Saturday, July 12, 2008

Top 10 Hot Weather Culinary Life Savers

It’s a hot and humid Saturday afternoon in San Diego and I can’t bear the idea of turning on the oven or even the stovetop burners. I don’t even want to grill. I don’t want to be near anything over 78 degrees.

This time of year is pretty much about having things around that satisfy hunger without requiring sweat-provoking activities like sautéing, roasting or boiling. I have some favorite cooling foods—some that I’ve found at the markets and some that are easy to prepare and are mostly about fruits and vegetables readily available at your local farmers market or produce store.

So, if you’re desperate for some ways to eat cool over the next couple of months, here are my top 10 favorites—half from the stores and half are recipes.

At the stores:

  • Shangri-La Tropical Passion iced tea from Great News. I’m not a big fan of fruity teas. I like to keep things simple with green teas. But at a class last year at Great News I was ridiculously thirsty and, as always, they had pitchers of tea and water for students to enjoy during class. The water pitcher was empty so I reluctantly went for the tea and found I absolutely loved it. Since then I regularly keep my pantry stocked with it. There are five packets in each little red bag. Fill a large pitcher (with a lid) with water. Empty a packet into a large tea filter and gently lower into the mouth of the pitcher. Let the sun do the rest for a few hours, then remove the filter, put the lid on the pitcher and refrigerate.
  • Sharon’s Sorbet from Trader Joe’s. I’ve never been a big ice cream person but this time of year I love a cold dessert after dinner. I found Sharon’s Sorbet and now keep it in the freezer. My favorites are lemon, mango and passion fruit, but other flavors include blueberry, mixed berry, raspberry, strawberry, coconut and dutch chocolate.
  • Beet vinaigrette salad from Continent European Deli: I’ve written about this before. The salad is made with beets, potatoes, pickles, carrots and sauerkraut. It’s got a lot of flavors and textures going on at once—sweet, salty, crunchy and chewy. I enjoy this and I don’t even like beets!
  • Ceviche from Northgate Gonzalez: I love this market and one of the biggest reasons is their selection of ceviches. I’m particularly fond of the octopus and the shrimp but all are delicious. Enjoy with fresh tortillas or chips from their tortilleria.
  • Nopal salad from Foodland Mercado in El Cajon: Other Hispanic markets make this but Foodland’s is a winner because of the addition of red onion and crumbled queso fresco; again, pick up their fresh tortillas or chips (better than Northgate Gonzalez!)

To prepare:


My mom gave me this gazpacho recipe years ago and now it’s a dinner party staple this time of year. It’s got a lot of ingredients, but once you get the produce chopped, it goes quickly and you get a hearty, cold meal that’s great for entertaining or a relief to have around for a few days during a heat wave.

5 -8 large tomatoes, quartered

1 large cloves of garlic, minced

½ English cucumber, roughly chopped

1 or 2 red peppers, roughly chopped

6 – 8 scallions, roughly chopped

6-8 radishes, roughly chopped

½ medium onion, peeled and quartered

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped

½ bunch parsley with major stems removed and/or 1 bunch cilantro

1 tbl lemon juice

2-6 tbl red wine vinegar

A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce

A few dashes of your favorite hot sauce

2 tsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

½ tsp sugar

1 regular-sized can beef broth

1 can low-salt V-8 juice

1 cup corn kernels (fresh, frozen or canned – I like the frozen roasted corn kernels from Trader Joe’s)

1 pound pre-cooked bay shrimp, lump crab or cooked chunks of chicken or pork

Pull out the food processor and a very large bowl. Process each of the vegetables and add to the bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients, except for the proteins, which I would have at the table separately for guests to add as they wish. Adjust seasoning to taste. Top when serving with sour cream or Mexican crema.

Serves 8 – 10

Cucumber Yogurt Bisque

Years ago, decades actually, I lived in New York, where summers can be truly miserable. So, when my friend Susan Leon made this for me, I added the recipe to my hot weather arsenal. It’s ridiculously easy to make and you can riff on it by adding other ingredients, like hot sauce or additional chopped veggies. I sometimes will toss some cooked shrimp on top to get some protein.

1 large cucumber

2 cups unflavored yogurt

2 tbl red wine vinegar

½ cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ tsp dill

¼ tsp ground pepper

1 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped

¼ cup sliced scallions

Peel the cucumber, slice it lengthwise into halves and scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut the cucumber into chunks and combine in food processor or blender with yogurt, vinegar, onion, garlic, dill and pepper. Process briefly until blended. Stir tomatoes into yogurt mixture. Cover and chill at least 2 hours or overnight. Garnish with sliced scallions. (If you use a very thick yogurt, like Greek yogurt, you can add a little chicken broth to thin the mixture.)

Serves 4

One-Hour Japanese Pickled Cucumbers

This is a wonderfully simple snack I love to munch on while trying to survive a sultry afternoon. In fact, I’ve got a little bowl in the refrigerator now that I’m going to pounce on shortly.

Use a mandoline to thinly slice an English or Persian cucumber. Place slices in a shallow bowl and add rice vinegar to cover. Refrigerate for an hour or so until the cucumbers have absorbed some of the vinegar and have chilled. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and hot pepper flakes. Pull out a set of chopsticks and dig in.

Hearts of Romaine Salad Dressing

My dad swears he doesn’t remember faxing me this recipe, but I have the original. I love this. It’s thick and goopy and the flavors are sharp—just perfect for the romaine it was created for, but also for a tomato salad or just dipping with veggies.

1 cup olive oil

2 tbl feta cheese, crumbled

1 tsp Dijon mustard

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 to 8 anchovy fillets, minced

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Fresh lemon or lime juice to taste

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or in a blender or process till smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Use as a salad dressing or dip for Romaine leaves.

Peggy Knickerbocker’s Fennel Salad with Black Olives and Arugula

This is why Bay Area writer and teacher Peggy Knickerbocker is so good. She takes unlikely combinations of foods—fennel and olives in this case—and creates something so splendid. Our La Cocina Que Canta class at Rancho La Puerta got to make this salad and I love it. Fennel is so refreshing a flavor and it benefits from the saltiness of the olives.

For the dressing:

3 tbl sherry vinegar

2 shallots, minced

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:

3 to 4 medium heads of fennel, tough outer leaves discarded

12 black imported olives, pitted and cut into long slivers

½ cup chopped parsley leaves

4 stalks celery, thinly sliced into rounds

A few handfuls of arugula leaves, washed and dried

To make dressing: In a small bowl combine the vinegar with the shallots and salt and pepper to taste. Allow it to macerate for a few minutes, then whisk in the olive oil.

To make the salad: Cut the fennel in half lengthwise, removing the core. Cut the fennel into thin strips and place in a salad bowl. Toss with the olives, parsley and celery.

Make a bed of arugula leaves on a serving platter. Toss the salad with the dressing in a bowl and mound on top of the arugula leaves.

Serves 6

Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? What do you do to beat the heat in the kitchen? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:

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