I don’t have one of those glamorous outdoor kitchens that are the rage in the South, but I do have two grills and an herb garden. Plus, my husband has six plants producing big, fat, juicy red tomatoes.

Frankly, I prefer an air-conditioned kitchen (sour grapes?), so frequent trips to the backyard to harvest our mini crops and heat up the grill are no problem. It’s the best time of the year for eating, as far as I’m concerned.

Last year, one of our basil plants grew three feet high. The first winter freeze killed it, and I felt the pain. Sweet basil is dear to my heart, especially on pasta or Creole tomatoes. Cilantro runs a close second, which I love on fish tacos from the grill.

Summer cooking makes it easy to eat healthy. More grilling and less frying; fresh vegetables and fruit; fewer dishes with gravy and roux. We have berries now, peaches later and watermelon all summer long. Put them together, add mint and you can call it salad or dessert.

Corn on the cob cooks in minutes if you place it over coals or flames and turn it frequently until a few kernels begin to blacken. Place it on a platter, salt and glaze it with a little butter.     

Besides steaks and hamburgers, other meats and seafood that cook well and quickly on the grill, be it charcoal or gas, are pork tenderloins, lamb chops and shrimp on a skewer. Wrap those shrimp in bacon, and you’ve got a winner. All you need to grill most meats is a sprinkling of salt and pepper, or Creole seasoning, a moderate fire and a sauce for brushing. The sauce might include Worcestershire, oregano and vinegar for pork; olive oil and rosemary for lamb, and butter and lemon for shrimp. You won’t need to brush the shrimp if wrapped in bacon. Elaborate sauces are unnecessary, as a brush-on sauce is needed mostly to keep the meat or seafood moist and from sticking.

I don’t think I need an outdoor kitchen anyway. One kitchen is enough to clean up.


Grilled Fish Tacos

Black bean salsa
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
2 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup onions, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Juice of ½ lime

10 to 12 8-inch corn or flour soft tortillas or both
Vegetable oil for brushing
1 pound firm, white fish fillets such as drum, snapper or mahi mahi
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Sour cream
2 cups shredded cabbage
Drizzle of vinegar

To make salsa, place drained beans in a medium bowl. Add all other ingredients. Best made an hour or so ahead of time and left at room temperature. It can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Heat gas or charcoal grill, with rack 3 to 4 inches above coals or flames.
Brush taco shells lightly with oil on both sides and set aside.

Salt and pepper both sides of fish and brush with extra-virgin olive oil.

When grill is ready, place whole fillets on rack and cook for 1 to 2 minutes per side, depending on thickness of fish. Squeeze lemon juice over fish as it cooks. Use a spatula to make sure fish is not sticking. Grill just until cooked-through and flaky.  Place tortillas on the grill and lightly toast on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Wrap in a kitchen towel to keep warm.

To serve, cut fish into pieces and place in taco shells. Dress with salsa, cabbage and sour cream.

Serves 4 to 6.



Pesto Pasta

2 cups, packed, fresh sweet basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound angel hair or other pasta

Place basil and nuts in a food processor and pulse until chopped. Add garlic and pulse once or twice. Slowly add olive oil while blending, and scrape sides with a rubber spatula. Add cheese, salt and pepper and blend until roughly smooth. If too dry, add a little more olive oil. Serve at room temperature over hot pasta, or refrigerate up to a few days. Do not heat pesto.

Boil pasta until al dente and drain. While hot, toss with room-temperature pesto. Serve with extra Parmesan, if desired.

Serves 4.


Summery Fruit Salad

1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh strawberries
1 cup watermelon cubes
½ loosely packed cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon poppy seed salad dressing or more, if desired

Rinse berries and pat dry. Halve the strawberries and cut watermelon into bite-size pieces. Place blueberries, strawberries and watermelon in a large bowl, add mint and toss with poppy seed dressing. 

Serves 4.


Grilled Summer Vegetables

1 pound asparagus
1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into ½-inch sticks 4 inches long
2 zucchini, cut into ½-inch sticks, 4 inches long
1 red bell pepper, cut into half-inch strips
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toss prepared vegetables with oil, salt and pepper, transfer to a grilling basket.
Heat gas or charcoal grill. Just before ready to serve, place basket of vegetables on grill 3 to 4 inches above heat source. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes or until fork tender and some of the vegetables are browning. Asparagus is best crisp.

Serves 6.