Whether you're at the beach or on a staycation, Labor Day weekend is one of the best times to cook. The tomatoes are sweet, the berries ripe, the grill well-seasoned, and you'll find plenty of friends ready to drink and eat away the last days of August.
Here are ten of our favorite summertime recipes, including dishes from hot new restaurants, old standbys, and top food trucks.
We're addicted to this twist on the caprese. Buffalo mozzarella is marinated in a bright, citrusy blend of herbs and chilies that's also used to dress the salad. You'll never go back to balsamic again.
These deceptively potent tiki cocktails are simple to make and even easier to drink. Garnish them with little umbrellas and fruit for a beachy look.
Sure, these patties are griddled instead of grilled, but you can always tweak the cooking style if you're set on live flames. Just don't miss the American cheese, pickles, and "special sauce."
One of the best gazpachos in Washington can be found aboard José Andrés’s food truck. The silky soup gets its kick from sherry vinegar and its richness from quality Spanish olive oil.
Tacos? Good. Fried chicken? Gooood. Combine the two and you have the ultimate crowd-pleaser. Fennel slaw and spicy buttermilk dressing make for tasty toppings.
Channel your inner college kid and prepare to get tipsy off of this booze-infused melon. The main difference between now and the frat party days: quality vodka such as Belvedere—this is from a Four Seasons restaurant, after all.
An oldie but a great-y. This vegetarian/vegan appetizer requires little effort, but scores big in the flavor department.
Consider chef Haidar Karoum's dish perfect party food: Marinated chicken thighs can feed a crowd without breaking the bank, and most of the components can be made ahead. More important, it's delicious.
Skip the beef and try these juicy, rich patties kicked up with garlic, fresh mint, and cilantro. Feta takes the place of cheddar, and a topping of spinach, fennel, and more herbs brightens the burger.
Farm stands are overflowing with blueberries and blackberries, so it's prime time to whip up this divine cobbler. Serve vanilla ice cream alongside for the perfect summer dessert.
It’s rare that I eat in a restaurant and e-mail the chef immediately after for a recipe, but that’s exactly what happened after feasting on the marinated buffalo mozzarella and local tomato salad at Duke’s Grocery.
You’ll find variations on this caprese-like salad throughout the city, all summer long. Too often they’re bland, made with lackluster tomatoes, stiff mozzarella, watery balsamic, or all of the above. Chef Alex McCoy’s version is the opposite. You’ll only see it on the daily changing chalkboard menu if sweet local tomatoes are available; McCoy gets his from Potomac Farm Market. The creamy mozzarella di bufala is top-quality, and burrata makes a nice substitute if you’re really feeling decadent.
What makes the dish, besides the essential ingredients, is the toasted fennel, spicy chili, and fresh herb vinaigrette. The mixture acts both as a marinade for the cheese and the salad dressing.
The result: a vibrant take on the summertime staple.
Marinated Mozzarella and Local Tomato Salad From Duke’s Grocery
Serves 4 to 5
1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds
½ cup coarsely chopped herbs, such as chives, cilantro, Italian parsley, spring onion, and/or oregano
1½ tablespoons chopped birds eye chili, Thai chili, or serrano chili
8 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
¾ cup really nice, fruity olive oil
Zest and juice of three lemons
Salt and pepper to taste
4 balls of burrata or mozzarella di buffalo (try to find mozzarella from Campania)
4 or 5 local tomatoes
Optional: chervil, to garnish
Set a dry pan on medium high heat. Add the whole fennel seeds, tossing them and constantly moving the pan while they toast. You’ll know they’re ready when you smell the wonderful anise fragrance the seeds start to release. Remove them from the pan, let cool, and then crush them coarsely with the bottom of a heavy pan or a bowl.
In a glass bowl, mix together the chopped herbs, fennel seeds, chili, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, garlic, salt, and pepper. Let sit for about 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, tear the cheese balls in half with your hands and toss them in the bowl with the herb vinaigrette. Let sit for another 20 to 30 minutes to absorb all of the delicious flavors and spices.
