Surprising Summer Seasonal Food Combos to Help You Get Creative in the Kitchen

Did you go a little crazy at the farmers' market this week? Is your garden producing more zucchini than you know what to do with? Or maybe your CSA box is overflowing with summertime goodies? If you're looking for seasonal inspiration on what, exactly, to do with all.of.that.produce - look no further. We've got seasonal pairing ideas, recipes and inspiration galore! 

Late summer is the heart of harvest, when peak summer produce is at its most prolific - maybe too prolific! But we're not talking about preserving the fruits of these golden days (there is lots of info on how to do that). We're talking about continuing to appreciate the bounty - even after it's become a glut.

Certain classic combinations have come to epitomize summer (think: tomatoes and basil), but there are other, lesser-known pairings that will pull you out of the summertime rut. Once I've cycled through the classic summer dishes a time or two, I like to start thinking outside the box to pair seasonal fruit, vegetables and herbs. Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing in the kitchen!

Pro Tip: Check out our Seasonal Food Guide to learn more about exactly what's in season in your area!

Basil

By this time of year, the markets are flooded with all kinds of basil: globe, Genovese, purple, Thai, lemon. Free yourself from the tyranny of pesto and think about basil as a flavor compliment to lots of different summer fruits and vegetables.

Basil + Corn

Make basil butter and use it to top grilled corn on the cob. Or remove the kernels from the cob and sautée with basil, butter (or miso butter!) and another seasonal veggie of your choice (lima beans or edamame are delicious for a succotash-esque side).

Basil + Green Beans

A classic Genovese dish pairs potatoes, green beans and basil pesto - but keep it even simpler and sautée fresh, trimmed green beans with olive oil, chopped shallot, salt and basil cut into ribbons and added in at the very end. Squeeze some lemon juice over the whole thing when you're done. (Adding chopped, toasted almonds would be nice, too.)

Basil + Potatoes

Here's where you should forget what I said about the tyranny of pesto - because potatoes and pesto are a perfect match. Try lemon basil in place of the classic Genovese basil for a brighter flavor.

Basil + Kohlrabi

Make these kohlrabi pancakes and substitute chopped fresh basil for the coriander. 

Basil + Blackberries

One of my favorite summer fruit salads is this: combine a pint of blackberries, a tablespoon of sugar (or vanilla sugar, if you have it), a handful of torn basil leaves (Thai, lemon or Genovese basil works best), the juice from half a lemon and a teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest. Let sit for about an hour, then spoon over ice cream or eat plain. A splash of rum would not be out of place, either.

Peaches

There is nothing more summery than a fresh, juicy peach! Aside from eating the fruit out of hand (always a delight), try these interesting combos and get inspired.

Peaches + Blackberries

Blackberry peach cobbler. Need I say more?

Peaches + Fennel

Peaches and fennel make the perfect accompaniment to pork. Roast them both and serve together (maybe with a pork tenderloin) or make this peach and fennel slaw and impress your guests with your food-pairing know-how.

Peaches + Green Onions

Step 1 : grill peaches and trimmed green onions (tossed in olive oil with a little sea salt). Step 2 : add chopped crispy bacon and eat, or use the mixture to top grilled pork chops.

Peaches + Purslane

Sub peaches for tomatoes in a salad of purslane and sweet onion tossed with lemon and olive oil. 

Peaches + Mint

Make Thomas Keller's Peach and Mint Confit and die happy.

Tomatoes

By late summer, I've usually got more tomatoes than I know what to do with. I've learned to get creative with tomato salads and other tomato-y seasonal pairings. Here are some ideas.

Tomatoes + Mint

Sick of tomato and basil salads? Mix up your Caprese with mint instead of basil - or try a mixture of both. The mint peps up the juicy tomatoes much like a squeeze of lemon juice does.

Tomatoes + Shell Beans

Late summer means cranberry beans to me - I like to buy a huge amount and freeze them for the long winter ahead. Stew fresh plum tomatoes together with cooked shell beans, along with a little olive oil and garlic. A heavenly late summer meal with a parmesan grated on top, plus some crusty bread.

Tomatoes + Okra

Roasting okra is the way to go to avoid the slime - if you can stand the oven being on in the heat! Add chopped fresh tomatoes to this roasted okra recipe for the perfect seasonal match.

Tomatoes + Sesame

Mix up your tomato salad by using Thai basil or shiso (perilla) leaves, sesame oil and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.

Tomatoes + Zucchini

Easier (and less slimy) than traditional ratatouille, baking zucchini and tomatoes together with parmesan caramelizes them both, and highlights both veggies' umami. 

Jalapeños

If you've ever grown them, you know that by late summer jalapeño plants are completely loaded with fruit. Sure, you could make salsa - but how much salsa can one person eat?? Try these combos to mix it up.

Zucchini + Jalapeños

Make zucchini soup with jalapeños, cilantro and potatoes. That is all.

Mushrooms + Jalapeños

Roast mixed fresh mushrooms with chopped jalapenos until brown and caramelized. Or top pizza with a mixture of sliced button mushrooms and seeded jalapeno rings.

Cherries + Jalapeños

Cherries and jalapeños are the perfect match for chicken, duck and pork. Together they also make a delicious jam.

Eggplant + Jalapeños

I love to make Indian Baingan Bharta (smoky eggplant with chiles) in late summer when all shapes and colors of eggplant flood the market. (The bigger ones are better for this recipe, because you want an ample amount of flesh to chop with the spicy jalapeños.)

Collards + Jalapeños

My favorite is Brazilian-style sautéed collards with lots of garlic (I usually add double than what the recipe calls for) - I love to add a seeded, chopped jalapeño at the end of cooking for a spicy, crunchy kick.

 

This post was originally published in August 2015. 

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