Heat Wave Cooking
Any friend of mine knows that it takes a lot to keep me from making dinner. It's part of my daily routine and has been for many years. I can be persuaded to dine in a restaurant, but not often. Until it's summer.
Hot weather and I don't get along. By day's end, even with air conditioning, I'm wilted, cranky, and de-motivated. Transit budget cuts must be why this summer it's been harder to find air conditioned subway cars; coming home in a sultry subway filled with sweating New Yorkers proves how tolerant and resolved and, thankfully, well-bathed folks in this city can be.
New York's not the only place where it's been hotter than usual and home cooks in many cities have the dilemma of choosing between cooking with summer's irresistible ingredients and boycotting our own kitchens.
But we have options. Some require a little planning but most just need a little switching around of the ways we may normally make our meals. So to help, here are some hot weather cooking recommendations:
Although convection ovens and other newer appliances have overshadowed the microwave oven, it's still a fixture in most kitchens. A microwave is not perfect for everything, but it's a versatile technology that can cook many foods well, quickly, and without excess heat.
If you've relegated your microwave to reheating coffee, maybe this hot summer is a time to get re-acquainted with it. One of microwave cooking's best advocates is award-winning cookbook author Barbara Kafka. In the recipe section of her website and blog, BKafka.com, she shares some of her microwave recipes. Or take a look at her splendid book, Microwave Gourmet.
Ms. Kafka also shared with us her recipe for making shrimp risotto in the microwave. That means that even if it's too steamy to spend a half hour stirring Arborio rice over a hot stove, you can still satisfy a summer craving for risotto.
I'm still relatively new to using a slow cooker. I got my first one about two years ago and love it for dishes like braised lamb shanks and beef short ribs, meals I associate with winter appetites. But the fact is that you can cook summer flavors as well in a slow cooker.
If you're a slow cooker novice and want an introduction, we have an article that will help you buy a cooker, find slow cooker cookbooks, and tips for getting the best results.
Hot Weather Recipes
City cooks usually don't have grills so for most of us, stepping out of an air-conditioned apartment to throw some chicken breasts on the barbeque isn't an option. And while microwaves and slow cookers let us make complex dishes without an oven, on our hottest days I think most of us prefer hardly-cooked or not-cooked meals. It helps that summer produce is particularly satisfying, suggesting that with foods this good, we shouldn't be fussing with them anyway.
My hot weather favorites include pasta and other grains. Before I get your wagging finger about how boiling water heats up a small kitchen, hear this suggestion: for pasta, rice, couscous or similar salads you can cook the pasta or grains several hours in advance -- maybe before the day hits its peak heat -- and giving your kitchen time to afterwards cool off. Bring the water to a boil with a cover on and that will reduce nearly half of its steaminess (but take off the cover while cooking to avoid over-boiling which would be a steamy mess). After the pasta or grain is cooked and drained, add a small amount of olive oil. Use only about a teaspoon on a pound of pasta. Then toss and refrigerate. You're going to add dressing anyway and the tiny amount of oil will keep the cooked pasta or rice from turning into a single block as it chills. This works best if you'll be making the salad within three hours.
I also let a local market cook my chickens. I'm an avowed fan of rotisserie chickens and there's no better time to make use of these spit-roasted chickens than in the summer.
Finally, try to cook once and eat twice. Summer is a perfect time for leftovers, especially if both meals feature fresh salads, vegetables and fruit. As examples, last night our dinner on a very hot night was half of a rotisserie chicken plus a room temperature pasta salad. Tonight I'll add the rest of the chicken to a potato salad dressed with a sour cream-mayonnaise-mustard dressing which I'll serve on a bed of arugula and big chunks of the first field tomatoes I found at my local Greenmarket.
Here are some of my hot weather favorites, all of which I've been making during these back-to-back heat waves.
