Summertime is the prime season for eating outdoors, cooking with minimal effort (thanks to beautiful, seasonal produce), and all-around vibrant fare. Because summer gives and gives—both in abundance as well as the range of fresh produce—let the foods work their easy magic and focus on toppings to make a memorable dish. Choose from a spectrum of dynamic topping ideas below to make every dish delectable and fun.
Crunchy & salty
Everything’s better with a little extra salty zing and a crispy element to sink your teeth into.
Reliably salty, capers become even greater when pan-fried. After just a few minutes in a hot pan, they puff up and turn crispy. From pasta salads, to grilled fish, to eggs—you name it—fried capers are an excellent addition to so many things.
Deviled eggs are perfect for the “three Ps”: pools, parties, and picnics. Deviled eggs, topped with crackly bacon, are a whole new level of delicious. Make a double (or triple!) batch—these will disappear in no time.
Roasted nuts deliver a crunch to many dishes. This version of Turkish Çilbir gets offset by walnuts, a great foil to the creamy layers of eggs and yogurt.
Herby & aromatic
I will forever extol the virtues of a shower of herbs. They add brightness and herbal freshness, and that is a good thing.
Peppery oregano, cooling mint, and universally beloved parsley adorn this juicy salad, uniting both rich and bright elements into an all-around perfect summer dish.
Pea tendrils and aromatic basil add lightness to richer pasta and prosciutto. Mix and match the savory and herbal elements for endless riffs on this tasty theme.
Cilantro and parsley top juicy cod tacos, bringing fresh notes to their already complex flavor.
Pickled & brined
Punchy, vinegar-y, and oh-so delicious
When combined with chiles, soy sauce, and a touch of maple syrup, the floral herb shiso is transformed into a punchy condiment. Preserved in its pickling liquid, the mixture lasts for months, but it’s not likely to last that long.
Pickling fruit not only preserves summertime market bounty, it also produces that pleasing sweet-sour flavor we crave. Once you try your hand at pickling peaches, try cherries, watermelon rinds, and tomatoes, and pair them with rich cheeses and grilled meats.
It’s no surprise pickled jalapeños make good friends with fattier foods (cheesy nachos topped with these is a match made in heaven). Here, marinated steak gets crowned with a mixture of pickled onions and jalapeños, offsetting the richness in just the right way.
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Savory & sweet
Bringing two opposing profiles together to create a new, punchy, earthy and a little saccharine finish to anything.
Mushrooms faithfully bring ‘savory’ to many dishes. Piled atop cheese-slathered toast, then drizzled with miso-infused honey, an interplay of savory-sweet layers emerges that is surprisingly amazing.
Fresh corn, tomatoes, and squash don’t need anything to spotlight their glory. But tossing in chopped onions, roasted until sweet, makes these summer favorites even more dynamic.
Chili crisp is an easy way to add oomph to foods, whether you opt for a ready-made jar at the store or make it yourself. Spooned atop silky avocado and a luscious fried egg, as in this mix-and-match bagel bar, it is sheer bliss.
Sauces & spreads
Sometimes herby, sometimes creamy, and always dreamy, a saucy element is the perfect light finish to virtually any dish.
Utilize the bounty of summer and blitz up a spinach, arugula, or traditional basil pesto for an easy throw-together meal. Transfer any leftovers to a jar and use it to dip raw veggies or boiled potatoes (or even chips, if I’m being honest).
Bagna Cauda is a simple sauce consisting of garlic, anchovies, and olive oil. The concentrated flavor is best paired with fresh, crunchy elements, such as a crudité platter.
Yogurt is a great cooling element for hot summer days. Spice-infused yogurt transforms a dish into something unique and special.