Easy, cool dishes for hot summer days.
We used to say that we never needed air conditioning in the Pacific Northwest because we only had hot weather for a few weeks a year. And even those days weren’t that hot. That was then. Recent years have shown us the fallacy of that belief. It gets hot earlier, stays hot longer and continues to set records for temperatures that are not just uncomfortable, but potentially dangerous.
My enduring memory from deciding to ignore the heat was during my annual fervor to be an Urban Farm Wife. I was determined to make cherry jam with a good friend in my kitchen in Victoria, B.C. The temperature was predicted to be in the 80’s—unthinkable back then—so we ignored it.
We started out early, doing just fine, using our little cherry-pitters to discard the pits, collecting the sweet juices and flesh in large bowls. We were splattered in cherry juice and beginning to feel the heat by midday. At one point we decided to just strip to our waists and continue the project. Anybody inadvertently arriving might have thought they had wandered into a Gauguin painting with dark-haired Island women. That’s what I told myself anyway.
Given the past few summers, I have vowed to not turn on the oven or stove top when the temperature is over 75 degrees. Even with air conditioning, eating light and cool is a good choice. Frozen might even be better.
The Northwest provides an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables available at farmers markets and many organic grocery stores. It is easy to stock up on ingredients for salads and spreads that combine summer’s bounty with whatever proteins are needed to round out a meal.
Consider cooking and storing some of the grains like quinoa, wheatberries, and barley that can add protein and fiber to whatever else you serve. I think of precooked lentils as a super food that can even go into smoothies for more nutrition.
While you can buy prepared foods at many of organic markets in the area, consider a few special recipes that you can be made early in the day or assembled at the last minute that will dazzle guests with cool choices.
And you won’t have to remove any of your clothes unless the idea appeals to you or others close to you!
Use some of the recipes below to combine for a whole meal or as special dishes for other meals that you have bought or prepared.
Essence of Summer—Fresh Tomato-Lime Soup
- 2–2 ½ lbs mixed ripe organic tomatoes (some yellow, red, orange, heirlooms, etc.)
- Fresh tarragon (approximately 1 Tbsp. leaves)
- Lime juice (juice of 1 or 2 limes)
- Salt & Pepper
- Cut tomatoes into chunks, add everything to processor and process until soupy. Chill and serve, or serve immediately.
- You can also add the uncooked kernels from one ear of corn, cut off, and added to the processor.
- Check the flavors to balance the tart and salt and the amount of tarragon you like.
- 1 lb. fresh tomatoes—rinsed, and quartered
- 1 lb. fresh strawberries
- Lime juice (juice of 1 or 2 limes)
- Handful of fresh basil leaves (2 Tbsp. chopped)
- strawberry balsamic or regular balsamic vin egar
- Salt & Pepper
- Cut tomatoes into chunks, remove stems from strawberries, and add everything to processor and process until soupy. Chill and serve, or serve immediately.
- Check the flavors to balance the tart and salt and the amount of basil you like.
Of course you could have this with vodka as a drink or a bit of vodka in the soup as a starter!
The Minimalist’s Gravlax by Mark Bittman
Usually associated with the Winter Holidays, Gravlax can make a terrific summer brunch or light dinner. Serve with your favorite potato salad as a main course.
TOTAL TIME—10 minutes (plus 24 to 36 hours refrigeration)
- 1 cup salt
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 bunch dill, stems and all, chopped
- 1, 2- to 3-pound fillet of salmon, pin bones removed
- Mix together the salt, sugar and dill. Place the salmon, skin side down, on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Cover the flesh side of the salmon with the salt mixture, making sure to coat it completely. (There will be lots of salt mix; just pile it on.)
- Wrap the fish well. If the temperature is below 70 degrees, and it is not too inconvenient, let it rest outside the refrigerator for about 6 hours, then refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours more. Otherwise, refrigerate immediately for about 36 hours.
- Unwrap the salmon, and rinse off the cure. Dry, then slice on the bias. Serve plain or with lemon wedges, capers, sliced sweet onions, creme fraiche, sour cream, or a light vinaigrette.
Serves 4 to 6, depending on what part of the meal you are using it for.
For Danish Mustard sauce, use ½ c. Dijon or whole grain mustard, add chopped dill and a tablespoon of brown sugar or 1 tsp. maple syrup
There are excellent prepared tzatziki sauces, including a vegan tzatziki at Trader Joe’s
This recipe and variations are based on Lynn Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift’s wonderful book, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper
These refreshing desserts use store-bought frozen fruit (of course you can freeze fresh fruit, but don’t have to). They come together instantly and need to be served right away. They require a food-processor and a cluster of flavorings.
- One ¼–½ inch piece of fresh ginger peeled – or use 2-4 frozen crushed ginger cubes
- One 16 oz. bag frozen unsweetened pineapple chunks or 4 to 5 cups home-frozen pineapple or other fruit
- ¼ tsp. almond extract*
- Pinch salt
- 5 Tbsp. sugar (or to taste)
- Juice of ½ lemon or to taste
- 3 Tbsp. water (or other liquid-OJ, fruit juices)
- With food processor running, drop ginger through feed tube. Process for 1 second.
- Add pineapple, a few chunks at a time.
- Finish with almond extract, salt, sugar, lemon juice, and water.
- Continue pureeing, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
- Process until sorbet is smooth as cream. If too stiff, add another tablespoon of liquid.
- Serve immediately with some fancy cookies of your choice.
Other flavor combinations:
- Tropical fruits (mango, passion fruit)
Tricks worth trying:
- Swirl in ½ c. heavy cream or coconut cream to keep it vegan.
*Rossetto Kasper suggests using ¼ teaspoon of almond extract with fruit and in baked goods. It adds a wonderful taste element to any number of baked and fruity desserts.
Before Rebecca Crichton worked for Boeing, taught leadership development, or became executive director of the Northwest Center for Creative Aging, she was a caterer, recipe developer, and food journalist. She has taught cooking to seniors and others, and can reel off food ideas and recipes for any part of a meal or event. She believes in easily prepared, healthy, and taste-filled food that delights and satisfies.