicken Sandwiches and Watermelon and Nectarine Fruit Salad
Category: Lunch Picnic
Grilled chicken sandwiches with smoked mozzarella, avocado and basil mayonnaise Is perfect picnic food for an afternoon outing. Also included is a recipe for a fruit salad made with watermelon, nectarines, fresh herbs with spicy honey lemon dressing. In the notes is my recipe for the basil mayonnaise and a pesto. Feel free to use your favorite basil pesto recipe or follow mine, just omit the grated cheese and pinenuts. It may look like a long list, but there are several food items here for you to make and enjoy.
Depending on how large your bread slices are will determine the amount of chicken, mozzarella and avocado you need to cover your bread slice. I made my sandwiches with focaccia about 4 x 4 inches in size.
The prep time varies for each food item. The grilled chicken takes about 20 minutes to cook not counting the overnight marinating and cooling. The sandwiches take about 10 minutes once everything is cooked and prepped.
The fruit salad takes about 15 - 20 minutes to make.
For the tapenade and muhammara recipes, and dessert recipes - click on recipe links in blog post.
About 4 oz (125 g) of Smoked Mozzarella, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
1-2 avocados cut into thin slices
1-part basil sauce*
Watermelon, Nectarine and Basil Salad with Spicy Lemon Honey Dressing
1/4 (3 lbs / 1 k 406 g) Seedless watermelon, cut into big bite size chunks
3 ripe nectarines, each sliced into 12 wedges
Small handful of Fresh Mint leaves
Small handful of Fresh Basil leaves
About 2 TB fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp honey
1/8 tsp ground chili pepper
The day/night before pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness, then season both sides of the breasts with the salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, dried oregano, and lemon zest. Place the seasoned chicken on a plate or container and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. There should be a light and even coating of seasoning over the chicken breast, but not too heavy. Use your judgement about how much seasoning you want.
Bring the chicken out of the refrigerator and add the juice of half a lemon. Mix to coat the chicken. Allow the chicken to rest on the counter 30 minutes before you want to grill it, to come to room temperature.
Prepare your grill and proceed as you like, or use a grill pan on the stove top. Turn the heat up to medium-high.
When the grill or grill pan is hot, add the chicken breasts skin side down on a diagonal in the pan or on the grill. Cook for three minutes, then adjust the chicken breasts to the opposite diagonal position and grill for another 3 minutes. Turn the chicken breasts over and grill on the other side following the same procedure as before. After 12 minutes of cooking, If the chicken is not done move the breasts to an indirect heat source on your grill and cook until done. If using a grill pan, turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook until done, about 5 minutes more depending on how big the chicken breasts are. The chicken breasts are done when the juices run clear after being pierced with a fork. Internal temperature is 170°F ( 77°C). Remove from the pan or grill and rest the chicken for 10 -15 minutes. Cool before making sandwiches.
Assemble the Sandwiches
Smear a good coating of the basil mayonnaise (see recipe in notes) on both pieces of bread. Evenly cover one piece of bread with chicken slices, then add one slice of smoked mozzarella, or enough to cover the chicken if your bread slices are large. Layer the sliced avocado over the mozzarella. Add a small handful of arugula to the top and cover with the top piece of bread. If your sandwiches are large, cut in half and wrap in parchment paper or wax paper. Refrigerate until ready to eat or go on your picnic. Pack the sandwiches in an insulated bag with a cold pack or ice to keep cool and fresh for your picnic.
Watermelon Nectarine and Basil Fruit Salad
Mix the fresh lemon juice, honey, and ground chili powder in a small bowl. Keep stirring until the honey is completely dissolved. Taste and add a small pinch of Kosher salt. Set aside.
Add the prepared watermelon and nectarines to a mixing bowl and gently stir to combine. Tear or snip the leaves of the basil and mint over the fruit and mix together. Add the honey lemon dressing and stir. Taste and add more herbs if needed. Place in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and keep in an insulated bag with cold pack, or refrigerator. The fruit salad is the last thing to make for your picnic, because fruit releases a lot of juice after it is sliced and with a dressing.
To make the basil mayonnaise, I use a 1 - 1 ratio of mayonnaise to basil sauce. The basil sauce is essentially basil pesto without the cheese and pine nuts. Use your favorite pesto recipe without the grated cheese and pinenuts and mix together 3-4 TB of mayonnaise and 3-4 TB basil sauce until combined.
