Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Basil Chicken Stir-Fry and More Feel-Good Recipes for July

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What does “feel-good food” mean? It depends on who you ask. That’s why, each month, our Feel-Good Food Plan—with nourishing recipes and a few wild cards—is hosted by someone new. For July, senior test kitchen editor Shilpa Uskokovic is cooking up a cruise-load of basil and discovering a less-smelly way to compost.

I bake a lot, both for work and outside of it. Over the last few months alone, I’ve made caramel cake, gluten-free banana bread, cornmeal cake studded with figs, somewhat controversial chocolate chip cookies minus the chocolate chips, lemon drizzle cake, and a five-tier wedding cake. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that at the end of a long day mucking about with lots of sugar, the only food I can fathom eating is something intensely savory, preferably with a vegetable or three.

It’s in response to this craving that I created July’s Feel Good Food Plan headliner: a lightning-fast Chicken and Basil Stir-Fry. Made with ground chicken, a few fridge-door staples, and a profuse amount of basil, it’s my ideal summer dinner—speedy, spicy, and maximizing the season’s ephemeral produce. Served with a scoop of my favorite rice, it brings me back to life, like a wilting tulip plunged into cold water. I hope it feels equally energizing for you.

Koda Farms Kokuho Rose Heirloom Japanese Style Rice

July’s Feel Good Recipes

I’m writing this in the grip of a heat wave, sweating inelegantly, with none of the Carrie Bradshaw–like poise I imagined for myself as I settled in at my desk. Such are the vagaries of summer. We’re besieged by the relentless overlords of heat and humidity but surrounded by some of the best produce of the year. Feeding yourself feels like a competitive sport between sweat and air-conditioning. Instead of giving in and ordering takeout, here are four low-lift recipes I’ve saved in my Epicurious app for the summer.

Speedy chicken stir-fry

The cooking technique I return to most, a stir-fry gets you fed fast. This one is inspired by Thai pad kra pao and features ground chicken sautéed with shallots, garlic, and a metric ton of basil. Basil is so much more than an errant leaf to scatter atop your tomato salad or smash into pesto. Cooking it like any other leafy green (which it is!) accentuates basil’s cool, tarragon-like top notes and sweet grassiness. Don’t be alarmed by the amount you add to the pan—much like spinach, after a few minutes of tossing, it will shrink dramatically, like a wool sweater in the dryer. You can also add halved cherry tomatoes or strips of whatever peppers look cute at the market (shishitos, Marconi Rosso, Gypsy, nibbler) along with the four-ingredient sauce.

Basil and ground chicken on white rice in a white bowl

This savory and spicy dinner takes less than 30 minutes to make.

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Make-ahead noodles

You need only a pot of boiling water for this substantial salad festooned with vegetables. The wasabi-sharp dressing tickles me out of my heat-induced torpor upon first bite. I’m not a smoked salmon person (too slippery) but hot-smoked salmon is a different beast, firm and meaty, with a whiff of smoke that brings to mind open fires. It’s also inordinately easy to incorporate into meals. In times of uncharacteristic forethought, I’ve made the other components ahead, stowing the oiled noodles, blanched green beans, sliced radishes, and dressing in separate storage containers, before laying them on my largest platter the next day. I usually have some dressing leftover; it’s very good dabbed over olive-oil-fried sourdough crowned with a thick tire of ripe tomato.

Salmon Noodle Salad on a stone background with utensils  to the side

This cold soba noodle salad features green beans, radishes, soft baby lettuces, and a zesty vinaigrette punctuated with karashi, or hot Japanese mustard.

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Cod and so much corn

It’s no longer impossible to find surprisingly tasty tomatoes and blueberries outside their season. But corn? Fat ears of sweet corn are happily still a summer exclusive. When I’m not simply gnawing buttered kernels off the cob, I make this braised cod and corn dinner. I use Arctic char instead of cod, at least double the amount of crushed red pepper flakes, and leave off the mint because I despise it (cilantro is a nice swap if you have it). Cooked only for a short time, the corn remains sweet and crisp.

Saucy Spiced Cod With Corn recipe

Cod and other whitefish shine brightest when nestled into a rich bed of aromatics and steamed to tender flakiness.

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The greenest grains

Every week, there is bound to be a wilting bundle of herbs guilting me from the back of the fridge. I offer them up to this brilliantly green buttermilk sauce, quickly made in the blender. I cook my grain of choice in the Instant Pot, which cuts the cooking time in half and doesn’t heat up my apartment the way a pot on the stove does. The yogurt goes in the blender with the buttermilk (or some days it’s just more yogurt thinned out with water) and I sometimes slip in a jalapeño or serrano for a prickle of heat. Rather than warm up the sauce, I simply spoon it over the just-cooked grains. If you, like me, are a fan of savory breakfasts, this makes for a lovely, invigorating one.

Grains in Herby Buttermilk recipe

This dressing will remind you of the freshest, greenest ranch you’ve ever tasted. 

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Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker, 8-Quart

More Feel Good Finds for the Month

A comforting book on corpses

One morning in May, I woke up wondering what happens to our bodies when we die and have no one to lay claim to us—no children, friends, or distant cousins. I dreaded searching for answers online on a subject so intimate, so I let it fester in the back of my head. Not two weeks later, carton of eggs in hand, I was browsing the sagging tables of free books by my farmers market when I chanced upon a paperback entitled, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory. The universe really does work in mysterious ways. In the book, author and mortician Caitlin Doughty explains the inner workings of a crematorium. I expected to cry but I certainly didn’t expect to laugh, as I often did reading this book, written with so much wit and alacrity. As someone who reads instruction manuals from front to back, learning how our bodies are removed from hospitals and homes, and burned if we choose to, has brought me a great deal of understanding and peace. If you’re more of a visual learner, Doughty has a staggeringly popular YouTube channel dedicated to the dead and dying.

A solution to my compost woes

My husband and I have been composting religiously for almost a decade. We’re lucky enough to have a sliver of balcony, where our compost bin (a restaurant-grade 22-quart Cambro) resides, and even luckier that we get to drop it off just across the street every Sunday. And yet: There are missed weeks because we have trips to take, or errands to run, or friends to meet at the same time as the small drop-off window. At best, we think ahead and throw our food waste in the regular trash that week. At worst, we’ve had to confront two weeks worth of compost stuffed into a plastic box, growing exponentially wetter and smellier. Winter is forgiving but summer is decidedly not, and if there’s one thing in the world you won’t soon forget, it’s the scent of an overflowing compost container. So I was only too glad to try out the Mill bin when the chance came up. Let’s establish right away that the Mill does not compost your food scraps. It simply dehydrates them on a regular cycle, so they stay odorless and take up less volume. The bin is strangely heavy, and I wasn’t smitten with the request to connect it with my Wi-Fi network, but it feels promising nonetheless. The lid clamps itself shut at night and incinerates the day’s shells and peels and pits. The next morning, I’m greeted with a coarse powder that looks like it belongs on a forest floor. At the end of a few cycles, I drop off the grounds at my regular compost site. All the benefits of composting with none of the fruit flies, smell, and slime? A massive win.

That’s all from me for the month! Be well and keep an eye out for next month’s plan on August 1: Deputy food editor Hana Asbrink will prove that summer is the best time to eat hot food. Until then, stay cool and eat all the stone fruit you can lay your hands on.

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