After three long months of quarantine and COVID-19 restrictions, many Americans have grown tired of being at home—and cooking at home. However, you don’t have to channel your inner Emeril Lagasse every time you want a delicious, healthy meal. With these fun summer dinners that take less than 30 minutes, you also don’t have to give up your evening just to prepare a meal. So avoid the pizza delivery man or the Chinese food and put your culinary skills to the test. You might just find that you love playing chef.
Light, refreshing, and healthy is the ultimate trifecta of adjectives when you’re crafting a fun summer dinner. And that’s just what you’ll get with a caprese salad. With basic ingredients and no cooking involved, you can probably have this ready to eat in just 15 minutes. All you’ll need is mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, tomatoes, pepper, and olive oil.
The easiest way to make a caprese salad is by slicing mozzarella an inch thick. Remember, that’s the real mozzarella, not the slices you find near the Kraft singles. Next, slice tomatoes into thinner slices and layer them over the mozzarella. Then, take basil leaves (sliced or whole) and place them over the top. Drizzle with olive oil and a dash of cracked pepper, and voila! You’re done.
Leftover Fried Rice
If you’re like most people, you probably have odds and ends of several ingredients and take-out leftovers in your refrigerator. Chances are that these small quantities have little use for most recipes. Well, now you can use up all your leftovers by making Chinese-style fried rice, a.k.a the “Day Before Payday” fried rice. Leftover vegetables and meats are ideal for this dish, and all you need to do is grab some rice, soy sauce, and oil of your choice.
Eggs are always a welcomed addition to fried rice, so start by scrambling eggs and moving them to the side (off the burner). Next, heat up some oil—preferably vegetable or sesame—throw your rice in, and mix until it’s coated. Add the other ingredients, such as chicken, bacon, peppers, or whatever you have that’s been frantically trying to leave the icebox. Let steam for five minutes covered. Sprinkle in some soy sauce and toss the eggs back in, and you have a treat from the Far East, or perhaps the far reaches of your refrigerator.
You may say that fruit salad isn’t dinner. That it’s a snack or a lunch item. But once you have a refreshing fruit salad whilst perched on your deck or patio, you’ll realize that it passes all the tests of a fun summer dinner idea. Perhaps the best part is that you can choose all your favorite fruits to come up with something original and flavorful. Berries and melons are at the focal point of many North American fruit salads, typically because they’re in-season in summer and readily available.
But if you want to take your fruit salad to the next level, think tropical. The addition of dragonfruit, mangoes, lychees, starfruit, or coconut will have you dreaming of island-living—even if COVID-19 says otherwise. Add a drizzle of honey and some nuts (almonds or pecans) to add that extra little something.
Anything in a Crockpot
Are you a self-proclaimed terrible cook? Or does the thought of cooking a meal make you loathe your day? If so, the crockpot is your best friend. Just throw a bunch of ingredients in the pot around noon, press the start button, and you’re done by dinner time. Literally anyone can pull this off, and the flavorful, fun summer dinners that come as a result will have others thinking you’re Wolfgang Puck. Okay, so this technically takes a few hours, but your prep time might be 15 minutes.
The best news about crockpot cooking is that there’s a seemingly endless amount of recipes. Got a barbecue craving? Go for this crockpot pulled pork. Want some Italian-style protein? Throw in some chicken breasts, vegetables, and Italian dressing. Meatballs? Just roll ’em up, season those bad boys, put a sauce in, and presto. You’re pretty much in Tuscany. Plus, you can fool around with your own ingenious (or lack thereof) ideas. The world’s your oyster. Side note:Oyster stew is a crockpot staple. But just make sure that you’re comfortable sweating into your soup on a hot summer’s day.
This summer, you don’t have to wait until Tuesday to get your taco craving under control. All you need is a basic concept of Mexican cuisine (this can mean as little as taco meat seasoning or as much as chopped cilantro and fresh oregano) and your favorite veggies, meats, and cheese. Ideal for picky eaters or the adventurous diner, you can whip up tacos with whatever ingredients you find fit. Again, this is a great leftover idea as well to save time and clean out the foods nearing the dreaded expiration date.