My general basil pesto recipe is 2 cups (500 ml) of basil leaves, 1 cup (250 ml) arugula or spinach, 1 garlic clove - minced, 1 TB lemon juice, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, and 1/3 (75 ml) to 1/2 cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil. In a food processor, process the basil, arugula, garlic, lemon juice, and salt until the basil and arugula are finely minced and combined. Use a thin rubber spatula to scrape everything off the sides of the bowl. With the motor running slowly add in the extra virgin olive oil. You might not use the whole amount. I do not want it too oily or runny so I stop adding the olive oil when I reach a smooth and slightly thick consistency. I do this because I store the pesto in a container with a layer of olive oil over the top of the pesto.
If you want traditional pesto, add 1/2 cup grated roman cheese and 1/4 cup pinenuts before you add the olive oil, and process until smooth. Then add the olive oil. Pesto is best used the same day it is made, but will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Use can freeze pesto without the nuts and cheese, for up to 3 months. Pour a layer of olive oil over the pesto before freezing.
This time of year, I focus my meals around tomatoes and fresh corn. I know soon enough local ripe tomatoes and corn will no longer be available. Every day I enjoy the freshness of a perfect juicy tomato and the sweet crunch of fresh corn. They taste so good and refreshing at peak season. I never get tired of them. This obsession challenges me to create different recipes that include corn and/or tomatoes. One variation I created is a steak salad loaded with summer vegetables. This is a light and refreshing salad with just the right amount of spicy citrus dressing to complement he vegetables and steak.
My focus for the recipe was to use local vegetables and fruit from NY Hudson Valley farms. It turns out, everything but the nectarines were grown in Yorktown by Meadows Farm. This local only focus (with the exception of the citrus salad dressing), is a big change for me because I add avocado to everything, especially salad. Avocado would taste great in this salad too. The salad’s produce ingredients include, yellow and green beans, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, fresh corn, arugula, nectarines and herbs. This whole group of fruit and vegetables pair perfectly with grilled steak. Unfortunately, it did not occur to me until I finished the salad, I could buy my steak locally at Hemlock Hill Farms in Cortland Manor.
This salad does not take long to prepare, but as is typical cooking with fresh produce does require more prep-work. I believe the results are worth it. Each step is done to bring out the bright flavors of fruit and vegetables. What is important to focus on is the timing of adding certain ingredients, and when to cook your steak. To achieve the freshest appearance and taste, slice then add the nectarines and steak just before you are ready to serve. Also tear or snip the herbs at that time as well. The rest of the ingredients are hardier and won’t turn brown when exposed to the air and acid.
I am using a new technique I just learned for dressing a vegetable salad. Instead of whisking all the salad dressing ingredients together in a separate bowl, I mix some, but add the rest directly to the vegetables. The citrus juice, zest, Sriracha, and honey get mixed together so the honey dissolves and is easy to mix. Normally, I would add the vinegar with the citrus, and then the olive oil to the citrus mix. However, I will add these ingredients separately to the prepared vegetables and adjust the amounts as needed.
First, add the vinegar to the vegetables with a pinch of Kosher salt. This step brings out the bright flavors and makes them shine. I was pleasantly surprised when I first tried this technique. I did not taste a strong vinegar flavor. Instead, the vinegar accentuated the natural flavors of the vegetables. How many times have you tasted homemade salad dressing and got hit in the face with an acid punch? It is not the case when you first add vinegar to vegetables. This is also a good lesson showing how adding additional seasonings and dressings change the flavors of the vegetables and fruit.
Joshua McFadden, chef/owner of Ava Gene’s in Portland Oregon, is considered a vegetable whisperer. He describes his salad making techniques in his cookbook, Six Seasons. I got the idea of adding the vinegar first to a salad after reading his book. Using this idea does make fixing a salad more hands on (literally), and the ingredient amounts somewhat vague. If you are just learning to cook, my advice is to start with less amounts of seasoning and dressings. You can always add more, but it is harder to fix over-seasoned and over-dressed food. Get your (clean) hands in there and add, toss and taste. Repeat until you believe it is perfect.
Do you have a local market where you buy your produce? Farmers markets are great, but around here they open one day a week on Saturday or Sunday. Having a local farm stand open six days a week in my hometown is a treat. I shop at big grocery stores as well, which are very convenient. However, I am grateful to live in an area where local farm produce is available to me.
