For Chef Daniel Gorman, the best way to cook in the summer is not at all.
“Really fresh ingredients speak for themselves, and often the best way to let them do that is by serving them raw,” he says. As someone who’s lived and cooked all over the South — Charleston, Atlanta, Asheville and now Nashville — he finds simple is often best.
“The perfect example of what I’m talking about is a tomato sandwich: tomato, mayo, salt, pepper, bread. It’s so simple, and it’s my favorite thing in the world to eat.”
To find perfect tomatoes for a sandwich or fresh produce for Henley, the locally-sourced restaurant where he cooks, he recommends getting up close and personal.
“You have got to put your hands on it!” he says. “Go to the market and talk to the farmers about what’s good, what’s coming up around the bend, and try out different markets. But always put your hands on it and smell it. One of the best parts about cooking and eating are the aromas.”
For those who want to grow their own produce, Gorman says Tennesseans have picked a good spot.
“In Tennessee most plants grow through November because our summer’s so long, which is awesome. Start small — a tomato plant can feed a family of two — and then focus on things you can put in a jar eventually like peppers or green beans. Don’t grow corn at home because it takes too much space, and if you’ve got a small yard, check out square foot gardening. You can grow almost anything in a 10 by 10 space if you do it properly.”
Square foot gardening is the practice of dividing an area where you want to grow plants into small square sections to create a simple, orderly gardening system.
Here is all the produce that’s in season in Tennessee in August:
Honey Dew Melons
Peak season in summer
In season year-round
Here is Gorman’s advice for preparing it:
I’m gonna start you with a weird one: berry sauce on fish. The first time I tried this years ago my boss was like, “You’re crazy,” but then he tasted it and loved it. When you reduce berries, you get that great sweet and sour, which is perfect as a sauce.
Find a recipe for grilled salmon with blueberry pan sauce here.
Blueberries are great in salads, and one of my favorite desserts is a blueberry tart served with ginger ice cream. But for something lighter, I keep them in the freezer for a snack. They’ve got enough water in them that they don’t freeze solid, so they almost taste like sorbet. It’s great for those times I’m binging on Netflix and need something healthy to snack on.
Cantaloupe is one of those things that tastes completely different right off the vine, and it’s not hard to grow yourself (as long as you don’t have rabbits). But you can also get good ones at the farmers market, which I like to serve sliced with a squeeze of lime and sea salt. If I want to get real fancy, I do a salad with cantaloupe, chile, lime, basil and fresh lump crab meat. The sweetness of the cantaloupe and crab are balanced out really nicely by the acid.
Find a crab and cantaloupe salad recipe here.
When I was a kid, we always had icebox pickles: salt, pepper, vinegar, chili flakes, ice cubes and sliced cucumbers. We’d make them in the morning and sit them on the counter and snack on them all day.
Find an icebox pickle recipe here.
I love to use smaller eggplants like Japanese that are tender and soft and not as bitter. I split them, salt them and leave them out for an hour. Then I pat them dry, oil and grill them. Once they’re cooked, I brush them with a miso glaze (miso, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, chili, ginger, garlic) and broil them for a few seconds. They’re tender, savory and a little sweet.
Find a similar recipe here.
English & Field Peas
I do peas like any other Southern kid — braised with a ham hock, bay leaf and hot sauce. But once I’ve cooked them, I like to use the parts in different ways. I use the peas in salads, dressed up with sherry vinegar, and serve that with ribs. Sometimes I’ll cook the ribs in the potlikker [the liquid greens or peas are cooked in] the same way you’d braise a shank in the winter. It packs everything full of flavor.
People forget about edible flowers in the summer. Squash, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes flower — all fruits do, and all of them are edible. If you’re growing a garden at home, use the flowers in salads. They’re flavorful and they’ll make you look super fancy. Plus pulling off the bud helps disperse energy through rest of plant, which helps them grow better.
I love to add hot peppers to crab or shrimp boils. If you put them in right at the end, they don’t cook all the way through, so they’re still crunchy and aromatic. And some will set you on fire!
Nothing beats good Southern fried okra, but one of my favorite ways to cook it is with Vietnamese flavors. I get a cast iron skillet, split and salt the okra and do a super hot sear on one side. Then I flip it over and char it on the other side so it doesn’t get slimy. I dress it lightly in nuoc cham, a Vietnamese sauce made with sugar, lime, chili, garlic and fish sauce.
Onions are insanely cheap, so I buy a bag, peel them and put them in a pot to make stock. I cover them with water and reduce down the liquid three-quarters of the way. It gets really thick from the natural sugars, and we call that “onion caramel.” We make all kinds of sauces and stuff from it, but if you mix it with sour cream or cream cheese, it makes the best onion dip in world.
Nothing beats a peach salad — fresh ripe peaches, thinly sliced ham from The Hamery, drizzle of olive oil, black pepper and fresh basil or mint.
People don’t use pole beans enough, but a pole bean salad is great with fish and squash, which is a combo I use a lot and call “squish.”
Pole Beans are not a specific kind of bean but rather any bean that grows vertically on trellises or poles rather than in a bush.
Squash pie is my new obsession — think tomato pie meets squash casserole. The squash is mixed with cheddar cheese and a little basil or rosemary and topped with crumbled butter crackers. Then you bake it, let it set and slice it. You can eat it any time of day.
Find a recipe here.
You’ve got to try corn cut off the cob raw. There’s a whole new element to its flavor. Serve it simply with a vinaigrette so it marinates a little, some salt and fresh herbs. You’ll never go back.
A lot of people don’t know how overproduced watermelons are, especially out of season when they’re grown in hothouses. In the U.S., we used to have 100 varieties of watermelon and now we’re down to four, so it’s even more important to get these at markets from people you trust.
My favorite way to use them is in a salad with feta and aged balsamic and herbs. If you’re looking to mix things up, try watermelon and fresh tuna. Seafood and fruit is something we should all eat together more.
Try a watermelon ceviche recipe here.