Summer is officially still around the corner, but in practical terms it arrived weeks ago in North Carolina. And summer temperatures naturally conjure up thoughts of summer meals, vacations and more.
For many Tar Heels, summer meals are inextricably tied to annual treks to the beach. Perhaps even more so this year, we long to enjoy a relaxing week gazing at the waves of the Atlantic, squeezing the sand between our toes and eating well, very well.
One thing about the beach: It makes most of us want to eat light. After hours of laying in the hot sun, about the last thing we want is a heavy meal.
That’s one reason seafood — so less calorie-dense than most other proteins — is so popular. The other reason being, of course, is that seafood is fresh and abundant at the coast.
A recent book will help whet the appetite for beach vacations and meals this summer. Lei Shishak’s “Beach House Dinners” (Skyhorse Publishing, $24.99) came out last year but got lost in the lockdown and lack of travel imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Shishak, the founder of Sugar Blossom Bake Shop in San Clemente, Ca., is also the author of “Beach House Baking” and “Beach House Brunch.”
Her latest book zeroes on in the evening meal, with 80 recipes for entrees, salads, sandwiches, pastas and more.
And though seafood is well-represented, so are beef, pork, poultry and vegetarian meals. What they all have in common is that they keep things light — not light enough to qualify as diet food, but light enough to give people plenty of energy for swims in the ocean, miniature golf and long walks on the beach.
“All of the recipes are straightforward and hassle-free,” Shishak said in the introduction, “leaving you plenty of time to relax.”
“Beach House Dinners” begins with lists of pantry food items and kitchen equipment — good things to review for those visiting a rental kitchen for vacation.
Though all of the recipes are geared toward dinner, they still offer a variety of foods.
Poultry dishes include lemon garlic chicken with red potatoes and shredded Brussels sprouts; sweet and sticky chicken wings with carrots, celery and creamy ranch dressing; and grilled nachos with shredded chicken, red sauce, black beans and cilantro.
The book has a wealth of seafood dishes, including coconut shrimp with three sauces; blackened mahi-mahi with steamed broccoli and cheese sauce; salmon poke with soba noodles; and grilled halibut with honey-soy marinade, crispy potato wedges and sauteed spinach.
Shishak may be from California, but she still includes a recipe for shrimp boil, or what Southerners know as Lowcountry boil or frogmore stew, with boiled shrimp, sausage, potatoes and corn flavored with Old Bay seasoning.
There are fewer meat recipes but among them are marinated lamb kebabs, skillet rib-eye in Marsala mushroom cream sauce, and top sirloin steak fajitas. Pork and ground meats get their own chapter, which includes jerk spareribs, ham and okra stew and “double double” animal style burgers. Shishak describes the latter as her version of the iconic In-N-Out Burger from the popular fast-food chain based primarily in California and the Southwest.
Shishak gives vegetarians their due in a chapter that includes a veggie burger made with black beans; double-stuffed portobello mushrooms; and vegetable lo mein.
The chapter on pasta offers such dishes as classic meat lasagna; vegetarian capellini with tomato sauce, fried garlic and basil; and stuffed shells.
Soups and sandwiches are grouped together in a chapter that includes salmon burgers; coconut fish chowder; beach-house hoagies; and summer tomato soup with three-cheese panini.
The book wraps up with 10 refreshing salads, such as pasta salad with salami, bell peppers, artichokes and basil; Cobb salad with ham and grilled corn; and chicken salad with Major Grey’s chutney, cranberries and almonds.
A beach vacation can be a great time for family and friends to cook together, without the usual demands of work and daily living. “Beach House Dinners” offers more than a few ways to enjoy that vacation.