What meal do you make using local and fresh ingredients?
Summer Vegetable Steak Salad with Spicy Citrus Dressing
Prep Time: 39 minutes
Cook Time: 6 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Category: Dinner Salad
An easy summer dinner salad made with grilled steak and seasonal vegetables. You can use any vegetables you wish. I like to pair green beans with steak, so I included them with other local produce that is available in the summer. An avocado is an optional ingredient. If you are using it add it just before serving and sprinkle the pieces with lime juice.
You can also replace the vegetables in this salad with my recipe for Anything Goes Potato Salad .
The amount of time to cook the steak depends on the type of steak you have and how thick your piece is. Steak does not need long to cook over a very hot grill or skillet. Start with two minutes a side for a steak that is one inch thick for rare meat. Thicker steaks are easier to cook properly and get a good sear on them.
1 TB fresh orange juice and zest from half an orange
Juice from one lime, and zest
1 TB honey
2 TB sherry vinegar
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 tbs Sriracha
Kosher Salt, to taste
Fresh ground pepper
Summer Vegetable Steak Salad
1 lb green beans, ends trimmed
1 lb (450 g) green beans, if a mix of colors are available use them.
1 ear of fresh corn
1/2 lb (225 g) grape tomatoes
3 oz (40 g) arugula
1 1/2 lbs (750 g) steak, like shell steak, strip steak, or flank steak, your choice
Pinch of Kosher Salt (about 1/2 tbs)
1/2 tbs crushed fennel seed
1/2 tbs ground coriander
1 - 2 nectarines or peaches, sliced into wedges (If using peaches peel them first)
About 5-6 basil leaves
About 6 mint leaves
About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
More Kosher salt and ground pepper
Prepare the steak
One hour before you cook the steak, remove the steak from the refrigerator and its packaging. Put the steak on a plate and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle Kosher salt, ground coriander and crushed fennel seed over both sides of the steak. Loosely cover the steak with plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter for 30 minutes up to 1 hour.
Spicy Citrus Dressing
Add the orange juice, lime juice, zests, honey, sriracha, a small pinch of Kosher salt, a couple of grinds of ground pepper, and smashed garlic clove to a small bowl. Mix until the honey is dissolved. Cover the bowl with plastic and keep on the counter for later.
Prepare the vegetables
Trim off the ends of the scallions and thinly slice each scallion on a sharp diagonal. Add the scallion slices to a small bowl filled with cold water and ice. Let the scallions macerate in the ice water for 15 minutes.
Husk the corn and cut off the stem piece. Place the bottom of the corn in a mixing bowl and hold onto the tip. With a sharp knife slice off the kernels from the cob. Once the kernels are sliced off, run the back edge of your knife down the cob to press any corn milk out, catch the drippings in your bowl.
Make an ice water bath for the green beans. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice. Set aside near the stove.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil on the stove. Trim the green beans. When the water boils add a large pinch of salt then the green beans and blanch them for one minute. Remove the green beans from the boiling water and quickly add them to the ice water bath to stop the cooking. When cooled, take the green beans out of the ice bath and dry on a clean kitchen towel. Add the beans to the bowl with the corn.
Cut the grape tomatoes in half and add to bowl.
Add half the arugula. If the leaves are large, tear them in half.
Drain the scallions and dry them, then add to the bowl with the vegetables.
Add the sherry vinegar, a small pinch of Kosher salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper to the vegetables and toss to mix with your clean hands. Taste. You will taste the vinegar, but it will not be harsh. Set aside.
Sear the seasoned steak on a hot grill, grill pan, or skillet. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to your pan or grill. Add the steak and sear for about 2- 3 minutes per side depending on the cut of your steak. My steak was very thin, about an inch, so very little time was needed to cook it. Flank steak will take longer. Aim for rare to medium-rare steak, or how you prefer your steak. The internal temperature for rare steak is 125°F (52°C). Medium-rare is 130 - 135°F (54 - 57°C). Remove the steak from the heat and rest on a carving board, and grind a couple of rounds of fresh pepper over each steak. Let the steak rest for 10 - 15 minutes.
When you are almost ready to eat, cut the bone off the steak (if there is one), and slice on a diagonal and across the grain into thin, 1/4 inch (.5 cm) slices. Drizzle about half of the citrus dressing over your steak slices on the cutting board then drizzle 1 TB of extra virgin olive oil over the steak.
