I’ll tell you something: I’m generally not a big fan of meal prep. While my wallet and I like to have a general idea of how I’m going to combine groceries from my fridge into meals over the course of a week, I also tend to value spontaneity a lot. as part of the cooking process.
I saw a recipe that I liked while scrolling Instagram in the afternoon? Great, I’m going to mix up what I have in my pantry to make my own version that night. One of my friends has something to celebrate? I’ll be done with something sweet (what exactly it is TBD) in an hour. This flexibility is one of the great joys of being at least somewhat proficient in the kitchen.
Related: Make These Two Summer Sauces For When It’s Too Hot To Turn On The Oven
But then summer rolls around and my motivation to turn on my stove crumbles seemingly overnight.
There are things I would rather do in the evening instead, including eating ice cream and watching the dogs frolic on the beach a few blocks from my house. I have my own way of dealing with this inertia – lots of smoothies, dinner dips, etc. – but by far the most satisfying is to designate one night a week as the time to turn on all the heaters to prepare certain recipes. elements.
I wait for the sun to go down, blow up my portable fan and a good playlist and just knock out things like rice, grains, proteins and roast vegetables. Is this the sexiest way to spend an evening? Not at all, but the relative freedom in my schedule it allows me for the rest of the week is priceless.
A big part of cooking at home is this back-and-forth tension between a desire for variety and not wanting to waste food. In recognition of both, I try to center my summer meals around seasonal produce. It’s often affordable, and best of all, it doesn’t require too much coaxing for great flavor. This week, I filled my basket with summer squash, corn, strawberries, spinach, green onions and snow peas.
On weeks when I’m short on time (or the temperature is really high), there’s also something really nice about having a few adaptable proteins on hand that don’t require any cooking, like roast chicken, smoked salmon, and Chickpeas. Quick-cooking cereals are also a must. This week I’m going with orzo and farro.
Finally, there are the extras – the things that are not totally necessary to prepare your weekly meals, but by God, make them better. In this case, I’m making sweet cookies for a lazy strawberry shortcake and pickled summer squash.
The recipes below are meant to serve as suggestions for structuring your own week, using ingredients that you like and are available to you. I currently only cook for two people, so scale up or down depending on your family size.
Your Meal Prep Checklist
- Wash and store your products
- Take a large saucepan and cook the farro according to package directions. Drain the farro if necessary, let it cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container. Repeat with the orzo.
- Using a canned mix (I like Bisquick and their suggested recipe), make the modeling clay for the shortcakes. Fortunately, they only take about ten minutes to cook. Once cooled, place them in an airtight container and save them.
- Prepare the coconut-corn and chicken chowder (more details below) and, once cooled, store in an airtight container and refrigerate.
- Finally, thinly slice one or two of your summer squash. Place them in an airtight container or jar, then cover them with a bath of apple cider vinegar, salt them, and add any flavorings you might have on hand, ranging from black peppercorns to fresh dill. Refrigerate.
Meal 1: Coconut-corn and chicken chowder
This is one of my favorite dishes that tastes like summer. Coarsely chop ¼ onion – or a few shallots or the white part of a leek – and toss them in a large pot with a drizzle of olive oil. Stir occasionally over medium heat until just softened. Cut the kernels from 2 to 4 cobs of fresh corn and add them to the pot. Salt generously, then season the mixture with 2 teaspoons each of: paprika, coriander and cayenne pepper.
Continue to stir the mixture over medium heat until the spices become fragrant. Then add a 13.5 ounce can of whole coconut milk to the mixture, followed by 2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth.
Simmer the chowder for 30 minutes, before adding a cup of ground roast chicken. Simmer for another ten minutes, then remove from the heat. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
When ready to serve, simply reheat the chowder and garnish. I like to use lots of chopped green onions and a slice of lime, but go crazy: corn nuts, tortilla chips, sliced avocado and a big handful of cilantro are all delicious.
Meal 2: Orzo Pasta Salad
Do you remember that orzo you made on prep day? It’s time for it to be in the spotlight, alongside the very favorable pickled summer squash. Place 4 cups of orzo in a large mixing bowl, along with ½ cup of your marinated summer squash, ½ cup of snow peas, ¼ cup of chopped green onions, and ¼ cup of chopped herbs of your choice ( this is a great opportunity to use up leftover herbs that are just sitting in your fridge). Mix until combined.
Now we’re going to make a simple dressing with ¼ cup olive oil, 2 tbsp lemon juice, and plenty of ground black pepper. Use it to coat pasta salad, then serve.
Meal 3: Bowl of Smoked Salmon Grains with Herbed Yogurt
This is one of my favorite simple meals that works for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Simply divide the room temperature farro and some fresh spinach into bowls. Top the mixture with crumbled smoked salmon. In a small bowl, combine full-fat Greek yogurt with a little lemon zest, salt and pepper, and chopped herbs. Anything fresh on hand will do.
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Pour the yogurt sauce over the salmon, drizzle the entire bowl with a little olive oil and enjoy.
Meal 4: Sliced summer squash and roast chicken salad
Summer squash you haven’t pickled gets new life in Abra Berens Shaved Summer Squash with Parmesan, lots of herbs and olive oil – a recipe Maggie Hennessy has written for Salon.
“Tender squash smacks gently with a delicate crunch that gives way to a creamy middle punctuated with tiny seeds,” Hennessy wrote. “Its — ahem — sweetness makes it an ideal canvas for bright lemon, salty shredded cheese and a punchy mix of chopped herbs. (I especially like this with a mix of mint, basil, parsley and chives or tarragon, dill and thyme. But, as Berens points out, you can even use all the parsley leaves if that’s all you have.)”
Serve it with your leftover roast chicken.
Meal 5: Strawberry Salad with Feta and Chickpeas
In a large bowl, combine a few generous handfuls of spinach, ½ pound of sliced strawberries, 8 ounces of feta cheese and a can of chickpeas (drained, rinsed and patted dry). This combination is delicious enough to work with a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice, but it’s also a good chance to break out the balsamic vinegar if you have it.
Meal 6: Smoked Salmon Sandwich with Scallion Cream Cheese and Pickled Summer Squash
I like a sandwich that’s big enough to feel like a complete meal, and this smoked salmon sandwich definitely does the trick. In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and a few finely chopped green onions. Spread the mixture on a few slices of crusty bread – sourdough is great – and top with smoked salmon and your leftover marinated summer squash.
The result is surprisingly nuanced – creamy, oniony, briny and fresh – for what is essentially a four-ingredient sandwich.
Meal 7: Riffing on leftovers, plus strawberry shortcakes
There’s at least one night a week when my dinner consists of bibs and bobs from other previous meals, plus homemade dessert. The promise of dessert makes the “hunting and gathering” vibes of picking up leftovers feel more whimsical and less scroungy.
This week it would probably be a combination of leftover orzo, chicken, veggies, and feta tossed into a pasta dish at room temperature. At the end of it all, however, is strawberry shortcake.
Take out the premade shortcakes and reheat them a bit if desired. Meanwhile, cover ½ pound of strawberries with about 3 tablespoons of sugar and let this mixture sit in the refrigerator for half an hour. The strawberries release their juice which, when combined with the sugar, forms a delicious syrup, perfect for coating shortbread and covering with store-bought whipped cream.
This guide was originally published in Salon Food’s weekly newsletter, The Bite. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on more dispatches, recipes, how-tos and essays.
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