Our Best Labor Day Recipes
You’ve worked hard all year, and maybe even all summer. So why not take the unofficial last weekend of the season off to honor workers — and yourself? Or maybe you’d rather not think of work at all, and just spend the time surrounded by loved ones?
However you choose to spend theweekend, food will inevitably play a role. Make one of these New York Times Cooking recipes, or many — for your family or for yourself. Just try to eat them outside and barefoot, away from screens, soaking in a long, luxurious summer evening before the temperatures dip.
Classic Potato Salad
There are a million ways to potato salad. It should basically be a verb at this point. But Millie Peartree’s version, which she got from her mother, Millie Bell, is the platonic ideal. Sweet relish adds just the slightest amount of tang, and onion powder gives it all a deep oniony flavor without having to chop a single bulb.
Recipe: Classic Potato Salad
Home gardeners know that zucchini is unstoppable during summer. So why not toss some of the extras onto the grill? Zucchini’s water content takes well to high heat, letting slices stay tender while quickly singeing in all the right ways. Alexa Weibel smartly cuts the zucchini into planks, so they don’t slip through the grates, then, once they’re off the grill, stacks them atop a bed of creamy ricotta to counter their smokiness.
Recipe: Grilled Zucchini
Churrasco (Grilled Marinated Skirt Steak)
A Latin American staple, churrasco takes many forms across the region. This one draws from Puerto Rico, by using an adobo-infused marinade, and from the Dominican Republic, by pairing the steak with wasakaka, a limey, herbaceous sauce. Make a little extra wasakaka and keep it in the fridge to pair with just about any meat — steak or otherwise — you like.
Recipe: Churrasco (Grilled Marinated Skirt Steak)
This pasta salad plays the hits: tiny balls of mozzarella, sliced salami and olives, and fresh cucumber, red onion and tomatoes. Oh, and of course, bow-tie pasta. Melissa Clark recommends serving it the same day you make it, but thankfully it’s ready in about 30 minutes so you can spend more time at whatever fun event this will surely be the star of.
A Workers’ Celebration and a Farewell to Summer
The holiday, which has its roots in the U.S. labor movement and is the unofficial end to the summer season, falls this year on Sept. 5.
- History: The first Labor Day parade was held in New York City in 1882, but it wasn’t until 1894 that the celebration became a national holiday.
- Genealogy Matters: Descendants of two union leaders with similar last names both claim their own great-grandfather founded the holiday in 1882. Who is right?
- Labor Day Recipes: However you choose to spend the weekend, food will inevitably play a role. Here are some dishes to try.
Recipe: Pasta Salad
Original Plum Torte
This Marion Burros recipe is a New York Times classic for a reason, with nearly 10,000 five-star ratings and a storied history: It was published in The Times every September, from 1983 to 1989. Thankfully, it now lives online for all to find year-round, and adapt. Use peaches or berries, apples or pears in place of the plums, and you’ll see why it’s so beloved.
Recipe: Original Plum Torte
Saffron Salmon Kababs
These kebabs from Naz Deravian are full of warm flavors like saffron, coriander and turmeric, to name a few. The kebabs are first marinated briefly to let the flavors sink in as you heat up the grill, then brushed with any remaining marinade to seal in layers of spice as they cook. Don’t forget the lime and herbs, which offer a fresh counterpoint to the buttery salmon.
Recipe: Saffron Salmon Kababs
Hetty McKinnon riffs on a classic here, skipping the mayonnaise, bacon bits and cheese, and instead building flavor with apple, scallions and sesame oil. The result is a vegan version that can sit out in the sun while still keeping its crunch.
Eggplant gets a great boost from the grill, needing just a minute or two to get charred on the outside while its interior goes soft and succulent. Here, Eric Kim tosses the cooked planks with soy sauce, maple syrup, sugar and garlic powder for a vegetarian take on the Korean staple bulgogi. It’s a dish as simple as it is delicious.
Recipe: Bulgogi Eggplant
Easy, classic and ready in 10 minutes, this recipe from Kay Chun is exactly what you want at the picnic. A single half-teaspoon of celery seeds adds punch to a creamy sweet-tart sauce. Get this all ready in advance — up to the day before — then let it sit until you’re ready to serve straight out of the fridge, the best complement to any spicy or rich barbecue mains.