Slice the nectarines and add to the vegetables. Add the remaining arugula. Drizzle the remaining citrus dressing over the vegetables. Toss to coat and taste the vegetables for seasoning. Add more lime juice, sriracha, or other seasonings if needed. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over the vegetables and toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Tear or snip the herbs over the bowl of the vegetables and toss. Taste and correct seasoning.
I like to serve the steak and vegetables side by side, not all mixed up like a traditional salad. This way if you have any leftover steak, you can store it separately and make steak sandwiches the next day. On a large platter spread out your vegetables and drizzle with olive oil and fresh herbs. Arrange the sliced steak to the side of the vegetables and pour any accumulated juices from the cutting board over the steak. Lightly drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the steak and a light sprinkle of sea salt flakes if you have them, and fresh ground pepper. Garnish the steak with chopped herbs. If you prefer, mix the vegetables and steak together in a bowl. Taste for seasoning. Serve immediately.
If there ever is a meal that makes everyone around the dinner table happy, it’s tacos. I don’t believe this just pertains to families with young children, adults love tacos too. Say, “Come and get it. Tacos for dinner”, friends young and old will pick up their step and chassé over to the dinner table. Yippee-yi-yay, it’s taco night. Grab your partner and do-si-do, it’s taco time.
One of my favorite types of tacos are fish tacos. I love the light and fresh flavor of fish paired with a spicy salsa, avocado, fresh lime juice and cilantro. Soft and sweet corn tortillas make the meal even brighter. One bite of these fish tacos reveals the composed flavors of delicate fish, tangy crunchy slaw, and sweet and spicy salsa. It is a very refreshing and flavor packed meal.
Most importantly, I believe a taco isn’t a taco unless avocados are part of the meal. Either in a salsa, guacamole, or an added slice for a topping, my tacos must include an avocado. For these fish tacos, I wanted the avocado paired with fruit for a sweet contrast to the smooth avocado. Honestly, I designed the whole fish taco recipe around the mango avocado salsa.
Avocados are my desert island food. I miss avocados when a day goes by without eating one. I also love avocados combined with sweet and spicy ingredients. Both mangoes and avocados have soft and creamy textures, but the mangoes add a nice burst of sweetness that pairs well with avocados. In this salsa, the sweetness of the mangoes and creaminess of avocados offsets the heat from the chili peppers. Each ingredient creates a balance, nothing is either too sweet or too spicy. Just how I like it.
I designed this fish taco recipe so all three parts compliment each other and create one perfect taco. The cabbage slaw is made with fresh herb and buttermilk dressing for a little tang and brighter flavor. Corn tortillas are on the small side, so either serve the slaw in the taco, or on the side as a salad. Either way, it tastes great with the fish and the salsa. I added jalapeño pepper to the slaw, but kept it mild by removing the white pith and seeds. I believe it is always good to have one part of the meal without a lot of heat and spiciness. All the recipes are on the mild side of spicy, and are easily adaptable to your desired heat tolerance.
What is great about all these recipes is you can easily make them for a great dinner of fish tacos, or serve them separately for a plated dinner. You can also make each item separately and pair with other recipes. The fish is a quick and easy weeknight dinner. Mango avocado salsa makes a great dip for chips, and the cole slaw is a perfect side salad with grilled fish or meats. You have three recipes in one, and multiple options for many dinners ahead.
Please don't be daunted by all these steps. A great taco has 2-3 layers, with each layer requiring its own recipe. On their own, each recipe is not difficult to make or take a lot of time. If you want to pare the recipe down, choose either the slaw or the salsa to serve with the fish in the taco. I love tacos with lots of fillings so I tend to pile them on.
The mango avocado salsa is best eaten immediately after it is made. Both mangoes and avocados don't age well after they are cut open and exposed to air.
