Yesterday – August 8 – was “National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbors Porch Day.” It sounds like a joke, but think about it. If you have a garden (or know someone who has a garden) chances are you’ve been up to your ears in zucchini and summer squash for a few weeks already. You might be sick of them. And looking for an excuse to sneak some on an innocent neighbor under cover of night. But this gratin might just rekindle your love of the ubiquitous summertime vegetable.
As delicious as my tea-smoked salmon with lavender and honey glaze was (Have you seen it yet? Entered to win some tea?), this gratin held its own. Served together, dinner was an event. I half expected fireworks to go off as I finished my plate. The squash bakes in their own juices until they are soft and delicate. The tomatoes begin to dry from the heat of the oven, leaving them sweet and intensely flavored. The sharp Parmesan and crisp breadcrumbs lend classic comfort. And then, there’s the unexpected. Instead of using italian seasonings, you take a little detour through the south of France thanks to fresh thyme and herbs de Provence (a mixture of savory, fennel, basil, thyme, and lavender).
Sure you may be reluctant to turn your oven on in the height of August. Wait for a rainy day if you must. But I wouldn’t wait. Really, it’s already so hot that having the oven on doesn’t seen to make it any worse. And even if it does, it’s totally worth it.
I’ve been in something of a cooking rut lately, struggling to find inspiration and ideas for new dishes. Apparently all l needed in order to get back in the groove of things was a good challenge! When I received an invitation to take part in the Tazo Cook-Off, I almost declined. Somehow, in the bat of an eye, my schedule for August has filled up and I couldn’t imagine how I would find time to participate in a challenge that would require me to come up with three new recipes over the course of three weeks, each involving both tea and a mystery ingredient that would be disclosed to me the cook-off progressed.
But, if you know me you know I love a good culinary challenge — of course I ended up saying yes! And boy am I glad I did, because I never would have thought to create this amazing tea-smoked salmon with honey & lavender glaze otherwise. And that would be sad, because this recipe is so good that you should just go ahead and cancel whatever dinner plans you have for tomorrow and make this instead. (And if that’s not enough to get you to keep reading this post, what if I told you there’s a fantastic giveaway opportunity if you keep reading?)
So I spent the past week thinking about all of the great things that I could make with tea, when a package arrived for me on Monday with my first mystery ingredient. Lavender. Right. There go those ideas! I have to admit, I was a little stumped. I was stuck on the idea of shortbread cookies for a while, but that just seemed so obvious. No, I was determined to go savory with this dish. And I began to think about salmon.
The most recent issue of Fine Cooking had an article on tea-smoking that had intrigued me, and this seemed like the perfect time to try it out. I played around with flavors and technique until I came up with the recipe you see here. Which is incredible. The flavors of the teas — orange, cloves, star anise, cinnamon — permeate the salmon and give it an amazing flavor. The honey and lavender give it a floral sweetness that just works. And smoking it gives it the most amazing texture — silky and smooth, yet still flakey and fully cooked. I’ve really never had anything like it before, but this is definitely a technique that I’ll be using again and again.
I’ve been really into fruit salsas this summer and when the hot, steamy weather last week left me craving watermelon, I decided to make a Latin American style meal featuring light and fresh summer flavors. These crab and corn empanadas were a huge hit! The crust was crispy and flakey and, while the flavor of the filling was unexpected, it just worked. The smokey and complex flavor of the poblano sauce paired perfectly with the rest of the meal – I based it off the enchilada sauce that I made for my pork and pineapple stacked enchilada and I was a little worried that it wouldn’t be good without being baked with cheese, but it definitely held its own in this dish. The pool of sauce under the empanada made for a gorgeous plate and I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this to guests. Actually, it would make a perfect dinner party dish, since the prep work is very quick and can be done ahead of time.
The empanadas were also great left over! I think they may have even gotten better after spending the night in the fridge. To reheat them, I just popped the in the toaster oven on “light” for 2 minutes – just enough to crisp up the outside and warm them through.
I served these with sauteed plantains and watermelon salsa (watermelon, red onion, jalapeno, lime juice, and salt). The meal was light and refreshing. If you want a more substantial dinner, they would also be great with a side of black beans.
Lauren Keating is a recipe developer and food photographer with a passion for fresh, healthy food. firstname.lastname@example.org
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