Slice your tomato. Don’t be modest. We want big, thick, juicy slices of tomato. Do this a few minutes before plating, so the tomato won’t dry out. Fan your tomatoes out on a plate or serving piece, and lightly season with salt and pepper.
Remove the cheese balls from the vinaigrette and lay them over your tomato, ripping the cheese apart a bit more as you spread it out.
Spoon some of the delicious herb vinaigrette over the cheese and tomato, making sure not to inundate the fruit with too much oil.
Garnish with chervil, a touch more salt and pepper (or more hot chili), and chow down!
Summer drinking weather is upon us, and we’re always looking for new recipes when it’s time to whip up a refreshing beverage. We asked Bar Charley cocktail master Nick Nazdin to share one of his favorite tiki cocktails: the Molokai Mule, which originated at the Kon-Tiki restaurant in Hawaii in the 1960s.
“It’s a much more citrus-heavy drink than most other tiki cocktails, which I really enjoy,” says Nazdin. “Most tiki drinks have people well on their way to the end of their night after one or two.”
The party-friendly formula is a tasty balance of fresh orange and lime juice, brandy, and plenty of rum. The only exotic ingredient you’ll see is orgeat, an almond-flavored syrup you can buy at specialty liquor stores such as Ace Beverage or online (Nazdin likes Fee Brothers). If you’d rather leave mixing to the experts, head to Bar Charley for Trader Nick’s Tiki Sundays, where you’ll find Nazdin concocting five different tiki cocktails.
Makes 1 drink
2 ounces orange juice
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce orgeat syrup
1 ounce brandy
1 ounce silver rum
1 ounce dark rum
A heavy dash of Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake, and strain over ice.
Memorial Day is a great time to get together with friends and family and enjoy the (finally) beautiful weather. It’s also a great time to try these recipes from local eateries for all kinds of holiday-friendly dishes and drinks, from indulgent burgers to refreshing milkshakes. We’ve also got tips for buying and grilling meats, if you prefer to invent your own masterpiece.
Mains and sides
Desserts and drinks
Washingtonians love their burgers. Our upcoming Cheap Eats issue, which hits stands this week, features the area’s very best in a roundup of the top 25 most delicious patties in town. We sampled three times as many, from burgers at casual chains to swanky restaurants.
The Américain at Le Diplomate bridges the gap between our favorite fast food and fine-dining versions. It tastes a little like le Big Mac with its two thin patties, “special” Thousand Island-esque sauce, pickles, and onions on a sesame-seed bun. What elevates it: quality Pat LaFrieda blend beef, fresh mayonnaise for the sauce, and house-baked brioche. Beyond that, chef Michael Abt* doesn’t get too fancy, keeping the cheese classic American. We could (and have) stopped in for this double-decker on a weekly basis.
If this juicy, messy-in-the-best-way burger has you craving more, pick up a copy of the Cheap Eats issue to find our other 24 favorites, or sign up for digital access.
Le Diplomate’s Burger Américain
2 pounds Pat LaFrieda special blend ground beef, or any blend of 80-percent lean to 20-percent fat
8 slices yellow Land O’Lakes American cheese
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
20 dill pickle chips, preferably B&G
⅓ cup special burger sauce (see recipe below)
4 brioche burger buns, ideally with sesame seeds, halved
5 teaspoons salted butter, at room temperature
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Form eight four-ounce burger patties, roughly the shape of a hockey puck. Heavily season the burgers with salt and pepper.
Heat a large, heavy-bottom cast iron pan over high heat. When the pan just starts to smoke, add the burger patties, working in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Sear one side of the patty for two minutes, flip, and “smash” it flat with an offset spatula and sear the other side. Add one slice of cheese to each burger, let it melt slightly, then remove the patty. Place the patties on top of each other while resting.
Spread the butter equally on the cut side of the buns. Toast lightly in the same pan as the burger.
