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3 of our favorite Southern summer recipes

Watermelon feta salad

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3 of our favorite Southern summer recipes

Having access to amazing tomatoes, peaches, berries, squashes, peppers, beans and melons makes summertime cooking so easy and enjoyable. Just a few minor pantry staples and some fresh herbs can create a variety of tasty dishes while allowing the produce to be the star -- even a simple grilled piece of meat or fish can turn these dishes in this roundup into a delicious and complete meal.

Though the weather may have felt like summer for the past few weeks in the South, the arrival of the season's proper first day means that beautiful produce should be in full production. Don’t wait to make these three summer-centric dishes at home this season.
 
Tomato-Field Pea Salad with Garlic Mayonnaise        
Have you ever tried to buy a fresh tomato in January, only to bite into it and discover its mealy texture and lack of flavor? I like to hold out on buying fresh tomatoes until summertime, at which point I try to work tomatoes into nearly every meal. If you can get your hands on heirloom tomatoes -- single varieties of tomatoes that have not been crossbred with other strains -- their flavor will blow you away. Combining tomatoes and basil with mayonnaise not only reminds me of my favorite sandwich (the aforementioned ingredients on white bread), but the fat from the mayonnaise allows the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes to shine through. Since tomatoes are naturally acidic, I resist the common urge to add any vinegar to my tomato salads. The meatiness from the field peas provides a nice, hearty contrast to the bright tomatoes.
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Watermelon with Mint, Lime, and Feta      
At the risk of being hyperbolic, I feel like this may be a perfect salad. If you can find a Valbreso or other creamy sheep’s milk feta, it will integrate better with the watermelon by almost clinging to it, making its presence felt in every bite. In case you can only find a firm, crumbly feta, I would recommend adding a little extra virgin olive oil as you toss the ingredients together. The freshness of the mint and the lime juice (in addition to the salty cheese) bring out the sweetness of the watermelon, letting it remain the star of the show. To make this salad a more complete meal, pair alongside some grilled shrimp or hot and spicy fried chicken.
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Peach and Blueberry Cobbler    
If any two fruits have a greater affinity for one another than peaches and blueberries, I haven’t found them yet. My wife even offered me a slice of her homemade peach and blueberry pie on our first date, and we’ve been together ever since. Combining both fruits in a cobbler is a quick and easy way to marry such iconic summer flavors. The quick dough for the crust results in a sweet, biscuit-like topping that soaks up all of the sweet juices given off by the fruit. For a slightly richer, fluffier crust, I would substitute heavy cream for the milk. As appealing as it may sound to tear into a cobbler hot out of the oven, I might recommend letting it cool for an hour or so before eating. The fruit will thicken slightly, making it an even better vehicle for a scoop of vanilla or butter pecan ice cream.
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Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”

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