Buttermilk yogurt dressing for the Citrus Slaw
3 tsp cider vinegar
3 tsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, grated or crushed
1-2 TB minced cilantro
1-2 TB minced dill
1 garlic clove minced
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
2-3 TBS Greek yogurt
Citrus Buttermilk Slaw*
1/4 head of purple cabbage, thinly sliced or shredded
1/4 head of green cabbage, thinly sliced or shredded
1 large 4 oz carrot, julienne or grated
2 ears of fresh corn, sliced of the cob
4 small scallions, minced light green and white parts
1-2 jalapeno peppers**, minced
Buttermilk Yogurt dressing to taste
2 TB fresh lime juice
Zest from half a lime
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Fish for Tacos
1 1/2 pounds fresh fish, like tilapia
Sprinkle of Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil Kosher Salt
Mango Avocado Salsa
One mango, peeled and chopped
1 avocado chopped
Juice of 1 Lime, divided
1/4 tsp pinch of Flaky sea salt
1 TB Extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 TB minced red onion
2 jalapeno peppers**, minced
8 grape tomatoes, quartered
10 sprigs cilantro, minced
Zest of half a lime
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch of Kosher Salt if needed
Assemble the tacos
8 Corn tortillas
Buttermilk Citrus Slaw
Mango Avocado Salsa
Side of crema Mexicana, or creme fraiche (optional)
Side of Salsa Verde (optional)
Citrus Slaw with Buttermilk and Yogurt Dressing
Make the Buttermilk dressing
Whisk together the cider vinegar, lemon juice, Kosher salt, lemon zest, garlic, and fresh herbs. Slowly whisk in the buttermilk until incorporated then whisk in the yogurt. Taste the dressing and add more salt or lemon juice if needed. Cover and set aside until the slaw is ready to finish.
Make the Slaw
Thinly slice or shred the red and green cabbage and place in a large mixing bowl. Grate the carrot with a box grater and add to the cabbage. Add the fresh corn kernels, minced scallions and minced jalapenos. Mix together then add the buttermilk dressing. Add about half the dressing at first, mix together, then add more dressing if needed. Add the lime zest and juice and give it a final stir. Taste and adjust any seasoning if needed. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Make the fish.
Sprinkle kosher salt, cayenne and sweet paprika over each side of the fish. Before you turn the fish over to season the other side, rub about 1 tsp of extra virgin olive oil over the seasoned fish. Turn over the fish and repeat on the other side. Let rest for about 15 minutes.
Pre-heat a skillet or non-stick electric griddle to 350F. Spread about 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil or canola oil across the pan. Place the fish on the skillet or griddle and sear for 2-4 minutes per side. The thicker pieces will need longer then the thin ones. Time it to turn the fish over only once. The fish is done when the meat is opaque and will separate when you press down on the top of the fish. Keep the fish warm in a 200F oven.
Make the Mango Avocado Salsa
Peel and chop the mango into 1/2-inch pieces. Place in a medium bowl and drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Peel and chop the avocado into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the avocado to a small bowl and squirt about 2 teaspoons of lime juice over the avocados and a very small pinch of flaky sea salt. Toss to coat. Add the avocados to the mangoes along with the remaining ingredients. Gently stir to combine. Taste and add salt or other seasoning if needed. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until ready to serve.
Prepare the Tacos
Warm up the tortillas, either by heating them in a skillet over medium heat for about a minute per side. Keep the heated tortillas on a covered plate in a warm oven, or an insulated tortilla warmer.
To assemble the tacos decide if you are using the Citrus Slaw as a side dish or as a part of the taco.
If using the slaw for the taco, place the slaw down on the tortilla then add the fish, divided into manageable size pieces for each taco. Add the mango avocado salsa on top of the fish and serve with crema Mexicana or creme fraiche, and/or citrus slaw on the side.
* If you are serving the Citrus Buttermilk Slaw as a side salad, you may want to add more shredded cabbage. I originally made this recipe using a 1/2 of cabbage each of the purple and green cabbages. I found I had a lot of slaw, enough for at least 8 servings for salad. I pared the recipe down for tacos, where a small amount of slaw is required.
** The heat source in chili peppers is found in the white pith inside the peppers. This is where the seeds are attached. The seeds hold heat as well, but not as much as the pith. You control the level of heat from chilies by slicing out the pith. Wear latex gloves when working with chili peppers, or wash your hands thoroughly after holding them. The oils from the peppers get on your hands and if you touch your eyes it will burn.
We went exploring at a new Farmer’s Market last weekend and picked up chimichurri sauce from one of the venders. Usually, I like to make my own pesto and sauces, but I made an exception with this one. The flavor was fresh and the garlic did not overwhelm the other ingredients. Also, this sauce was my concession to what I really wanted to buy.
