It wasn’t long ago that most folks could only find air-conditioned relief from summer heat and humidity at the back of the town movie theater. My sister and I used to sip homemade lemonade on my grandmother’s porch. Nowadays, most homes have the potential for air-conditioned comfort, but rising energy costs and a simple dislike of being sealed in on a summer day have many of us looking for ways to stay cool naturally.
I’ve consulted with folks young and old to see what they recommend for beating summer’s heat. Suggestions included: swing on a hammock, put a cold washcloth on your forehead, and run through the sprinkler. The most frequent suggestion, however, was to eat lots of watermelon/ice cream/Popsicles ... any cool food. Common wisdom prevails — keep the cooking and eating as light and cool as possible. We’ll help you do so with these simple summer recipes.
Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade
Lemonade is the quintessential summer drink, and this recipe, which calls for concentrate, is certainly summertime easy. Lemonade purists might object, but an organic concentrate, such as the one put out by Cascadian Farm, is a reasonable substitute for the real thing — not too sweet, not too tart. If strawberries aren’t in season, try using a pint of fresh raspberries instead. This recipe also makes a nice base for a rum punch.
3 cups quartered strawberries (about a quart of berries*)
1 cup cold water
1 can (6 ounces) frozen lemonade concentrate
2 cups chilled sparkling water (divided)
Whole strawberries for garnish
Ice cubes (optional)
Process strawberries and water in the blender until smooth. Add the concentrate and 1 cup of the sparkling water. Blend until smooth and pour into a pitcher with the rest of the sparkling water. Serve in tall glasses over ice and garnish with a strawberry on the rim of the glass.
* Lemonade concentrates and berries will vary in sweetness, so you may want to add a little sugar to taste.
Chilled Melon Soup
Melons are deliciously refreshing and loaded with vitamin C, but they don’t keep very well and can easily go from perfect to mushy in one day. This recipe puts those melons to use before the fruit flies take over.
1 ripe, two- to three-pound melon (use musk, cantaloupe, honeydew, casaba, Persian, etc.)
1/4 cup lime juice
3/4 to 1 cup vanilla yogurt
Sugar, fresh raspberries, mint sprigs (optional)
Remove the rind and seeds from the melon and cut into one-inch pieces. Puree the melon and lime juice in a blender. Pour the purée into a bowl and whisk in yogurt, adding more yogurt if the soup is too thin. Cover the bowl and chill until very cold. Whisk before serving; add sugar to taste and top with a few raspberries and a mint sprig. This soup is best if eaten the same day. If you serve it later, whisk before serving as this soup tends to separate over time.
Variation: Drizzle the following raspberry sauce on top of the soup just before serving.
1/2 pint raspberries
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tsp sugar
Blend all ingredients until smooth, adding 1 or 2 teaspoons of water if the sauce is too thick. Pour through a strainer to eliminate the seeds and refrigerate until ready to use. Drizzle sauce onto soup.
Mango Chutney Chicken Salad
This easy chicken salad can be served on crusty bread or on a bed of garden greens, baby spinach leaves or watercress.
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (1 pound)
1/4 to 1/3 cup mango, or any fruit chutney*
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 green onions, chopped
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
Cayenne pepper (optional)
In a covered skillet, poach the chicken breast in about an inch of water for 15 minutes or until the center is no longer pink. Drain and cool. When cool enough to handle, tear the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Mix other ingredients in a large bowl. Stir together everything, including chicken.
Taste to see if you need to add more chutney or a pinch of cayenne pepper.
* Chutney originated in India as a refreshing, fruit-based condiment for spicy curries, meat, and vegetarian dishes. Today’s chutneys are more versatile and can be used as relishes or sauces on top of quesadillas, grilled chicken, fish, or to liven up your plain-old tuna or chicken salad. Look for chutneys in the imported food aisle of the supermarket, health food, or specialty store. Some chutneys are very hot, so read the labels. My favorite chutneys can be ordered from Wild Thymes Farm, or call for the store nearest you that carries their products (800-724-2877).
Cool down with a fresh fruit sorbet for your banana split, melon split, peach split ... you get the idea.
4 large peaches
1 pint fresh raspberries
3 tbsp frozen tropical real fruit blend concentrate
Line a cookie sheet with plastic wrap. Peel peaches and cut into one-inch chunks. Spread berries and peaches on cookie sheet and freeze for 60 to 90 minutes, until the fruit is solid but not rock hard. Place fruit into a food processor with juice concentrate, and pulse until smooth.
Serve at once or return to the freezer in a prechilled container. Let sorbet soften slightly before serving. Though it will keep a while in the freezer, this sorbet is best when freshly made.
Traditionally, this Middle Eastern dip is made with chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil drizzled on the top, but summer basil is a refreshing addition. This dip will go with raw garden veggies: radishes, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, snow peas, kohlrabi and green beans.
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups (a 15-ounce can) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup each tahini* and lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, packed (no stems)
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)
In a skillet, sauté the garlic and onion in a teaspoon of olive oil until soft. Put in all the ingredients except the basil and extra-virgin olive oil in a food processor or blender and puree. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add basil and blend. Refrigerate in a covered container until ready to serve. Hummus is best when freshly made because it’s so creamy, but it will keep for almost a week. This dip/spread will thicken with refrigeration, so you may have to whisk in a little more lemon juice before serving.
* Tahini: The secret to a delicious, creamy hummus is quality tahini, which is a thick paste made with sesame seeds. This sesame paste can be found in health food stores or the imported food aisle of most supermarkets. Look for a tahini that’s creamy and well-blended — the oil shouldn’t be separated out and sitting at the top half of the jar. Good tahini also shouldn’t have a bitter aftertaste. It should be refrigerated after opening since any oil can turn rancid over time. Ziyad Tahini is distributed nationally in grocery chains. Call Ziyad Brothers Importing at 708-222-8330 to locate a store near you.