Bring the heat
It’s no coincidence that the world’s hot zones produce some of the spiciest food. If you can’t beat the heat, you might as well join it. Spicy food can have remarkable cooling effects. Try macerating hot green chiles in acidic salad dressings for a sharp, cooling slaw. My favorite is shredded napa cabbage with shallots, cilantro, and lots of lime juice.
Dried chiles bring powerful complexity to summer standbys like peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and summer squash, especially in quick-cooked dishes like sautées and fast-simmered soups. Sharp, bright, acidic chiles are my favorites for these vegetables. But there’s also room for…
Smoke just tastes like summer, be it in day-long barbecue or hot and fast grill sessions. Pimentòn, chipotle, and urfa chile work especially well here. Meaty preparations are a given, but my favorite uses for smokey spices is actually summery cheeses. Roll a log of goat cheese in urfa biber to serve with marinated olives, or whizz feta with roasted red peppers, olive oil, and pimentòn.
Spice up salad dressings
Salads are a summer mainstay, and dressings are just begging for spice infusions. The violent emulsification of oil and acid are the perfect way to gently release essential oils from spices like cumin, coriander, and tasmanian pepper. This salad uses roasted red peppers, oranges, and fennel to play off tasmanian pepper’s chameleon attributes.
For thousands of years, spice merchants blended careful mixes of obsessively sourced spices to define their personalities and prowess in the trade. The modern day version of this is practice is the spice rub, the purest expression of the grill-meister’s creativity. Summer means grilling, and grilling almost demands spice rubs. My favorite is a blend of kosher salt, raw sugar, coriander, lime zest, and the enigmatic grains of paradise. It’s killer on duck.
Before citrus was brought to the Old World, sumac was frequently used in the Mediterranean to add tartness to grilled meat, vegetables, and bread. Its uniquely berry-like acidity makes it a powerful tableside accompaniment, particularly on firm vegetables and white-fleshed fish.
Herbs can be used for plenty more than just garnishes. Come summertime they make their way into blended sauces. Pesto is the go-to here, but consider chimichurri, an Argentinian steak sauce made of olive oil, parsley, garlic, and chiles. Or do like the Peruvians and purée mint into a dairy-based sauce for summer squash and potatoes.
Make your own hot sauce
Okay, so maybe I have a thing for chiles in the summer, but to be fair they do grow then. Making your own hot sauces allow you nearly endless possibilities to spruce up summer meals while preserving the unique characteristics of fresh and dried chiles. My favorite offbeat condiment of the summer is this lemon drop hot sauce, which packs a spicy wallop tempered by a rounded, citrusy glow.