The vender was from an Argentinean restaurant, Gaucho Burger, and they were selling chimichurri sauce and Gaucho Burgers made with sliced roasted pork, lettuce, tomato and slathered in chimichurri sauce. I really wanted one of those burgers. The pork roast had a slight pink color, looked juicy and seasoned throughout with chimichurri. It looked perfectly cooked and delicious. Unfortunately, it was only an hour past my breakfast so I could not justify eating a big burger. I settled on buying their chimichurri sauce instead.
Settled on is not a fair statement because chimichurri sauce can stand on its own merit. It is an Argentinean sauce made with parsley, oregano, garlic, red pepper, olive oil, and vinegar. It is traditionally used as a condiment or marinade for beef. However, I am sure it will taste great on chicken, lamb, pork, fish and grilled vegetables. The sauce’s bright taste comes from fresh parsley and vinegar. Yet, the flavor is nicely balanced with minced garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes. That bit of acid brings all the flavors together and tones down the sharp bite of fresh garlic. I love it. You can make it hot, mild, thick or thin. It is easily adaptable for any type of food.
Once home, I knew exactly how I wanted to use the chimichurri. With not enough time for a pork roast, I decided on butterflied flank steak with a layer of chimichurri sauce. After spreading the chimichurri over the meat, I rolled-up the flank steak and secured with kitchen string. The result is a steak that looks like a roast with a spiral of chimichurri sauce throughout the middle. It is tender and full of flavor.
Rolled flank steak tastes great grilled, or you can sear the meat in a skillet on the stove then finish cooking in the oven. Serve the rolled flank steak with chimichurri sauce hot or at room temperature. This makes it a perfect choice for entertaining. It is also easy enough to make during the week. Just butterfly, layer, roll-up, and refrigerate during the day. When you come home, it is ready for cooking.
Tips or Success for Rolled Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Butterflying the flank steak is an easy thing to do, but if you do not want to butterfly the flank steak yourself, ask the butcher to do it. Make sure the butcher cuts through the meat beginning on the long side of the flank steak.
Compared to other steak cuts, flank steak is a tougher piece of meat. However, with extra preparation and proper carving, a tender slice of flank steak is possible. The muscle fibers, also known as the grain, are distinct. When carving flank steak, carving the meat thinly on a diagonal and across the grain, creates tender slices of steak.
The same technique applies to rolled flank steak. When rolling-up the flank steak, make sure to roll it across the grain. You will see the muscle fibers running the length of the meat. This way, when you carve the rolled flank steak you will cut the meat across the grain at the ends.
For best results, serve flank steak medium-rare. Well done flank steak is tough to chew. An instant read thermometer is great in determining the level of doneness for a thick piece of meat. The internal temperature for rare beef is 125˚F (52˚C) and medium-rare is around 130˚F (54˚C). I stopped cooking my rolled flank steak close to 125˚F (52˚C), then I let the steak rest and continue to cook with the residual heat for 10 minutes. This is an easy step to do and prevents over cooking the steak.
It is a little more difficult to gauge the temperature in a stuffed piece of meat, you need the thermometer to be in the center. Also, how red the juices are will tell you how far along the cooking process is. The redder the juice the rarer it is. If you pierce the meat and no juices appear it means one of two things: the meat is barely cooked, or it is well done and dry.
Flank steak is butterflied and smeared with a delicious Argentinean chimichurri sauce. The seasoned meat is rolled up, tied then grilled for a delicious dinner. Chimichurri is made with parsley, oregano, garlic and enhanced with vinegar and olive oil and red pepper flakes. It is delicious and works great as a condiment.
For the Chimichurri Sauce
1 cup (250 ml) firmly packed Italian parsley leaves
5 medium garlic cloves
2 TB fresh oregano leaves
1/3 cup (75 ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 TB red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
For the Flank Steak
1- 1.5 - 2 lb (750 g - 1 k) flank steak
3 oz - 4 oz (75 g- 125 g) chimichurri sauce
Kosher Salt about 1/4 teaspoon
Fresh ground black pepper
Add the parsley, oregano, garlic in a food processor and process until finely pureed. When necessary, scrape down the sides of the bowl to get everything processed evenly. (See Note)
Add the herbs to a small bowl, then whisk together the herbs with the olive oil, vinegar, salt and red pepper flakes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Use right away or store, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
Prepare the flank steak
Place the flank steak on a cutting board in front of you with the short end facing you, and the meat fibers running perpendicular to you.
