What's for Dinner?
Local chefs Amy Brandwein and Vikram Sunderam share their go-to summer recipes.
Ah, summer, exploding everywhere with its bounty of fruits, vegetables—and grill smoke. Sometimes, the sheer abundance of options can be paralyzing. What should you make for your next backyard meal? We asked two prominent local chefs to share their go-to summer dishes.
The Chef: Amy Brandwein
The Restaurant: Centrolina in CityCenterDC
The Dish: Vegetable ratatouille
“The good thing about local farmers markets is they really don’t sell things that aren’t in season in the Rappahannock region,” says Brandwein, who’s lived in Aurora Hills for 20 years and frequents the Crystal City FRESHFARM Market. “I stick to the things that are indigenous to this area.” In midsummer, that means eggplant, zucchini and fresh herbs.
Try this simple combo:
1. Chop an eggplant into large chunks and sprinkle with salt to remove the bitterness; let it rest for 20 minutes.
2. Chop one or two zucchini into chunks. If tomatoes are in season, chop some of those too.
3. Warm some olive oil and two smashed garlic cloves in a pan. Remove the garlic once it’s flavored the oil. Or, as Brandwein says, “I like to do it mezzo-mezzo—take one [clove] out, leave one in.”
4. Toss in several whole basil leaves, but don’t chop them. “Just throw them in there and let them fry.”
5. Add the veggies and let everything simmer for 10 minutes. You want sweet and sour? Drizzle in some vinegar. More saucy? Try puréed tomatoes. Or add chilies for some heat.
“There are a million different ways to do it,” Brandwein says, noting that this simple preparation can accommodate most any type of produce. “It’s really about going to the market and seeing what’s good.”
The Chef: Vikram Sunderam
The Restaurant: Rasika (locations in D.C.’s Penn Quarter and West End)
The Dish: Tandoori barbecue marinade
Sunderam admits with a laugh that he doesn’t do much cooking at his home in the Lewinsville area of McLean. But on Sundays, he does like to fire up the grill. “Sometimes the kids want me to make something,” he says. “At home, we like to keep it as simple as possible. With Indian food, barbecue comes very naturally.”
The Sunderams have their own tandoor oven, but for those of us who aren’t so lucky, the secret of great barbecue isn’t so much in the equipment, he says, as in the preparation. That means building in ample time for marinating (at least 8 hours or overnight for meats, or approximately 1-2 hours for seafood). This allows the flavors and spices to really permeate whatever you are grilling.
Sunderam buys meats from The Organic Butcher of McLean, while his wife, Anjali, gets their spices and oils at the Aditi Spice Depot in Vienna. This simple marinade will work well on any protein. The Sunderams favor goat, but it also can be used with lamb, chicken, shrimp or salmon.
• 1 pound Greek yogurt
• 4 tablespoons Kashmiri chili paste (that’s what imparts the rich orange color)
• 2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste (mince both items together, then add a bit of water and mash until it reaches a paste-like consistency)
• 2 tablespoons garam masala
• 4 tablespoons lemon juice
• 4 tablespoons mustard oil
“It’s important to season your protein before you dip it in the marinade,” the chef adds. Rub meat with salt, pepper, lemon juice and some of the ginger-garlic paste and let it sit for 15-20 minutes before marinating.