Traditional tacos are made with soft tortillas—either corn or flour. But hard-shell tacos are also ideal for a bit of texture. The best way to start your homemade Taco Tuesday (or Wednesday or Sunday) is by prepping your ingredients. Cook your rice, shred your lettuce, dice your tomatoes, and grate your cheese. Throw them in the fridge. By doing so, your toppings are ready by the time you cook your meat. In American tacos, ground beef is king, but you can also try grilled chicken or sauteed vegetables for the vegan or vegetarian crowd. (Meats such as al pastor and barbacoa take three or more hours of prep work.) To finish your creation, put a small amount of oil in a pan and fry each side of your tortilla for 10 to 30 seconds. After that, you just might need a margarita and siesta for your efforts.
A staple of backyard barbecues and family get-togethers, pasta salad has often been relegated to a side dish. But once you whip up a pasta salad with some of your favorite ingredients, you’ll agree that a hefty bowl hits your hunger pangs like a Mike Tyson knockout punch.
Start by choosing your favorite pasta. (If you have kids, letting them choose bow-ties or spirals or even dinosaur-shaped pasta can make a world of difference when getting them to actually eat dinner.) Then, decide what sauce or dressing you want. Popular choices include pesto, Italian dressing, or mayonnaise (just make sure to take it easy on the mayo). From there, toss in veggies such as sun-dried tomatoes, cucumbers, or whatever requires little or no cooking. Add a bit of salt and pepper and some olive oil, throw in the cooked pasta, and you’re ready to eat a fun summer dinner in about 20 minutes. Just in case you’re wondering, you’ll find an endless sea of pasta salad recipes here if you’re sheepish about prepping your own.
Unlike other meats, salmon usually takes only 12 to 15 minutes to cook. Plus, it’s light, and the flaky texture doesn’t make you feel like you need to undo your belt after eating. Plus, you can take this versatile fish in many directions depending on your tastes and mood.
Pour on a bit honey or mix the honey with bourbon for a delicious glaze. Or you can mix lemon juice and garlic for something zesty and savory. And maybe add a tablespoon of brown sugar for that little extra touch. Put this salmon together with one of the above side salads, and you’re in for a tasty summer treat.
Why is it that everything tastes better out of a bowl? Oddly enough, there’s actually some reasoning behind this. But let’s turn to a quinoa bowl and why they belong on your dinner table. Packed with vitamins and nutrients, quinoa is perhaps the superhero of the superfoods, offering a base for your meal without empty calories.
Like many other fun summer ideas, quinoa bowls are as versatile as they come. Load it up with your favorite protein and veggies, top with a sauce, and you’re in for a delicious, fun summer meal. In addition, you can make a quinoa bowl with a Southwestern theme with some black beans and hot sauce. Or maybe create a Thai theme with shredded carrots and peanut sauce. Regardless of what you choose, you won’t be disappointed.
Some might say smashed avocado is breakfast food. Others might say it’s overpriced hipster cuisine. But when you make it at home the way you like it, it’s surprisingly affordable and garners definite consideration as one of the best fun summer dinners. So open up your avocado, throw it in a bowl, and get to mashin’. Add salt, pepper, and a bit of lime or lemon. Throw that concoction on toast, add some diced tomatoes and onions, and you have yourself a delicious vegetarian treat. In addition, you can add some bacon or grilled chicken if you have a carnivorous craving.
Cooking your own fun summer dinners doesn’t have to be a hassle. In the time it takes to watch an episode of “Wheel of Fortune,” you can have a meal ready for the entire family. Plus, the culinary knowledge you’ll gain will enable you to work your way toward the master chef of the household. Just make sure to go easy on the salt.
Do you have any fun summer dinners that you can whip up in less than 30 minutes? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to share your recipe ideas. We’d love to hear from you!
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