Place the bottom bun on the plate. Place two patties on top of each other on the bun. Lay red onions on each burger, followed by pickle chips and 5 teaspoons of special sauce. Place the other half of the bun on top and serve.
For the special burger sauce
⅓ cup mayonnaise (see recipe below)
2 teaspoons dill pickles, chopped
2 teaspoons Heinz chili sauce
1 teaspoon onion powder
Combine all of the ingredients and set aside. The sauce can be stored, covered, in the fridge.
For the mayonnaise
4 egg yolks
4 teaspoons Champagne vinegar
4 teaspoons smooth Dijon mustard
1⅓ tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1⅓ tablespoons water
2½ cups canola oil
Combine all of the ingredients except the oil in a medium bowl. Pour the blended oil in a slow, steady stream into the egg mixture, while whisking vigorously. Continue until all of the oil has been emulsified into the yolk mixture. If the mayonnaise becomes too thick, thin with the water. Set aside.
*This post has been updated from a previous version.
We wouldn’t recommend attempting the all-pork taco at home, but a fried-chicken taco? We can handle that. Boston-based chef/restaurateur Michael Schlow of the upcoming Tico on 14th Street shares his recipe prior to the Latin-influenced American eatery’s June opening.
“The inspiration came from a late-night craving,” says Schlow. “I came home hungry from work and saw tortillas and leftover pieces of fried chicken in the rather barren fridge. I also had a bulb of fennel, a red onion, a jalapeño, and some buttermilk. Ten minutes later: fried chicken tacos with fennel, red onion, and jalapeño slaw and spicy buttermilk dressing!”
As you can imagine, these crispy bird tacos taste even better made fresh. The various components take a little work but can be done ahead for a party, minus the actual frying. Don’t feel like cooking? Schlow joins other guest chefs at Graffiato’s May industry night on Monday, May 5, and will serve the fried-chicken tacos alongside shrimp ceviche for a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
Fried Chicken Tacos With Fennel Slaw and Spicy Buttermilk
Makes 4 tacos
For the chicken:
½ pound (approximately) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup buttermilk
1 pinch cayenne
1 pinch salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 cup flour
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup finely ground panko bread crumbs
Special equipment: A heavy pot, canola oil, and a thermometer for frying
Cut the chicken into thin strips.
Combine buttermilk, cayenne, salt, pepper in a bowl, place chicken in the mixture, and soak for 2 to 12 hours, depending on how much time you have. The longer it soaks, the more tender and flavorful it will be.
When you’re ready to fry, set a heavy pot on the stove and heat oil until a thermometer registers 375 degrees.
Combine flour, cornstarch, and panko in another bowl.
Remove chicken from buttermilk and place in flour mix; coat evenly.
Place chicken strips in fryer and cook until golden brown, about 5 to 6 minutes.
For the fennel slaw:
½ head of fresh fennel, thinly sliced
½ red or green jalapeño, thinly sliced
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup thinly sliced carrot
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and marinate for 1 to 2 hours in the refrigerator.
For the buttermilk dressing:
½ cup buttermilk
¼ cup sour cream
Large pinch of cayenne or dried chile de arbol powder
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth.
To assemble the tacos:
4 six-inch corn tortillas
Cilantro and lime wedges to garnish
Char tortillas lightly on an open grill or griddle over high heat.
Cut the crispy fried chicken into small pieces and divide evenly on the tortillas.
Top with the fennel slaw, and spoon the buttermilk dressing on top.
Garnish with cilantro leaves and lime wedges (optional).
Move over, chocolate bunnies: We have a new favorite springtime treat. Cork chef Kristin Hutter debuted “drunken Peeps” last year, a house-made version of the classic marshmallow bird spiked with liqueur. Needless to say, the small dose of booze made these little chicks even more irresistible. We asked her for the current recipe, which adds limoncello to the mix.
Don’t be too intimidated by making homemade marshmallow—you just have to have a little patience for stickiness (and a candy thermometer). If playing mother hen to a gaggle of liquored-up Peeps sounds too difficult, Cork Market plans to sell the lemony confections and a Chambord-raspberry version through the weekend.