Orzo Salad With Peppers and Feta
Peppers are arguably summer’s most underrated vegetable. Kay Chun puts them to great use in this salad, which is especially good at room temperature. By simmering them in olive oil alongside tomatoes, she forms a Basque piperade, which sauces the orzo. The feta adds a welcome creaminess and tang, but goat cheese works, too. Bring it to your next potluck, and let everyone argue over who made the pasta salad.
Recipe: Orzo Salad With Peppers and Feta
Honey Butter Grilled Corn
J. Kenji López-Alt has a brilliant trick to keep corn hot and supple, and not cold and wrinkly. He employs a side pan full of chile-spiked honey butter set over the cool side of the grill. The sauce glazes the cobs, while keeping them moist, and best of all, it’s highly adaptable. Use a bit of sake, miso glaze and soy sauce, or add some lime juice and canned chipotle chiles to keep those ears tender.
Recipe: Honey Butter Grilled Corn
Classic Caprese Salad
You may think you don’t need a recipe for a caprese salad — after all, it’s just the classic combination of tomato, mozzarella and basil, but Melissa Clark offers a savvy approach. She suggests slicing the mozzarella while it’s still cold, which keeps it from wiggling away. Heirloom tomatoes add deeper flavor than beefsteak varieties. And a finish with flaky sea salt and olive oil makes it all especially special without too much fuss.
Recipe: Classic Caprese Salad
Raspberry Pie Crunch Bars
Melissa Clark wants you to embrace the portable party pie, a.k.a. pie bars. These beauties are like a raspberry pie with a crumble topping, though Melissa adds a gorgeous shortbread base and even more brown-sugar crumbs. Best of all, there’s no need to break out the plates and silverware: These are easily eaten out of hand so you can spend time mingling freely.
Recipe:Raspberry Pie Crunch Bars
Eric Kim calls this “a smoothie in fruit salad form.” He uses pineapple, mangoes and slightly underripe bananas in his, but you can pick any fruit your heart desires. Just don’t skip the most important step: adding a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt. It makes the whole dish sing.
Recipe: Fruit Salad
Grilled Cauliflower Steaks
The thing about slicing cauliflower into steaks is that you end up with whole slabs and tons of tiny floret bits. Ali Slagle has a clever solution: She tosses those crunchy bits and bobs with a lime-dill sauce, punctuated with chile for heat and peanuts for more crunch. Then, she spoons it over the grilled slabs, for a master class in texture and flavor.
Recipe: Grilled Cauliflower Steaks
Tajín Grilled Chicken
Rick Martinez puts Tajín, that incredible spicy-citrusy Mexican seasoning so often applied to mango or pineapple, to brilliant use, pairing it with agave syrup and slathering it on chicken that sears on the grill. Build it into a sandwich with charred scallions, cilantro, mayonnaise and pickled jalapeños, or serve as is. Either way, you won’t go wrong.
Recipe: Tajín Grilled Chicken
Nimbu Pani (Limeade)
This delightfully salty-sour sweet is a great drink for hot, hot days. Zainab Shah adds a good amount of salt to this drink popular in Pakistan and across South Asia, but if you, as she writes, “prefer balance over funk,” be sure to add the optional 1 tablespoon sugar.
Recipe: Nimbu Pani (Limeade)
Edna Lewis’s Peach Cobbler
This peach cobbler doesn’t rely on a biscuit or cake topping, rather it uses a pie crust built on butter and lard. The tender crust yields to a filling that’s been gently spiced with nutmeg, to let the fruit flavor shine. It’s the ideal cobbler, as one would expect from Edna Lewis, the grande dame of Southern cooking.
Recipe: Edna Lewis’s Peach Cobbler
Grilled Turkey Burgers
Ali Slagle builds grated onion and barbecue sauce into these turkey patties to make sure the normally lean meat doesn’t dry out against the flames of a hot grill. Then she slathers them in a bit more barbecue sauce and mayonnaise, which has an oil base and allows the patties to sear but not burn. The result is a burger that won’t ever make you miss its beef counterpart.
Recipe: Grilled Turkey Burgers
Sam Sifton cooks navy beans low and slow with bacon fat, molasses and dry mustard, for this classic approach to baked beans. The key here is patience: The beans are soaked, then cooked covered for about five hours, then it’s about another 45 minutes until the top develops a deep-brown crust. But, if patience is not your virtue, use canned beans instead: You’ll want to use four 15-ounce cans and much less water and time.
Recipe: Baked Beans
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