The weather here is amazing this summer – sunny days in the 70’s and 80’s with a cool ocean touched breeze to add a hint of humidity to the air. It’s perfect. We have a nice back porch with lot of trees shading the patio and we finally moved a table outside so we can enjoy dining alfresco.
There is something restorative about eating outdoors. The sound of the breeze in the trees and the chirping of the birds have a relaxing effect. Maybe the sounds and smells we experience while dining outdoors stir an innate memory of our earthly roots and our human requirements for oxygen, regular meals, and sunlight. The fresh air stimulates our senses and enhances the flavors of our food.
The sound of clinking dishes in the neighborhood around mealtimes brings me back to the 4 previous summers in our Paris apartment. We lived on the 10th floor and our kitchen overlooked the courtyard-garden of our building. The apartments on the north side of the building had balconies that overlooked the garden, and when the weather was nice, there was this same sound of clinking dishes coming from the balconies outside our kitchen window.
I spent many lingering lunch and dinner moments at our kitchen table, staring out at the balconies, trying my best to identify what different families were eating for dinner. It became a subtle skill for me to glance out while preparing my son’s lunch, or while grabbing something from the ‘frigo’ (the French word for ‘fridge’). These sounds bring me back to those moments, those glances full of warm weather dishes… grain salads, tomato salads, simple evening meals of radishes with butter or cheese, a green salad, and a baguette, lentil salads in vinaigrette dressings. I became obsessed with what I would see on the balconies each night. Never did these weeknight meals last long, and they were always simple.
The other side of our Paris apartment had a long balcony that overlooked the street and more apartments and more balconies. There were so many people dining on balconies or by windows in the summer… city dwellers longing to be outdoors!
After 4 years of meal peeping from my kitchen window, I concluded that the French have summer patio dining down. No one wants to spend hours in a hot kitchen slaving over a stove, and eating a grand meal on a hot summer evening is never comfortable. The food must match the weather.
I’m embracing this weather and the chance to prepare simple meals for patio dining. Coinciding with this wonderful patio-dining weather, our neighborhood Farmer’s market started up again for the summer. Inspired by the farmer’s market to create fresh and simple outdoor meals, our patio dining has begun with enthusiasm. We began with a grill basket of shrimp and veggies, the following night we had smoked salmon, stir friend radish and turnip greens, and bread and cheese. Recently we had a lentil stir fry, which was perfect on the patio. I leave you with the recipe!
More patio dining meals will follow, so stay tuned!
Lentil Stir Fry:
- Lentils (I used French green lentils for their meatiness)
- Leafy green vegetable (I used Lamb’s quarters)
- 3 Carrots
- 1 medium onion (diced)
- 2 cloves of garlic (diced)
- 1 Leek (optional, sliced into half rounds)
- Yellow bell pepper (any color will do well)
- Tomato – 1 large sliced or halved cherry tomatoes
- Olive oil
- Juice of half a lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Any additional vegetables are great (e.g., celery, left over broccoli, etc)
- Prepare the dressing ahead of time:
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Juice of half a lemon (or a vinegar like 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Bring the lentils to a boil in 3 times their volume of salted water (e.g., 1 cup lentils to 3 cups salted water).
- Once the lentils are boiling, turn to a simmer for about 20 minutes.
- Wash and chop the remaining vegetables.
- After the 20 minutes, check the lentils to see if they are done. They should be firm but done, not too chewy. If they are still too firm for your liking, continue to simmer and check the lentils every 3-5 minutes for doneness. You do not want to over cook the lentils or they will be too mushy.
- Once finished, drain the lentils and set aside.
- Warm a pan on medium head and add about 2 tbsp of olive oil. Once hot, add the onions (and leeks if using) and stir. Cook until for about 2 minutes before adding the carrots.
- Add the chopped carrots to the pan and mix, coating with olive oil. Cook for about 3-5 minutes.
- Add the chopped bell pepper, stir and cook for 1 minute before adding garlic.
- Add the chopped garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.
- If using a thicker green vegetable like kale or collard greens, you may want to add it to the pan now. Stir it and mix with the rest of the vegetables in the pan. If using swiss chard, add the chopped stalks at this point and reserve the leaves for later.
- Add in the lentils and stir into the rest of the vegetables in the pan.
- Once the lentils are warmed, add the leafy green vegetables and stir as they wilt.
- When the greens are just wilted, turn off the heat and pour a small amount of the dressing onto the lentils (to your taste).
- Prepare a salad with the lettuce and tomatoes and arrange on the plate. If you like, you can also dress the salad with the dressing used above.
- Spoon the sauteed lentil mixture onto the lettuce and serve.