Drunken Peeps With Limoncello
Makes 20 Peeps
5 teaspoons powdered gelatin (usually 2 envelopes)
¼ cup limoncello
¼ cup water
5 ounces light corn syrup
1½ cups sugar
1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
Colored sugar to coat each Peep
A stand or hand mixer
4 to 5 ounces cornstarch
4 to 5 ounces powdered sugar
Dark frosting for making the Peeps’ eyes
Make the marshmallow:
Add gelatin and limoncello to a standing mixer, or if using a hand mixer, a large bowl. Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir to blend.
In small pot, add the water, corn syrup, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until a thermometer registers 240 degrees.
Slowly pour the sugar mixture into the standing mixer or bowl with the gelatin. Whip with the whisk attachment on medium/high until the mixture is thick and stiff peaks form. Cool to room temperature.
Shape the Peeps (two methods)
Add the marshmallow mixture to a pastry bag fitted with large round tip.
Pipe peep figure onto lightly greased aluminum foil. Sprinkle immediately with your choice of colored sugar and let dry, about 2 to 3 hours. Dot each with frosting eyes if desired.
Pour marshmallow from mixer onto a half-sheet cookie tray that’s dusted with a mixture of half cornstarch and half powdered sugar.
Smooth the marshmallow with a spatula and dust the top with same cornstarch/powdered sugar mixture. Allow to rest 10 to 12 hours, covered at room temperature.
Cut into desired shapes. Dip them quickly in water or wipe them with a damp cloth in water, then dust them with colored sugar.
We at the Best Bites Blog like our glasses half full, especially if they’re half full of a gingery winter Pimm’s cup. (Okay, we’d be happier with a summer Pimm’s cup, but we’ll take what we can get.) If there’s one upside to snow in late March, it’s the opportunity to hunker down at home and whip up your favorite cold-weather dishes and drinks one more time. We’ve compiled a collection of our eight of our favorites from the (never-ending) season, plus a few staples.
We love barkeep Adam Bernbach’s subterranean 14th Street cocktail den. The space is cozy on a snowy day, but we like the idea of mixing up this gingery riff on the classic Pimm’s cup at home even better.
Recipes don’t often cause a scene, but as soon as we posted one for this decadent breakfast sandwich, the phone lines at Seasonal Pantry were clogged with requests. (O’Brien was even nice enough to serve it as a one-day special.) Cut down the marinade time to fry up the spicy chicken tonight.
It’s tough to pick a favorite from G’s menu, but this hearty lamb chili has been our go-to order on cold days. This isn’t your average stew, with plenty of chilies, bacon, and beer in the braise and a topping of harissa yogurt and Sriracha chickpeas.
What chefs feed their staff for family meal says a lot about how the restaurant operates, so we weren’t surprised that the Source’s team runs on delicious dishes such as Scott Drewno’s Thai curry. You don’t need a master’s degree in Asian cookery for this simple comfort dish.
“Thanksgivukkah” is long past, but we still love frying up chef Barry Koslow’s crispy sweet potato latkes. The sweet-tart fruit topping is guaranteed to brighten up a snowy day.
No roundup of winter comfort foods would be complete without Vidalia’s macaroni and cheese. But be warned: The perfectly creamy dish inspires frequent cravings.
Each of chef Jeff Black’s eight restaurants offers this dish, so you know it has to be good. If you’re feeling bogged down from rich winter meals, these garlicky mussels are a wonderful comfort-food compromise.
8) Chocolate chip cookies from Tom Wellings
Wellings has changed jobs since we requested this recipe years ago; he currently makes craveable desserts for Fabio Trabocchi’s restaurants, including the new Fiola Mare. Luckily we can still whip up these chewy rounds, dusted with a little sea salt for kick.
