While the solstice precedes the Fourth of July by a few weeks or so, the Fourth always feels like both the beginning of summer and its peak. It’s the time we are ready to finally let the relaxed spirit of the warmer months subsume our collective psyche, and yet when it arrives, all we do is say, “I can’t believe it’s already the Fourth of July.”
It’s hot and sticky outside, which means it’s almost definitely too hot and sticky to cook inside. But what should we be doing over the extended holiday weekend other than eating and drinking as much as possible? (I call this weekend “Summer Thanksgiving,” and am hoping that catches on.)
So, we grill. We grill hamburgers and hot dogs and a few more hot dogs, which will inevitably be forgotten and get extra charred (my favorites). I truly love hot dogs, but let me remind you that there are at least two days in a classic weekend, three to four if we are talking long weekend. What else are we going to have?
I vote more grilled meat, but this time on a stick. Lamb, beef, pork or chicken, seasoned simply with salt and pepper or maybe some crushed spices like fennel or cumin, a few bite-size hunks pierced with a skewer and grilled over hot flames (coal or gas) — or even cooked indoors in a large skillet.
This flexible, rather formulaic way of cooking lends itself well to very lazy, casual preparation, especially for large groups. The meat can be seasoned and skewered a day or two ahead and grilled as you (or your hungry friends) need — not unlike those hot dogs.
From there, you just need a few cold, saucy, tangy, salady things to eat alongside that will cut through all those charred, fatty meats. (Like I said, I will not be cooking anything in the kitchen, but cutting, slicing, mixing and seasoning I can manage.) I like a mix of homemade things, like lemony, barely pickled red onion, and store-bought treasures, like chopped olives and lots of pickles, along with some sort of malleable flatbread and heavily seasoned yogurt or sour cream. There will be bunches of herbs (dill, mint, cilantro) to be nibbled on with the skewers after they’re dipped in the yogurt and topped with those onions. Or you could layer everything in the flatbread and fold it up for a sandwichesque experience.
It’s the type of eating that can be done all day and into the night, when you couldn’t possibly eat another thing — until you discover a forgotten skewer on the back of the grill, charred and blackened, and decide there’s nothing else to do but eat it.