Photo: Courtesy of Rebecca Lang

You'll love cookbook author and entertaining pro Rebecca Lang's go-to recipes for warm-weather entertaining and the why-didn't-we-think-of-that(!) essentials she packs in her beach cooler.

By Susan Hall Mahon

Rebecca Lang is no stranger to dreaming up—and then whipping up—amazing meals at the beach. In her coastal Georgia beach house, the cookbook author and entertaining expert keeps the vibe casual but delicious, firing up the grill outside or keeping it cool and tossing together fresh, local ingredients in the kitchen. Here, she shares two of her favorite recipes for entertaining by the water, her go-to summer cocktail, some downright genius beach bag hacks, and more.

1. What inspired you to dedicate your cookbook, The Southern Vegetable Book: A Root-to-Stalk Guide to the South's Favorite Produce, to vegetables?
We live in a time where many family farms surrounding our towns have been turned into subdivisions and the interstates are giving our produce longer and longer commutes between plant and plate. It is only years after this surge of belief that season-less eating was better, that we are finally coming to our senses and eating closer to home in the season that each vegetable was intended to be consumed. Our grandparents knew this. Our great-great grandparents knew this.

Thanks to growing up in a farming community, vegetables often came in the back door in bushels rather than in grocery store bags. It was those grand volumes of fresh produce that drew my parents and my grandmothers to the screened porch to shuck, shell, string, or snap. Fingers would work while legs gently nudged gliders and rockers into a contagious rhythm. I want to carry on this tradition so generations to come will continue to treasure vegetables.

Related: How to Peel, Devein, and Butterfly Shrimp:

2. What vegetable dishes do you love to make at the beach?
When I cook at the beach, I’m either grilling outside or quickly cooking something inside. Half the time, I have on a wet swimsuit and sandy feet, so it’s very casual, to say the least. Because it tends to be so hot in the afternoons, I like to keep dinner as cool as possible. Lemony Green Bean Salad (get the recipe below!) can be put together quickly and served cold as well as my Georgia Shrimp and Radish Salad (pictured above, and recipe below). I adore grilled okra and sliced eggplant as well since they complement almost anything.

3. What do you pack in your beach cooler for a day by the water?
I take a big spouted drink cooler filled with cold water for everyone. Everyone gets a plastic cup and gets to personalize it with a Sharpie. I also pack a soft-sided cooler (it’s easier to carry) with sliced watermelon, grapes, chocolate milk, and wet washcloths for cooling off (for a real indulgence, add a few drops of lavender oil to the washcloths before packing them). I also like to keep the sunscreen in the cooler to make it more refreshing to reapply.

4. What’s your go-to summer cocktail?
Grapefruit juice, vodka, and a splash of Prosecco is hard to beat on a hot afternoon.

5. What’s your favorite beach vacation memory?
I always remember my mom going above and beyond to make sure the food we had at the beach was extra special. Little treats we didn’t have at home were common at the beach. She made everything for us and we never ate out. Now that I have a family of my own to pack and prepare for, I can appreciate what massive effort she went through to accomplish that.

6. You have a beach house on the Georgia coast. What do you love most about that spot?
To say it’s my favorite place on the planet wouldn’t be an exaggeration. All seems right with the world when we’re there. The Spanish moss blows in the wind everyday, ospreys and bald eagles tend to float above, and the quietness is precious. It’s now amazing to see my children love and appreciate the serene and natural environment as much as I do.

2 Perfect-for-Summer Salads from Rebecca Lang

Lemony Green Bean Pasta Salad

Arugula and pistachios are right at home with this cheerful pasta plate. Lemon and shallots marry for a bright taste ideal for a luncheon or light supper.

MAKES 4 TO 6 SERVINGS
HANDS-ON 15 MINUTES
TOTAL 30 MINUTES

12 oz. uncooked casarecce pasta*
1⁄2 lb. haricots verts (French green beans), cut in half lengthwise
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme 5 tsp. lemon zest, divided
1⁄4 cup finely chopped roasted salted pistachios
2 Tbsp. Champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp. minced shallots
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. table salt
1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
5 Tbsp. olive oil
11⁄2 cups loosely packed arugula
Toppings: roasted salted pistachios, Parmesan cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, adding green beans to boiling water during last 2 minutes of cooking time; drain. Rinse pasta mixture with cold running water; drain well.

2. Place pasta mixture, thyme, and 3 teaspoons lemon zest in a large bowl; toss gently to combine.

3. Whisk together 1⁄4 cup pistachios, next 5 ingredients, and remaining 2 teaspoons lemon zest in a small bowl. Add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until blended. Drizzle over pasta mixture. Add arugula, and toss gently to coat. Serve with desired toppings.

*Penne pasta may be substituted.
 

Georgia Shrimp and Radish Salad

Shopping for radishes at the farmers’ market can bring you a choice selection nearly as endless as the colors of Easter eggs. Using two different radish varieties automatically gives this salad a vibrancy of textures, colors, and flavors.

MAKES 4 SERVINGS
HANDS-ON 20 MINUTES
TOTAL 50 MINUTES

2 lb. unpeeled, large raw shrimp
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. table salt, divided
3⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 (4-oz.) watermelon radish, cut into fourths and thinly sliced
4 oz. d’Avignon radishes, thinly sliced
4 green onions, sliced
1⁄2 cup diced fennel bulb
1⁄4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh mint
Garnish: fresh mint sprigs

1. Peel and devein shrimp, and pat dry. Sauté in a very hot cast iron skillet over medium-high heat 4 minutes.

2. Combine shrimp, olive oil, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper, and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl.

3. Whisk together orange juice, next 4 ingredients, and remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper. Pour over shrimp mixture, and toss. Serve chilled.

Radishes should be eaten fresh, as the taste is not only impaired by lying a day or two after they are drawn, but tough and heavy, which makes them hard on digestion, and of course renders them unhealthy. —Mrs. Lettice Bryan in The Kentucky Housewife (1839)

© 2016 Oxmoor House. Recipes from The Southern Vegetable Book (Oxmoor House, 2016) by Rebecca Lang