- Pasta with "salsa cruda." Chopped fresh tomatoes with a pinch each of salt and red pepper flakes; let sit in a bowl and get soupy while you cook pasta (I like this best with a cut pasta like ziti or rigatoni because it mixes better than a long strand like capellini). Drain the pasta, rinse with cool water and toss with the tomato mixture, adding a drizzle of olive oil, a few spoonfuls of good ricotta or chunks of fresh mozzarella, and some torn basil leaves to make a pasta version of the popular Insalata Caprese. See our recipe.
- Crabmeat salad with lemon mayonnaise and fine dice of celery and jalapeno. Serve as you would a more expensive lobster salad, on a toasted bun or as a side with sliced tomatoes and a handful of tender lettuce.
- Ceviche. This is raw fish or shellfish that is "cooked" with citrus juice, usually lime juice. We've added a lilnk to a recipe from the Go Green East Harlem cookbook that's made with sea bass or other white fish.
- Tuna tartare. Made with a fine dice of top quality raw tuna and served as a main dish or a topping for hors d'oeuvres. I prefer this classic dish made simply so to taste the tuna, but others like to add small pieces of tomato or avocado. See our recipe.
- Cold soups. These include sorrel soup, gazpacho, cucumber soup, vichyssoise, and cold borscht.
- Melon with paper-thin slices of prosciutto and a drizzle of good olive oil served with cold or room temperature vegetables steamed in the microwave (such as asparagus, green beans, yellow beans).
- Brewed iced tea with freshly sliced lemons and sugar syrup. Make the syrup by dissolving 3/4 cup sugar in one cup of water and put over a low heat, stirring or swirling the pan until the sugar dissolves. Cool completely and keep in a jar until ready to use. Sugar syrup is also good for fresh lemonade because you don't end up with un-dissolved grains of sugar at the bottom of your glass. And while you can instead use easy-to-dissolve superfine sugar, making syrup with regular granulated sugar is less expensive.
- Cold poached salmon. Serve with a cold sauce made with sour cream (I use reduced fat sour cream and can't tell the difference) into which you've grated a little raw onion. For one cup of sour cream I add about 2 heaping tablespoons grated onion, one teaspoon lemon juice, and a few drops of hot sauce to taste.
- Salads with anything that's in season that tastes great raw. This includes radishes, paper-thin slices of sweet carrots, tender salad greens, bell peppers, cucumbers -- a visit to a good produce market or farmers' market will inspire you. Add grated Parmesan or jack cheese, or chunks of Gouda, or pieces of cooked chicken or ham if you want to add more protein and body. I also love salad sandwiches, such as sliced radishes on sweet butter with sea salt, or a mix of sliced red onion, lettuce and tomato in mustard vinaigrette covered with a thick spread of creamy hummus.
- Watermelon and tomato salad. With chunks of salty feta cheese it's a surprisingly wonderful combination of flavors.
- Rotisserie chicken salad. We've added a link to one of our favorites that's good enough for company.
- Canned tuna. Buy good imported tuna packed in olive oil and add it to potato salad, microwaved green beans, sliced tomatoes, or other vegetables. Make satisfying and messy tuna sandwiches like an oily pan bagnat using big pieces of focaccia with lots of extras, such as leaves of tangy sorrel instead of lettuce.
- A bowl of big strawberries passed with bowls of sour cream and brown sugar for dipping.
- Store-bought pound cake with sliced fresh peaches.
- Glasses of icy-cold prosecco or cava. Float some fresh blackberries in each glass.
- Liquify pieces of cold watermelon in a blender and spike with a shot of icy vodka.
- Ice cream sandwiches. Buy some good bakery cookies and partner with a favorite ice cream or sorbet. Re-freeze before serving so that the sandwiches firm up.
- Root beer floats. Use good root beer -- a local artisanal brand that has real flavor -- with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Can you stand a little more time at the stove? Summer greens like Swiss chard cook in a flash in a hot pan and a little olive oil -- they'll be done before the heat rises. Or crab cakes, which are pan-sautéed. See our recipe. You can assemble the crab mixture in advance and then pan cook just before serving, two minutes a side.
Stay cool but still cook happily and eat well.