Summer is the perfect time for light and tasty meals that fuel the many summer activities that surround the season.
Local chef Johnny Carino is a pro when it comes to preparing lighter fare. Carino offers private catering and personal chef services for the region.
He’s also partnered with Golden Isles Wellness, 406 Union St., St. Simons Island, to create pre-assembled dishes called Fit Meals. Takeout offers customers the flexibility to choose from 350 calorie options, from vegan dishes to comfort food.
Carino said healthier dishes define his life and are part of a lifestyle he hopes to encourage others to embrace as a lifestyle chef.
“I really feel that light food, carried by big, bold flavors, defines life. This is what I preach to others and what defines me as a lifestyle chef. Consider sitting down with someone you love, watching the sunset, having a drink of something you love, and then combining it with a light, healthy dish. It might just be me, but it really defines life for me, ”he said.
When it comes to light cooking, he said it’s best to limit the number of ingredients and use the freshest available.
“Keep it simple is the first tip. I tend to use no more than six to eight ingredients. The second thing is cool is the best. When available, use fresh, locally sourced food to keep the flavors vibrant and the dishes light, ”he said.
According to Carino, using herbs and citrus fruits and avoiding most dairy products is a sure way to keep dishes tasty without overloading them.
“When it comes to adding flavor to lighter dishes, I tend to favor essential herbs like basil, cilantro, thyme and oregano. To add to the herbs, I will choose a citrus fruit like lemon, lime, orange and others. It creates a basis for what makes a dish screaming healthy, light and tasty, ”he said.
He added that location plays a major role in the types of cuisine served. With the proximity to the ocean, seafood is a staple on the menus of many local chefs.
Carino is no exception with a Peruvian ceviche dish that is bursting with flavor. But it manages to maintain a delicate balance through choosing fish for protein and crunchy fruits and vegetables to pair with, he said.
“We are blessed in the Golden Isles. We are surrounded by water, fresh water and salt water. This allows us to catch many types of fresh seafood and shellfish. Fresh produce is also plentiful, so you can add these assorted varieties to any summer dish, ”he said. “I love combining fresh fruit, ginger, jalapeño, herbs and seafood to make a light and refreshing seafood ceviche.”
Ceviche is a South American seafood dish that originated in Peru, usually made with raw fish dried in fresh citrus juices, most often lemon or lime.
He added that it’s important to incorporate fresh produce as it provides fuel to the body during the hot summer months. Consuming meals that contain natural ingredients that can help maintain energy and fullness is essential to maintain high energy levels, he said.
“Summer is very hot here, as we all know. When the weather is hot, our body naturally gets tired faster. The ingredients that I suggest all supply the body with the right nutrients and are not heavy, ”he said. “Summer is the time to bring together the wealth of what we have to create flavors that are light and easy to turn into fuel for the body.”
Carino’s final tip was not to overthink the cooking process. It should be a pleasant experience where you learn what tastes good by doing, he said.
“Food is not a science. In other words, have fun in the kitchen. Cook with good, fresh ingredients and put love and heart in it, and you will have something special.
Johnny Carino’s Peruvian ceviche:
1 ½ lb thinly sliced white fish fillets
1 red onion, cut lengthwise into strips
1 garlic clove, minced
2 ears of grilled corn kernels
1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil for the corn
½ fresh jalapeño or serrano pepper, diced
1 cooked sweet potato, peeled and diced ¼ “
crushed black pepper as needed
Peel the sweet potato, then dice it and cook it until tender in salted boiling water. Drain and refrigerate and set aside for garnish.
Place lightly oiled corn on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees until brown. Remove from oven, refrigerate and set aside for garnish.
Add the lemon and lime juice, jalapeño, garlic and onions to a mixing bowl and mix well.
Wash all the seafood in cold water and then drain it.
Place assorted seafood in a mixing bowl, cover with above liquid. Marinate completely covered by the liquid for 20 minutes. Drain well but reserve the marinade and season to taste.
On a refrigerated plate, place the fish in the middle. Garnish on one side with the diced sweet potato, and garnish with the corn on the other side.
Pour the remaining marinade over the fish and serve.