Perfect Summer Pesto: A Lazy Al Fresco Lunch

IMG_2913People may wax lyrical about spring and its blossoms and fall or its ripe beauty, but for me, summer is always ma saison préférée.

This may come as no surprise to anyone who knows I grew up on a little tropical island, but my favorite meals always go something like this: Outdoors, at a little table surrounded by dear friends, gorgeous water on the horizon, azure sky above, the promise of a fresh simple feast before us.

So when my trusty Let’s Lunch bunch decided to do al fresco dining for our monthly lunch date this month, I was all over it.

Now, I’m fortunate that New York City and its nearby beaches offer me these ingredients on a plate. And recently, I found myself in the Hamptons enjoying one such meal with one of my dearest friends, chef Simpson Wong.

What was to come? A little summer pesto …

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Korean Roast Beef Sandwich: Umami on a Bun

Among the problems to have, this was a good one: What to do with that tub of leftover ssamjang in the fridge?

After whipping up a batch of the sweet, spicy and garlicky Korean dipping sauce for a recent night of kalbi, the leftovers remained front and center in my fridge, nudging me to do something — anything.

Sure, marinating a few pounds of short ribs for another round of kalbi was tempting — perhaps when I have more time.

For now, however, I had other easier plans …

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The Lobster Roll (Amagansett): A Hamptons Classic

It’s hard to mention visiting the Hamptons to anyone in New York City without them assuming you’ve been to the Lobster Roll.

This festive roadside shack in Amagansett has been serving up lobster rolls to year-rounders and the well-heeled beach set since 1965 — clearly, the folks there are doing something right.

After years of visiting the Hamptons, I was starting to feel it was a little remiss to not to at least try the place once. So on a recent summer weekend at the beach, chef Simpson and I decided to take a break from cooking and headed over to Amagansett …

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Cheese & Onion Sarnie: A Working Man's High Tea

If you’ve never had high tea in Singapore, add it to your bucket list.

These feasts, often buffets,  typically unfold over a few hours in posh hotels — all the better if they’re of the colonial variety such as the country’s fabled Raffles — and feature heaping tables of sweets (scones, clotted cream, jam, tiny tarts) as well as hearty servings of local savory dishes such as curry, noodles, steamed Chinese buns and more.

I always look forward to the scones, cakes and tarts — what proper post-Colonial Anglophile wouldn’t? But it’s often the dainty finger sandwiches that I covet first. Cucumber, sweet curried chicken — I can never get enough.

So when my monthly virtual lunch-group, the Let’s Lunch bunch, decided on doing high tea for October,  little sandwiches immediately went on my docket …

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International Food Stall: A Nasi Lemak Breakfast


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It was at Nyonya, a Malaysian restaurant in New York City, that I recently found myself with the legendary and insatiable Gael Greene, trying to explain the wonder that is nasi lemak, a Malay dish of coconut rice topped with a fried egg, fried chicken, crispy anchovies, cucumber slices and fiery sambal chili sauce.

“We eat it for breakfast — or lunch,” I said, explaining that some Singapore hawkers will have packets of the rice tightly wrapped up in banana leaves set out in the morning, ready for the harried to buy and eat on the run.

“Breakfast?” she said, looking intrigued.

Granted, it’s hard to appreciate nasi lemak as one of the best ways to start the day when the New York version set before you is a mound of flavorless rice paired with a mushy mess of sodden chicken and anchovies that are limp and cold instead of crunchy and tongue-searingly hot.

But if you’ve had the real thing for breakfast while sitting in a humid hawker center in sweltering tropical heat, trust me, you’ll be a convert. Oatmeal and French Toast will be all but a distant, lesser memory.

In Singapore, one of my favorite places for the stuff is a little stall in Changi Village, a somewhat sleepy nook by the sea. It’d been many years since I’d been there — but I’d heard its lines remained as impossibly long. (Always a good sign.)

Clearly, it was time for a revisit …

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