Summer dinners so simple, it’s almost like not cooking

Photo by Keri White

Since at this time of year no one wants to cook, but everyone has to eat, I have devised a few simple, healthy recipes that serve as one-dish meals.

The falafel salad came to me by way of my daughter, who spent the month of June taking a course in Boston and living in her own apartment for the first time.

She and her roommate had plenty of fun shopping and cooking, and she often sent me Instagrammable photos of dishes they had prepared — one being this tasty salad.

The pasta dish arose out of the classic, scenario: It’s midweek, it’s been a busy one, the pantry is bare and it’s 6:30.” Some tired tomatoes, a few leaves of basil from my garden, a can of chick peas, some pasta, parmesan, and … b’tayavon.

Finally, the corn salad is the most versatile of the offerings here in terms of usage — It’s a meal! It’s a side! It’s a relish! It’s delicious!


Falafel Salad

Serves 2 for a meal
I am generally a homemade cook and tend to avoid premade ingredients. But I make an exception for things that are just as good (or better) purchased than what I could create in my kitchen, or that are so labor intensive and messy to prepare that I can’t justify the effort. Falafel ticks both boxes.

This salad can be adapted to your preference and your pantry. Olives would be a nice addition. Ditto peppers, either mild or hot, and red or sweet onions. If you can’t find haloumi, feta is a reasonable substitute. And if you want a pareve salad, skip the cheese entirely.

The heat/texture contrast of this dish make it unique and tasty. It also makes it feel a bit more substantial than a mere salad for dinner.

4 ounces haloumi cheese, sliced in ¼ inch pieces
Oil to spray cheese
6 purchased falafel, prepared according to package
6 cups lettuce, such as spring mix, romaine or Boston, rinsed, spun and torn
1 cup cherry tomatoes
½ cucumber, peeled, and sliced
¼ cup prepared hummus
Juice of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sprinkle of ground cumin, salt, pepper, to taste

Spray cheese with oil and pan fry in skillet over medium high until crisp. Lay on paper towels and set aside.

Prepare falafel according to package directions. If no prep is needed, simply heat them up.

In shallow bowl, mix lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

Make dressing: in small bowl, mix hummus, lemon juice, oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix with a fork and taste for seasoning.

When all components are prepared, place cheese and falafel on top of salad and drizzle with dressing.

Serve immediately.


Quick Quick Pantry Pasta

Serves 2-3

1 pint of cherry tomatoes a bit past their prime
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ pound pasta
1 can chick peas, drained
A few sprigs fresh parsley or basil leaves
¼ cup parmesan cheese, for serving

In large pot, boil water with about 1 tablespoon salt for the pasta.

While water is heating, place oil, salt, pepper flakes, and garlic in skillet on medium until fragrant.

Add tomatoes to skillet and allow to cook rather intensely until skins burst, about 8 minutes.

Add chick peas to tomato mixture and continue cooking.

Cook pasta to just al dente, generally one minute less than package indicates, reserving ¼ cup cooking water. Drain, and pour pasta into the skillet with the tomatoes. Toss the pasta, add the basil or parsley (or both) and continue stirring until pasta is coated with the tomato mixture and the ingredients are well distributed. Add small amounts of pasta water to help move the sauce around if needed.

Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve.


Mexican Corn Salad

Serves 4 generously as a side
This dish is delicious, seasonal, and keeps well, especially if you don’t use avocados, which can turn brown after a day or so, although they still taste fine. Because it contains black beans, the dish delivers a portion of protein, so it can serve as a light meal on a hot day. But it is also wonderful side — or topping — to any grilled meat, or fish. If you are skipping the meat and want to amp up the protein and heft, crumble 1/2 cup cotija (or feta) cheese into the salad.

It tastes divine with fresh, in-season corn, but good quality canned or frozen can be a reasonable substitute if fresh is not available.

6 ears fresh corn
¼ cup red onion, chopped finely
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 pint cherry tomatoes, rinsed and cut in half
1 avocado, cut in small chunks and spritzed with lime juice to retain color
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

For the dressing
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced jalapeno pepper (or more to taste)
¼ cup mild oil (canola, corn, or light olive oil)
Juice of 1 lime
½ teasoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin

In large pot, heat salted water to boil. Place corn into pot, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from water with tongs, and place on a plate to cool.

Meanwhile, mix onion, tomato, avocado, black beans, and cilantro in a large bowl.

Make dressing: mix all ingredients well in a mini chopper or blender; set aside.

When corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cob and place in bowl with other vegetables, Mix, dress, mix again, taste for seasoning, adjust as needed and serve.

Keri White is a Philadelphia-area food writer.

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