Years ago, I traveled on two occasions to the lushly beautiful island of Jamaica. Each time, at restaurants I visited, I was more often than not brought a bowl of steaming hot broth as a prelude to the meal. I ate it with no firm idea why I would be sucking down hot soup when it was 88 degrees in the shade.
Later, I read that in Korea, where it can get extremely and uncomfortably hot, it is believed that eating hot food makes your body temperature higher, which makes you sweat. As the sweat evaporates from your skin, the body temperature gets lower, thus having a cooling effect. Whatever. Now, let’s get real.
More to the point: Is it possible to enjoy a Caesar salad without homemade croutons? Who would be moved to turn on the oven in the midst of summer to toast little cubes of bread?
Well, me. I’ve never experienced hot weather in the same way as others. I don’t generally sweat; I love the feeling of the sun directly on my face; I have no trouble standing over a hot Weber grill filled with glowing coals; and on a cool morning one can find me donning a light sweater.
Still, I’m not crazy about sticky, humid summer days when the temperature is hovering around 90 degrees. Sometimes we have a run of days when it seems the heat will never break—and that’s when I really have to think about what I want to eat and how I want to prepare it.
I adore cold summer soups, but nearly all of them have to be cooked on the stove-top before being emulsified and chilled in the fridge. I want nothing to do with fire or heat during those days.
When I took a moment to get my creative juices flowing by Googling recipes for hot-weather foods that don’t involve using the stove or oven, I found that nearly half of them involved going out to buy a rotisserie chicken, skinning it, carving it, and cutting the breast meat into bite-size pieces. I wanted to start from scratch and perhaps cut down a bit on the carbs while doing so. I like to eat lightly in hot weather.
I made an interesting tuna fish salad that was a complete departure from my usual go-to recipe. It had lots of finely chopped tarragon from my garden—and no minced cornichon pickles, which usually play a part in my regular tuna salad. We ate the tasty, herby salad piled onto endive leaves, but it would work just as well in small Bibb lettuce cups.
I was hoping to take my cues from nature and which particular produce I found that grows in summer. Then, the last week in June I noticed that whole watermelons and wedges were popping up in local supermarkets. I bought a quarter of a seedless one for use in a refreshing salad of watermelon, cucumbers and feta cheese garnished with thinly sliced mint and dressed with a simple, bright-tasting vinaigrette. It not only looked beautiful, but it was delicious as well.
I usually make gazpacho once or twice each summer, but I had the idea to put together what I would be calling a gazpacho salad, using all the ingredients normally found in gazpacho soup, but not emulsified. Simply cut into identical size some cucumbers, colorful bell peppers, tomatoes, avocado (which I often use as a garnish for my gazpacho) and minced red onion. Drizzle with fruity extra-virgin olive oil and aged Spanish sherry vinegar, which is traditional in the region of Andalusia, Spain. This salad, too, was eye-catching and the chunky texture satisfying.
Finally, I realized I could make a cold soup by simply throwing a bunch of ingredients into a blender and processing them until smooth. I chose cucumbers and avocados, and added fresh lime juice, cilantro, water, a tablespoon of Greek yogurt, salt and pepper. The resulting soup was creamy and cold with a delicate taste and lovely pale green color. It was perfect as a starter to our meal.
On a scorching summer day, open the umbrella over your picnic table or sit out on your screened-in porch at a table set with colorful placemats and cloth napkins. Pour yourself a glass of chilled, fruity sangria (see recipe above) and put these cool and refreshing dishes before you. Eat slowly. Relax. Just chill.
Makes about 8 glasses of sangria
I adapted this recipe for fruity red sangria from “The New Spanish Table” by Anya von Bremzen. The original recipe was developed by Alex Urena. Use whatever fruits you have on hand.
Mix together the wine, orange-flavored liqueur, orange juice, brandy and sugar in a large pitcher. Add the fruit and stir gently. Refrigerate for at least one hour and up to four. When ready to serve, add the club soda and stir to combine. Pour the sangria into wine glasses filled with a few ice cubes.
Watermelon, cucumber, and feta salad
An alternative to feta cheese would be queso fresco, a mild, slightly salty cheese found in Hispanic markets and used extensively in Mexican cooking.
Cut the cucumber into thirds widthwise and, using a vegetable peeler, slice some strips off all around the cucumber, leaving some skin intact. Stand each third up and slice the cucumber into thin slices, stopping before reaching the seeds, and cut the slices into strips. Discard the seeds. Alternatively, you can cut the slices into cubes, again avoiding the seeds. Place the cucumbers on a platter.
Scatter the watermelon cubes over the cucumbers. Sprinkle with the crumbled feta cheese. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, lime juice, oil and honey. Spoon the dressing over the salad. Scatter the sliced mint over the salad. Refrigerate for an hour or so, if possible, to let the flavors meld. Retrieve from the fridge 10 minutes before serving.
Summer gazpacho salad
This vibrantly flavored, colorful salad depends on the best ingredients available at the height of summer: heirloom tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, shiny bell peppers, fresh cilantro and minced red onions. The addition of firm, ripe avocado adds a creamy, contrasting texture. If you like the idea of a bit of heat, feel free to add some minced jalapeno pepper or a squirt of Tabasco sauce. Spanish sherry vinegar is traditional in gazpacho, so make every effort to use it here.
In a large bowl, place the cubed tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and bell pepper.
Halve the avocado and remove the pit. With a sharp knife, carefully score the meat of the avocado the long way, and then cross-wise. With a large spoon, gently scoop out the avocado and add the cubed avocado to the bowl with the other vegetables.
Drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar, and season with a healthy amount of salt and a grinding of fresh black pepper.
Toss gently but thoroughly. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately, or chill in the fridge for about an hour.
Cold cucumber avocado soup
If you like the idea of a bit of chunkiness in a smooth soup, skin, seed and finely chop some cucumber into tiny squares and use as a garnish along with the cilantro just before serving.
Peel the cucumber and cut it into thirds. Slice down the long way with each third and remove seeds. Roughly chop the cucumbers. Put them in a blender.
Slice the avocado in half and remove the pit. Scoop out the meat and dice it on a cutting board. Add to the blender along with the water, lime juice, yogurt, 1/4 cup cilantro, salt and pepper. Process 2 minutes. If necessary, use a spatula to push the ingredients down and continue to process until mixture is totally smooth.
Pour the soup into a medium-sized bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours (or up to overnight) until cold.
Ladle the soup into four mugs or small bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro.
Tarragon tuna salad in endive or Bibb lettuce cups
Serves 2 – 4
Individual endive leaves or Bibb lettuce-leaf cups made from the smaller leaves of the head
In a medium bowl, combine the tuna, celery, onion or scallion (if using), mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice and tarragon. Stir well to combine.
Grind a little black pepper on the salad and stir lightly.
Fill the endive or Bibb lettuce leaves with a spoonful or two of the salad and place on a big platter. Serve.
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