Butterfly the flank steak. Using a long, thin, and sharp knife, like a boning knife, cut the flank steak in half through the thickness of the meat. Beginning at the outer long side, either your right or left. Cut through the middle thickness of the steak, pulling back the top layer as you go. Keep the knife blade level to the countertop so you do not cut up or down, just straight across. Cut the flank steak open until you reach a half an inch from cutting all the way through at the opposite side. Open the steak like a book.
Press on the seam with the heal of your hand to smooth out any uneven dumps.
Sprinkle about a 1/4 teaspoon of Kosher salt over both sides of the flank steak.
Spread the chimichurri sauce over the side of the flank steak you just cut open.
Staring at the long side, either right or left depending on your dominant hand, roll up the steak with the meat grain running long and perpendicular to you.
Once rolled up, tie up your flank steak roll with kitchen twine. I use 5 ties up the length of the rolled steak. Trim off the long ends of the string.
Rub any escaped chimichurri sauce over the exterior of the steak. Cook right away or let marinate wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator. Marinate for no more than 8 hours.
Cook the steak.
Rolled flank steak is great cooked on the grill, or seared in a grill pan or skillet, then baked in the oven. If you marinated it in the refrigerator, bring the flank steak up to room temperature before you start cooking it. I usually take the meat out an 30 minutes to an hour before I start cooking it.
Prepare the grill for direct and indirect heat areas. Oil the grill before placing the meat down. When the grill is nice and hot place the rolled flank steak directly over the flames on the grill (direct heat). Sear the meat. Turn the meat every couple of minutes and sear all sides of the surface, about 8 to 10 minutes total. Once the meat is seared, move it over to the side of the grill prepared for indirect heat. Cook for about 10 minutes, covered. Check the internal temperature. If the temperature in the middle of the meat is around 120˚F - 125˚F (49˚C- 52˚C), the steak is done cooking.
Remove the flank steak from the grill and let it rest covered with foil for 10 minutes. This resting period should produce medium-rare rolled flank steak, about 130˚F - 135˚F (54˚C- 57˚C).
Stove top cooking
Preheat the oven to 375˚F (190˚C / Gas Mark 5). Heat and lightly oil a skillet or grill pan large enough to hold your rolled flank steak. When your pan is almost smoking, sear your flank steak, turning it over every 2 minutes searing the steak all over. When the flank steak is seared, place the pan with the flank steak in the oven and cook. After 10 minutes, check the internal temperature. Stop cooking when the internal temperature in the middle of the rolled steak reaches between 120˚F - 125˚F (49˚C- 52˚C). Place the rolled flank steak on a cutting board and let it rest covered in foil for 10 minutes. Medium-rare meat has an internal temperature of, 130˚F - 135˚F (54˚C- 57˚C).
Slice and Serve
Cut off the ties and slice the rolled flank in /2 inch slices across the grain. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Leftovers make great sandwiches with a chimichurri mayo, lettuce, tomato and your favorite bread or roll.
If you do not own a food processor, you can make the sauce by finely mincing the herbs with a knife.
Several years ago I discovered two cookbooks that opened a new world of food and cooking, Jerusalem and Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. When first published, I resisted reading these cookbooks because of the hype surrounding them. It is my experience, hyped-up media often disappoints and does not live up to the claims. Later, when I got around to reading the books for myself, I realized how completely wrong I was. These cookbooks and all their other publications, are worthy of all the praise they receive. Jerusalem and Ottolenghi cookbooks changed the way I approach learning about new ingredients, cuisines, and cooking.
There are many recipes between these two books that I love, like Roast Chicken with Clementines and Arak, and Basmati Rice with Saffron Barberries Pistachios and Mixed Herbs, just to name a couple. However, I wanted to feature their recipe for Saffron Chicken with Herb Salad. I just learned this recipe and believe is perfect for this time of year. I renamed it, Grilled Chicken Salad with Orange Saffron Dressing. This recipe is fresh and vibrant and easily prepared. Perfect for the days when the warm sun is beckoning you outside.
Grilled chicken salad with orange saffron dressing shows how well bitter and sweet flavors blend to form a perfect union. To start, a whole orange simmers for an hour with honey and saffron until soft and the liquid is reduced. The bitterness of the orange peel mellows when combined with grilled chicken salad, crisp fresh fennel, and handfuls of fresh herbs. This is a well composed salad and with each ingredient plays an important role. The grilled chicken provides the backbone and mellows the concentrated flavor of the orange dressing. A composed blend of fresh herbs brightens and lightens the salad with sweet aromas and a refreshing bite. The finishing touch that ties everything together, is a spark of heat from the fresh hot red pepper.
