It is HOT out today and about the last thing I want to do is fire up the grill for supper. No, it is definitely time to make something to eat straight from the refrigerator. In fact, I may just take my time deciding what to take out of the crisper and enjoy the cool air flowing delightfully into my face as I look for it.
I will take some tomatoes, a couple of celery ribs, a nice cucumber, a fresh bell pepper, and some shallots—that’s a good start. I will chop them all up together and add some minced garlic, a little parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Dressing it with some olive oil, a bit of red wine vinegar, and just a touch of Worcestershire sauce, it is back into the refrigerator for a couple of hours and when it comes out—viola!—Gazpacho! There is nothing quite like an ice-cold bowl of fresh “vegetable soup” on a hot summer day. With one cup only about 100 calories, I don’t feel at all bad when I add a few croutons for a little crunch. Yum!
There are many recipes for tasty, healthy foods that are refreshingly cool for summer days. Some can be time consuming to make, with lots of unusual spices and ingredients. The ones I prefer, however, are the easy recipes that make use of things I already have in the refrigerator. Salads are a great example of this.
I always have a head of iceberg lettuce in the crisper, so a classic wedge salad is only minutes away from being ready to eat. I remove the outer layer of leaves from the lettuce head, cut it in half, and then in half again, then take one of the quarter sections and slice it in half one last time. Keeping all of the leaves intact, I lay it down on a plate so it looks like a piece of cake flopped over on its side. I drizzle bleu cheese dressing, sprinkle some bacon bits, and add a few slices of tomato. That is it! The shape of the lettuce leaves holds the dressing so every bite is just the right combination of creamy taste, crunchy texture, and colorful delight. I often stray from this classic recipe by using whatever veggies I have at the moment. Cucumbers, radishes, peppers, and whatever else I happen to have to give the lettuce more taste, since iceberg lettuce by itself has so little. Croutons make a good substitute for the bacon. Using creamy balsamic vinaigrette dressing instead of bleu cheese—it is to die for. It seems as if no two creations are ever the same, which makes preparation an adventure every time.
Another way to experiment with cold salads is to use fruit instead of vegetables. Almost any combination works well to satisfy the craving for sweet coolness on a hot day. Peaches, pineapple, strawberries, bananas, blueberries and grapes make a wonderful start. The key is to cut the pieces so they are approximately the same size and retain as much of the natural juices as possible. The fresher the better, but even fruit from a can is perfectly acceptable and often more convenient. Be sure to save, and use, the juice from the cans. I find that letting the mixture chill overnight brings out an amazing blend of flavors the next morning. Topping off a serving with some whipped cream makes this an absolutely sinful treat when it is as hot as a fire cracker lit on both ends outside.
These are only a few suggestions for cool meals on hot days, and hopefully you are inspired to give them and others a try. It was with great trepidation that I first tasted Gazpacho last summer, but one mouthful was all it took to help me see what I had been missing for so long. Now it is one of my favorite soups. So take a walk on the wild side and chill out this summer. Bon appetite!