One of the best things about the summer holidays is the sheer simplicity of life. For a few days or weeks, home is a rumpty old bach or a campsite or caravan somewhere by the sea, a river or a lake.
There are no gadgets, no technology, no deadlines. With any luck there are some fishing lines, good books, a barbecue, a local store with decent ice cream, and hopefully a fresh produce stall down the road with the freshest salad fixings, herbs, corn, tomatoes and watermelon.
For me, the fresh summer fruit and vegetables are what I crave on these kind of back-to-basics holidays. And some gutsy flavours. I can cope with a few days of sausages or steak cooked on the barbie and then served with bread and sauce, but after that I’m craving fresh veg and meals that bring a bit more excitement to my daily dining.
Whenever we head off on any kind of holiday in New Zealand I always take a bit of a cooking kit. I never go anywhere withouta decent knife and wooden chopping board, my little Italian coffee percolator, the grinder and beans, my pepper grinder, flaky salt, some decent extra virgin olive oil, ginger, garlic, chillies, limes and lemons. Then I add a few sauces and seasonings to create what I call my “global pantry”, including thai sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, dijon mustard, wasabi, honey, pesto, peanut butter, capers, olives, curry paste, white wine vinegar and balsamic glaze. It might sound like a lot but it means I can transform the simplest local ingredients into flavour-packed summer meals.
One of my favourite things to make and take is a jar of my Chilli Lime Salt. Just a little sprinkle is a fuss-free, mess-free way to make chicken, fish, meat, potatoes, salad – in fact anything savoury – taste fantastic. It’s even delicious on slices of fresh watermelon! To watch a video of me making it click here.
When I’m on holiday I really like making one-dish salad meals. It’s such an easy way to cook and eat – just grill a piece of chicken, fish or meat, then slice and toss with salad greens, vegetables and a flavoursome dressing.
When the corn and tomatoes are ripe in the garden I'll often throw together a Cob Salad and toss in some grilled chicken or prawns (if you don’t have basil oil use pesto thinned with a little olive oil). Or for a more substantial version, add grilled chicken or lamb to my Corn and Israeli Couscous Salad (watch the video of me making it here).
The thing about recipes like this is that you can work with whatever ingredients you have to hand – the Cob Salad would work equally well with fewer tomatoes, more corn, spring onions instead of red onions... A glut of red peppers in your garden? Throw a few in as well. It’s the dressings that are the key here, offering a balance of flavours that bring the meal together.
Caesar Salad is another great go-to summer meal. Top it with a soft-poached egg or grilled chicken for lunch or a light dinner, or serve it as a side with a simple barbecue steak, bread or potatoes.
And if you’ve had some luck with the fishing line, Rosemary Grilled Tuna on Green Bean Nicoise Salad easy to assemble when you arrive home tired from the beach. The combination of the dressing flavours and the salad works well with any kind of fresh fish (or chicken or canned tuna for that matter, if you didn't get lucky on the water).
Again it’s one of those dishes where you can add or leave out ingredients to suit your tastes and what you’ve got in the cupboard or fridge. I often don’t have sundried tomatoes, but the dressing still tastes fabulous without them. If I’m serving it as a main course meal I’ll often bulk it up with boiled jersey benny potatoes and a few chopped hard-boiled eggs.