A vegetarian menu that shows why summer is the best season for eating

The vegetable aisles are overflowing, and this fresh three-course dinner from David Tanis puts them to work

Friday 13 August 2021 12:18 BST
A quick-cooking curry, substantial but light, is inspired by any vegetables you can get your hands on
A quick-cooking curry, substantial but light, is inspired by any vegetables you can get your hands on (Getty)
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


This time of year, my diet turns almost completely plant-based.

I suppose it’s only natural: height-of-season summer produce is seductive, with tantalising shapes and colours, and the kind of sweetness that comes from being freshly picked. This is the magic moment when melons, berries, stone fruit, peppers, tomatoes, corn, beans and squashes collide.

This menu celebrates that moment. It’s not difficult to execute, but it makes great use of a market basket that is full to the brim.

For an extremely simple yet spectacularly refreshing salad, grab a melon, a cucumber and a handful of cherry tomatoes. With truly ripe fruit, the only seasoning you need is salt, pepper and a splash of extra virgin olive oil.

The melon mirrors the tomatoes’ sweetness. The cucumber, a relative of melon, lends both crunch and herbaceousness. Handfuls of basil and mint leaves and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, added just before serving, bring it all together. Though perfectly satisfying as a first course or side dish, you could add some crumbled feta and call it lunch.

With so many fetching summer vegetables on display, and a wish to buy and use as many as possible, I prepared a seasonal main course that was inspired by the sight of beautiful summer squash, tender corn, delicate baby turnips and fresh peas.

This quick-cooking dish, simple and fragrant, employs ginger, cumin, turmeric, hot pepper and garam masala. Substantial but light, and reminiscent of some kormas, it gets its rich, creamy consistency from a mixture of yoghurt and almond flour. To accompany, a pot of plain, steamed basmati rice.

Feel free to substitute or add other vegetables, depending on what’s available. Aubergine, green beans, small potatoes or okra would all be welcome.

To finish, a traditional fruit crisp is a lovely, unpretentious dessert. Nothing more than sugared fruit baked with a crumbly topping, it charms most diners. Blackberries alone make a wonderful crisp, but a combination of berries (raspberries, blueberries and blackberries in equal parts) is just as good. The crisp needn’t be served piping hot straight from the oven; it’s delicious served at room temperature or just slightly warm.

You may serve it with a scoop of ice cream or a dab of whipped cream, but it’s well worth making the optional cardamom-perfumed custard sauce (there’s a touch of ground cardamom in the topping, too). The warm, musky spice is perfect with berries – and this magic moment.

Melon, cucumber and cherry tomato salad

Melon, cucumber and tomatoes make for a simple yet spectacularly refreshing salad
Melon, cucumber and tomatoes make for a simple yet spectacularly refreshing salad (Getty/iStock)

Total time: 5 minutes, plus marinating

Makes: 4 to 6 servings


1 small melon, such as cantaloupe or honeydew (about 1.4kg), peeled, seeded and cut into 2cm pieces

225g cherry tomatoes of different colours, halved

2 medium cucumbers (about 340g), peeled and cut into 2cm pieces

Salt and black pepper

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp lime juice, plus more to taste

Small handful of basil leaves

Small handful of mint leaves


1. Place melon, tomatoes and cucumber in a large salad bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and toss well. Drizzle with olive oil and lime juice. Toss lightly and leave to marinate for a few minutes and up to 30 minutes, to let the flavours mingle.

2. Add the basil leaves, tearing larger leaves into pieces, and the mint leaves.

3. Just before serving, fold the leaves into the salad and toss well. Taste and add a little more lime juice, as needed.

Summer vegetables in spiced yoghurt sauce

This curry, reminiscent of korma, gets its creaminess from a mix of yoghurt and almond flour
This curry, reminiscent of korma, gets its creaminess from a mix of yoghurt and almond flour (Getty)

Total time: 30 minutes

Makes: 4 to 6 servings


3 tbsp neutral oil or ghee

1 (5cm) piece ginger, peeled and grated

4 garlic cloves, minced

½ tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp ground turmeric

⅛ tsp ground cayenne

1 serrano chilli, thinly sliced (use less, or remove seeds, for a milder stew)

1 medium onion, diced small


½ tsp garam masala

560g diced summer squash, such as zucchini, pattypan or romanesco, cut into 2cm pieces

400g baby turnips, halved or quartered

500g plain whole milk yoghurt

70g almond flour

270g shelled peas or cut green beans

250g fresh corn kernels (from 3 ears corn)

140g baby spinach

Roughly chopped coriander leaves, for garnish

Cooked basmati rice, for serving (optional)


1. Put oil in a deep, wide frying pan or casserole dish over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the ginger, garlic, cumin seeds, turmeric, cayenne and the serrano chilli. Stir-fry the mixture until it begins to sizzle a bit, about 1 minute.

2. Add onion to pot, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season well with salt.

3. Stir in garam masala, squash and turnips, along with 1 cup water. Cover and simmer briskly until vegetables are just done, about 3 minutes.

4. Add yoghurt and almond flour. Stir well to combine. Add peas and corn. Simmer gently, uncovered, until sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Taste sauce for salt and adjust as needed.

5. Add the spinach, and let wilt into the mixture. Turn off heat. Sprinkle with coriander, and serve with rice, if desired.

Blackberry crisp with cardamom custard sauce

A lovely, unpretentious dessert
A lovely, unpretentious dessert (Getty/iStock)

Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Makes: 6 servings


For the topping:

128g all-purpose flour

100g sugar

113g salted butter, cold and thinly sliced

Pinch of ground cardamom

For the crisp:

850g blackberries

100g sugar

For the sauce:

480g half-and-half

100g sugar

1 tbsp cardamom seeds, or 6 green cardamom pods, smashed

4 egg yolks


1. Make the topping: put flour, sugar, butter and ground cardamom in a medium bowl. Using your fingertips, work ingredients together until the mixture resembles wet sand with a few stray pebbles (the topping can be made in advance and refrigerated for 1 week or frozen for up to 2 months).

2. Heat oven to 200C. Toss the blackberries with 100g sugar and transfer the mixture to a 20cm square baking dish.

3. Sprinkle topping over berries loosely, and transfer to the oven. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the topping is well browned. Let cool for 10 minutes, or serve at room temperature.

4. As the crisp bakes, make the custard sauce: put half-and-half and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cardamom seeds and bring to just under a simmer, stirring. Put yolks in a bowl and whisk until smooth, then whisk in 1 cup of hot half-and-half mixture. Pour the contents of the bowl back into the saucepan and cook, whisking, on a very low flame until the mixture barely thickens, about 5 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Serve sauce hot, or let cool and refrigerate until ready to use (sauce can be made up to 2 days in advance).

And to drink...

Though it might have a touch of heat, this mixed-vegetable dish will go with many different wines, as long as they are not high in alcohol or tannins. You might consider a dry but fruity rose, possibly a Spanish rosado or an Italian cerasuolo. A moderately sweet German riesling would be delicious, like a kabinett or spatlese. So would a chenin blanc made in the demi-sec style. For that matter, dry rieslings and chenin blancs would be excellent as well. You might try a grüner veltliner from Austria, a silvaner from Alsace or a restrained sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley. I probably wouldn’t choose a red, but if you do, look for something lively, like a Sicilian frappato or a moderately priced Ribeira Sacra from Spain.

Pairings by Eric Asimov.

© The New York Times

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