Fine, I’ll just say it: I am a lazy cook in the summer. I could say it’s the heat (I wilt), or that I’d just rather be doing all kinds of outdoor things. But in truth, summer produce gets all the blame.
With fruit and vegetables at their juiciest, most flavorful peak, I don’t have to work hard to make a meal taste great. I let peaches, tomatoes, plums, herbs and watermelon do all the work. While the grill heats up, I chop a little of this and that and throw it together in a bowl. How can I go wrong combining ripe tomatoes with sweet fruit, some mint, a bit of onion, a squeeze of lime or lemon, and a little fresh thyme together?
On my more ambitious days I take five minutes to make a double or triple batch of a spice rub. Then on the days when I’d rather be gardening, I have it on hand to pat on chicken or fish. I throw that on the grill, and when it’s time for dinner I spoon my summer salsa over the top.
Consider this recipe a guideline. Make your version based on whatever looks good at your local farmstand or market.
• Substitute whatever fruit you have on hand that is ripe and sweet: plums, mango, peaches, nectarine. I often combine one of those fruits with tomato, which prevents the topping from being too sweet.
• Use any combination of fresh mint, basil, oregano, thyme, parsley and cilantro.
• You’ll need some kind of acid: lemon, lime, and vinegar all work well.
• Onion adds a nice bite, but you don’t want to overdo it. Use red onion, scallions, or sweet white onion for milder flavor.
• If you like spicy heat, consider chopping fresh jalapeño or serrano chili, or use a pinch of red pepper flakes. Generally, when the spice rub has heat I leave it out of the topping for balance.
GRILLED JERK CHICKEN WITH SUMMER SALSA
For the topping:
3 large nectarines, diced
1 large plum tomato, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the chicken:
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 — 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1. Combine all topping ingredients in a bowl and allow to sit at room temperature while you prepare the chicken.
2. To make the chicken, preheat the grill for medium direct heat cooking.
3. Combine the paprika, sugar, thyme, salt, black pepper, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and allspice in a bowl. Pat the mixture over the entire surface of the chicken breasts.
4. Place the chicken on the grill and cook until the underside is well-marked and easily releases from the grill surface, about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn it over and cook until an instant-read thermometer, inserted horizontally into the center, registers 160 degrees, about another 4 to 5 minutes.
5. Spoon the topping over the chicken.