Additionally, this recipe taught me a new trick. The secret to making this dressing is to blitz the whole cooked orange in the food processor with the reduced syrup. Using the whole fruit developed intense orange flavor that reminded me of concentrated frozen orange juice. Also, the best orange popsicle you ever had on a hot summer day. It is amazing how bittersweet fruit flavor can cut the heat of summer in an instant like diving into a mountain pool.
Personally, I hate throwing away citrus rind and am always looking for ways to include the zest in my meals. Citrus zest makes everything taste better so I was more than happy to use the orange rind. There is also less food waste. This grilled chicken salad recipe will turn heads and enlighten taste buds because of a simple and brilliant idea. It is a healthy and refreshing salad with hardly any added fat to weigh the meal down.
The moment I read these two cookbooks, it was love at first sight. Savoring the bold flavors in each tested recipe, inspired me to be more daring in my cooking. I no longer shied away from unfamiliar spices like za’atar and sumac, but embraced them. For the past several years, Jerusalem and Ottolenghi hold an influential spot in my life like The Silver Palate and Marcella Hazan cookbooks did in the 1980’s. Not only are they inspirational, but educational about new ingredients, fresh insights, and different cultures. I am forever grateful.
Grilled Chicken Salad with Orange Saffron Dressing
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Category: Dinner Salad
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
This is a bright and refreshing salad. By itself the orange dressing has a very concentrated bitter-orange flavor lightly sweetened with honey and saffron. The dressing mellows with the other ingredients and the freshness of the herbs are key to the bright flavor. A kick of heat from the fresh red chili pepper ties everything together.
You can mix the salad with arugula if desired.
Best eaten the day it is made.
This recipe is from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad.
2 1/2 TB (50g) honey
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 TB white wine vinegar
1 1/4 (300 ml) cup water
2 1/4 lbs / 1 k skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 small fennel bulbs, or 1 large bulb
1 cup / 15 g picked cilantro leaves
2/3 cup / 15 g picked basil leaves, torn
15 picked mint leaves, torn
2 TBS freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 red chili, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Make the Orange Saffron Syrup
Cut a thin slice off the top and bottom of the orange so it will stand flat on a cutting board. Cut the orange in half then cut each half into 6 wedges. Add the orange wedges into a medium sauce pan. Add the honey, saffron, vinegar, and water to the saucepan. If any of the orange wedges are exposed and not submerged under water, add more water so all oranges are covered. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the oranges to a boil. Then turn the heat down and simmer the oranges for about 1 hour. By the end the wedges will be soft and there will be about 5 tablespoons of syrupy liquid.
Once reduced, add the oranges and syrup to a food processor and process until the orange syrup is smooth. If needed, add water to thin out the sauce and reach a runny and smooth dressing. Set aside.
While the oranges are simmering, preheat the oven to 400F /200C. Gently pound the chicken breast with a meat mallet or the heal of your hand to create an even thickness in each piece. Mix the chicken breasts with 2 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/2 tsp kosher salt and a couple of grinds of pepper. Sear the chicken breasts for 2 minutes on each side on a stovetop grill pan, or cook on a grill. Transfer to a sheet pan or baking pan and cook in the oven until done. (If you are using the grill there is no need to cook the chicken in your oven.) Pierce each breast with a fork, if the juices from the chicken are clear, not pink or cloudy, then the chicken is done. Internal
temperature of 165F - 170F (74C - 77C). Depending on the thickness of each piece of chicken, roasting time could last for 5 to 15 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the oven (or grill) and set aside to cool.
Putting it all together
Once the chicken is cooled, shred the chicken breasts into decent size pieces and place in a bowl. Mix 1/2 of the orange dressing with the shredded chicken. Cut the fennel bulb in half and slice as thin as possible, lengthwise. Trim off the core if desired. Add the fennel, fresh herbs, remaining olive oil, crushed garlic, and lemon juice to the chicken. Gently stir to combine. Add the sliced red chili. Taste and correct for seasoning with olive oil, lemon juice or Kosher salt if needed.
For an easy shortcut, substitute the grilled chicken with shredded rotisserie chicken, or any leftover chicken.