Recipes for a chill dinner with a little extra help from the grocery store

Shrimp, Mushrooms and Zucchini with Poblano Labneh Sauce and Corn Salad.
Store-bought salsas, sides and meats take the pressure off making dinner during lazy summer days.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

This past Saturday, two friends were coming over for dinner, but I had no clue what I wanted to make. After a long walk in the morning, the heat of the day got to me, and then I really didn’t even feel like cooking at all. It was at this point when my partner stepped in and said, “Why don’t you just cook one thing and then buy a bunch of stuff to serve with it? You don’t have to cook everything yourself.”

This may seem like obvious information to most people, but to a cook who loves to control every part of the meal, it felt like heresy, while at the same time a huge relief. So we drove to Vallarta, picked up a bunch of salsas, rice, beans and tortillas, and served them with a chicken that I roasted in the oven. Nothing else had to be cooked, only warmed briefly on the stove or served cold/room temperature. Our guests enjoyed every bite, and I was able to actually relax for once and enjoy the meal too, knowing I didn’t have to tediously manage every facet of its creation.

That style of “cooking” is what I’ll be aiming for all summer, as temps rise higher and my patience for working in a hot kitchen drops lower. I’ll make one thing, then supplement it with the same accoutrements from Vallarta or any Latin grocery store.

Chichen Itza Cochinita Pibil is a show-stopper, and my favorite way to prepare pork in the summer time. The annatto, citrus juices and habanero imbue the meat with a warm-weather brilliance that feels earthy and, ironically for roasted meat, refreshing at the same time.

If I have a cool morning, I’ll simmer a pot of mole to make the Pulled Chicken in Mission Fig Mole Sauce from Cacao Mexicatessen. Dried Mission figs add a wine-y murkiness to the sauce that balances the dried chiles and spices with a rich sweetness. Use it to cover store-bought roast chicken, some cooked shrimp or any leftover meat you have from prior nights’ dinners.


If I have no time for even that, I love Paola Briseño-González’s Shrimp, Mushrooms and Zucchini With Poblano Labneh Sauce and Corn Salad. You don’t have to make all the components; I always simply make the poblano labneh sauce, then use it to spoon over any roast vegetables or cooked meat I have on hand. The scorched and peeled poblano peppers are one of those ingredients that give anything they touch immense flavor, so you only need them and labneh, and you’re in business.

And for those vegetables, I love making Calabacitas. That mix of zucchini, roasted fresh chiles and corn is all I want to eat this summer, whether it’s as a side dish to meat or piled atop some rice and perked up with a store-bought salsa.

Chichen Itza Cochinita Pibil

Cochinita pibil is succulent, slow-roasted pork that’s so tender you can almost spoon into it. It has a depth of flavor from aromatic, earthy, rich annatto seeds that also impart a brilliant russet-red color, and at the same time, it’s bright with the flavor of Seville oranges.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes, plus marinating.

A plate of pork with onions and an orange pepper on top.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Pulled Chicken in Mission Fig Mole Sauce

You can serve this sauce with shredded, poached dark chicken meat or grilled eggplant slices. Simply heat some of the sauce thinned with chicken or vegetable stock or water to achieve a pourable consistency.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

Mission Fig Mole served in a black pan, beside two black bowls full of rice.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

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Shrimp, Mushrooms and Zucchini With Poblano Labneh Sauce and Corn Salad

Fire-blistered poblano chiles flavor the creamy sauce for simple, poached shrimp and seared vegetables. The corn — boiled first to plump its kernels — is mixed with mint and lime juice to add an acidic crunch to the dish.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour.

Two white plates served with shrimp, corn and zucchini, covered in a green sauce.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Zucchini, Corn and Green Chile (Calabacitas)

Calabacitas is a zucchini and fresh corn sauté sparked with a healthy dose of green chile. The sweetness of the squash and corn balances the fiery chile and makes a great side dish for grilled fish or chicken.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 25 minutes.

Zucchini, corn and green chile served in a white bowl.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

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