Summer is the perfect time for light, flavorful meals that fuel the many summertime activities that encompass the season.
Local chef Johnny Carino is a pro when it comes to preparing lighter meal options. Carino offers private catering and personal chef services for the area.
He’s also partnered with Golden Isles Wellness, 406 Union St., St. Simons Island, to create pre-assembled dishes called Fit Meals. The grab-and-go items offer clients an opportunity to choose 350 calorie options from vegan fare to comfort food.
Carino said healthier dishes define his life and are part of a lifestyle he hopes to encourage others to adopt as a lifestyle chef.
“I truly feel light food, driven by big, bold flavors defines life. It is what I preach to others and what defines me as a lifestyle chef. Think about sitting with someone you love, watching the sunset, drinking a glass of something you love, and then combining it with a light, healthy dish. Maybe it’s just me, but this truly defines life for me,” he said.
When it comes to cooking light, he said it is better to keep the number of ingredients limited and use the freshest ones available.
“Keep it simple is the first tip. I tend to use no more than six to eight ingredients. The second thing is fresh is best. When it’s available, use fresh locally sourced foods to keep flavors popping and dishes light,” he said.
According to Carino, using herbs and citrus and steering clear of most dairy products is a sure way to keep dishes flavorful without overburdening them.
“When it comes to adding flavor to lighter dishes, I tend to reach for key herbs like basil, cilantro, thyme and oregano. To add to the herbs, I will choose a citrus such as lemon, lime, orange and the likes. This creates a foundation of what makes a dish scream healthy, light, and great tasting,” he said.
He added that location plays a prominent role in the kinds of cuisine served. With proximity to the ocean, seafood is a staple on many local chefs’ menus.
Carino is no exception with a Peruvian ceviche dish that is bursting with flavor. But he manages to maintain a delicate balance due to the choice of fish as protein and crisp fruits and vegetables to pair, he said.
“We are blessed in the Golden Isles. We are surrounded by water, both freshwater, and saltwater. This allows us to catch many different types of fresh seafood and shellfish. Fresh produce is abundant as well, so one can add these assorted varieties into any summer dish,” he said. “I love to combine fresh fruit, along with ginger, jalapeño, herbs and seafood to make a light and refreshing seafood ceviche.”
Ceviche is a South American seafood dish originating from Peru, typically made from raw fish cured in fresh citrus juices, most commonly lemon or lime.
He added it is important to incorporate fresh produce because it provides the body with fuel during the hot summer months. It is essential to consume meals packed with natural ingredients that can help keep one energized and satiated to maintain high energy levels, he said.
“Summer is very hot here, as we all know. When it’s hot, our bodies naturally get tired quicker. The ingredients I suggest all fuel the body with great nutrients and are not heavy,” he said. “Summer is time to bring the bounties of what we have available together to drive flavors that are light and easy to turn into fuel for the body.”
Carino’s last piece of advice was not to overthink the cooking process. It should be an enjoyable experience where one learns what tastes good through practice, he said.
“Food is not science. Meaning, have fun in the kitchen. Cook with great fresh ingredients and put love and your heart into it, and you will have something special.”
Johnny Carino’s Peruvian ceviche:
1 ½ lbs white fish fillets sliced thin
1 red onion cut lengthwise into strips
1 clove of garlic shaved thin
¼ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp chopped cilantro
2 ears of corn kernels roasted
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil for corn
½ fresh jalapeño or serrano pepper diced
1 sweet potato cooked, peeled, and diced ¼”
sea salt as needed
cracked black pepper as needed
Peel the sweet potato, then dice and cook until tender in boiling salted water. Drain and chill and hold for garnish.
Place slightly oiled corn onto a baking sheet. Cook at 375 degrees until brown. Remove from oven chill and hold for garnish.
Add lemon and lime juice, jalapeño, garlic and onions into a mixing bowl and mix well.
Wash all seafood with cold water and then drain.
Place assorted seafood into a mixing bowl, cover with the liquid above. Allow to marinate, fully covered by the liquid for 20 minutes. Drain well but reserve the marinade and season to taste.
Onto a chilled plate, lay the fish down in the middle. Garnish on one side with the diced sweet potato, and garnish with the corn on the other side.
Drizzle the left-over marinade over the fish and serve.