Move over, Martha. Valerie Rice, a mom and avid home gardener from the hills near Santa Barbara is the only entertainer we’re looking to this summer. In her new book Lush Life, she shares inventive recipes for seasonal drinks and dishes taken straight from the garden.
What makes her book different is the fact that she tells you what to actually plant, and then shows all sorts of ways to use it. Arugula stars in a super simple and delicious salad with Parmesan, lemon, and olive oil. But it also gets paired with gin, and again with mint, ginger, and pineapple in a refreshing green drink that makes teetotaling so much more fun. “The ginger green juice came from Dry January, which we do every year,” she says. “I had a ton of arugula, and that’s when the Bearss lime trees are starting and we get mint from the farmers market.”
She’s also a big believer in mixing it up instead of eating the same dishes and flavor combos all the time. Rice grows 15 different tomatoes—San Marzanos, striped Tigerellas, and Sun Golds are favorites. But she’s grown tired of the typical salad of tomatoes with basil and mozzarella.
“Seasonal food tastes better, it’s better for our planet and it prevents palate fatigue.”
“I had these beautiful peaches and tomatoes and I said ‘let’s stick them together and see how it works,’ ” Rice says. The result is her surprising Tomato & Stone Fruit Salad with Sesame Maple Dressing that feels like a really fresh sweet and sour dish that you’d order at a cutting-edge restaurant in Barcelona.
Even homegrown zucchini, which can become an over abundant bore every summer, has more tricks up its sleeve than zoodles and zucchini bread. Rice hides the veggie in a fudgy chocolate cake, fries up savory zucchini feta fritters, and turns out the most exciting take on grilled zucchini we’ve seen yet.
She hopes her book will help more people fall in love with gardening, or at least eating seasonally with farmers market produce.“Seasonal food tastes better, it’s better for our planet and it prevents palate fatigue,” Rice says. “The best flavor comes from things that don’t travel very far.”
Minty Ginger Green Juice
The combination of flavors in this drink reminds me of a Moscow mule. It’s a delicious and healthy option during Dry January or whenever you’re on the wagon. I make a version of this juice blend year-round with whatever greens are growing in the garden, but my favorites are arugula, because of its zippy flavor, and mint, for its freshness.
2 cups chopped peeled pineapple (fresh or frozen)
2 cups packed arugula
2 cups water
2 ounces (¼ cup) fresh lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes)
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
4 lime wedges (garnish)
Purée pineapple, arugula water, lime juice, mint and ginger in a blender. Fill 4 glasses with ice. Add juice and garnish with the lime wedges.
Tomato & Stone Fruit Salad with Sesame Maple Dressing
Serves 4 to 6
A mixture of summer’s best tomatoes, bright acidic stone fruit, and sweet maple syrup makes this salad so darn delicious and tangy. The dressing has a multitude of uses–try sopping it up with a crisp baguette. It’s also great on raw cucumbers or on grilled veggies like eggplant or zucchini.
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
For the salad:
1 basket cherry tomatoes
4 medium tomatoes
2 large heirloom tomatoes
3 yellow nectarines
3 small plums or pluots
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Opal or Thai basil leaves
Whisk all dressing ingredients in a small bowl to blend. (Can be made one day ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.)
Cut small tomatoes in half and large tomatoes and stone fruit into quarters. Arrange on a platter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When you’re ready to serve, drizzle dressing over the salad and sprinkle with sesame seeds and basil.
Grilled Zucchini with Chile Mint Vinaigrette
Serves 4 to 6
This recipe is equally delicious with whatever squash you have on hand. I like planting a variety. My favorites are the grey zucchini and Romanesco squash because they have an earthy flavor and creamier texture when cooked. Fresno peppers are easy to grow and more flavorful than jalapeños. They don’t need a lot of space to grow, just full sun and a terracotta pot and you’re in business.
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 green onion (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced
1 Fresno chile or ½ jalapeño, very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (from ½ lemon)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 zucchini or yellow squash
Flaky sea salt
½ cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Fresh mint leaves for garnish
Prepare the barbecue grill and heat it to medium-high. Whisk together olive oil, green onions, chile, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, mint, lemon zest, chopped mind, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
Cut the zucchini lengthwise into ¼-inch thick slices (keep some of the stem on so it looks pretty). Brush slices with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt. Grill the zucchini until lightly charred, turning occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes. Arrange the zucchini on a platter, drizzle with half of the vinaigrette, adding more to taste. Sprinkle with the tomatoes and mint leaves just before serving.