There are breakfast sandwiches, and then there are breakfast sandwiches you crave at all hours. Seasonal Pantry chef Dan O’Brien’s riff on Tennessee hot chicken is one of those. The crispy bird gets double heat from a Sriracha-buttermilk brine and a spiced coating, and it’s piled onto brioche with caramelized onions, cheese, sweet pickles, and a runny egg.
Hot Hot Chicken Breakfast Loaf
1. Marinate the chicken:
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 skin-on boneless chicken thighs
In a large bowl, mix the buttermilk, vinegar, peppers, garlic, Sriracha, and salt. Toss the chicken in the marinade and refrigerate 8 to 12 hours.
2. Fry the chicken:
4 cups rendered pork fat or vegetable oil
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
3 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
In a cast-iron pan, heat the oil or fat to between 375 and 400 degrees. Meanwhile, mix the flour, salt, black pepper, cayenne, and chili powder in a bowl. Remove the chicken from the marinade and dredge each piece in the flour mixture until well coated. When the oil is hot, place the chicken thighs in the pan and submerge them in the oil. Cook 18 minutes until golden brown. (If the chicken looks like it’s darkening quickly, lower the heat.)
3. Caramelize the onions:
8 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup maple syrup
Melt the butter in a sauté pan over low heat. Raise the heat to medium and sauté the onions 15 to 20 minutes, stirring continuously, until they begin to color. Add the salt and cook until the onions are golden brown, 8 to 15 minutes more. Remove from the heat and stir in the maple syrup.
4. Assemble the loaf:
4-6 ounces blue cheese
¼ cup mayonnaise or crème fraîche
8 tablespoons butter, softened
1 loaf brioche, cut in half crosswise
8 sweet pickle chips (O’Brien likes Gordy’s)
Whip the cheese with the mayonnaise or crème fraîche until smooth. Butter the cut sides of the brioche loaf, then broil in the oven until golden brown. Take the upper half of the loaf and spread its underside with the cheese mixture. Set aside. Arrange the onion on the toasted surface of the bottom half of the loaf. Top with the chicken, then the pickles. Cook the eggs until they’re sunny side up and slide one onto each piece of chicken. Top with the other half of the loaf, slice into four pieces, and serve immediately.
This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
The tail end of winter is tough for cooking. Lingering cold demands comfort food, but we’re feeling bogged down after all those bowls of chili and mac and cheese. A perfect compromise: this spicy fish curry from Rasika toque Vikram Sunderam. The robust flavors prove filling, but fresh fish makes for a lighter meal. The reader who requested the recipe referred to it as “transcendent.”
“The curry, oh goodness, the curry,” writes the reader after sampling it as a Restaurant Week special. “I wanted to drink it, I wanted to bathe in it, I wanted to be it. Such amazing depth and strength—the bright acid of tomatoes, a hint of chili and cumin—while managing to not overwhelm the fish. . . . If you could see about getting a recipe, I would be forever in your debt.”
Hard to argue with that! Note that you’ll need fresh or previously frozen curry leaves for the recipe, which can be found at Indian grocery stores, such as Ginger & Spice Market in Alexandria.
Kerala Fish Curry
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup chopped Spanish onion
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1 cup water
1½ cups chopped plum tomatoes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 sprig fresh curry leaves, available at Indian groceries
30 ounces coconut milk
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
4 skinless filets of grouper or halibut, about two pounds
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Cut the grouper filets into smaller pieces (about 2 ounces each) and set aside.
Set a small pan over medium heat and dry-roast the spices for about 2 to 3 minutes, until aromatic. Grind the toasted spices in a coffee grinder. (Powdered spices may be substituted, but don’t roast them.)
Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and sauté until golden brown.
Blend the ginger and garlic with the cup of water, and add the paste to the onions. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat, until the raw flavor is gone.
Add the chopped tomatoes along with the turmeric powder and cook until the tomatoes are softened, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the curry leaves along with the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Lower the curry to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the roasted or powdered spices, and then the fish. Cook until the fish is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
Season with salt and garnish with cilantro.
Serve with steamed basmati rice.