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Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.

Serious Entertaining: A Middle Eastern-Inspired Feast

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At this point in the summer, I'm ready to move beyond the basic hamburger (delicious, but almost too much of a grill staple) to something a little more exotic. So this week on Serious Entertaining, we're adding a little spice to the classic summer feast and cooking our way to the Middle East. Our menu takes advantage of abundant summer produce and will introduce your pantry to a few ingredients that may not be familiar to you now, but that you'll definitely want to keep around. For this dinner party, you can still stay close to the grill but you'll end up with a meal that's bursting with freshness and intriguing new flavors.

Here are our choices for a summer cookout that boasts Middle-Eastern flavor in every dish, from appetizer to dessert.

Roasted Zucchini-Chickpea Dip with Za'atar

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[Photograph: Lauren Rothman]

Start your meal with a hummus variation that's much more exciting than your average storebought tub and will help you get through the abundance of summer squash that's currently flooding your garden. This dip highlights the smoky flavor of roasted squash and the herby richness of za'atar. Don't want to crank on your oven? Try grilling the squash for that smoky char!

Get the recipe! »

Bulgur Salad with Apricots, Radicchio, Herbs and Walnuts

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[Photograph: Jennifer Segal]

This is the perfect simple salad to ride next to the main dish at your cookout tonight and then serve as an easy vegetarian lunch tomorrow. Ideal for a summer feast, this bulgur salad is colorful and light, incorporating fresh herbs, walnuts, apricots, radicchio, and a lemony dressing. Like with any grain salad, this is infinitely adaptable—we like the idea of adding pine nuts or dates!

Get the recipe! »

Kofte Kebabs with Spicy Harissa Yogurt Sauce and Grilled Flatbread (Minced Lamb Kebabs)

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[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Grilling with skewers is always a fun option for dinner and this kofte kebab recipe takes the basic skewer one step up from the ubiquitous chicken-pepper-onion combo. The kebabs are made with a heavy dose of spice and are accompanied by a harissa yogurt sauce that's simultaneously cooling and punchy. Try filling a pita or flatbread with a scoop of bulgar salad, one or two kebabs, and a dollop of sauce for a handheld dinner you can eat while still mingling with your guests.

Get the recipe! »

Rosemary, Olive Oil, and Pine Honey Ice Cream

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[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Need the perfect sweet bite to end a night of feasting? Look no further, this ice cream is the ideal complement to a warm summer night and will leave your guests in awe. The woodsy flavor of rosemary hits you at first bite, then as the ice cream melts, the honey and olive oil glide across your tongue in turn. For a sundae that goes beyond hot fudge and sprinkles, try a few scoops of this ice cream with a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, candied pine nuts, and some toasted phyllo shards.

Get the recipe! »

Jefferson's Crimson Cocktail

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[Photograph: Kelly Carámbula]

The featured drink on the menu continues the flavor theme with a classic Middle Eastern fruit: the pomegranate. A sip of this drink, both a little sweet and a little tart, is the perfect accompaniment to any of the bites in this meal. For a non-alcoholic version, try spiking iced tea with a little pomegranate juice, honey, and a few mint leaves.

Get the recipe! »

About the author: Ida Yu is a 4th year student at the University of Virginia majoring in Computer Science but with a secret love for all things food and sustainability. She doesn't have her own blog yet, but her ultimate goal is to start one named ILoveChickensAndChocolate.com. Keep an eye out for it.

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