Summertime, and the Cookin' Is Easy
It’s that time of year, time to say hello to your outdoor grill and, gasp, your microwave (according to statistics, you probably do have this appliance in your kitchen). It’s time to be totally cool and grill and zap your way to meals. Or you just might add some no-cook recipes to your repertoire. Why heat up the house when a trip to the farmers market or your own garden can yield a wealth of ingredients that are easy to prepare and serve? I’ve been looking through a folder I marked “summer cooking” and I’ve some suggestions.
Chill Out with Soup
So often when I read an article on chilled soups, the word “refreshing” is used to describe the dish. Pick the right ingredients, do prep work early on, set the table ahead of time, and then pull the main course from the refrigerator as your guests settle themselves. I promise you’ll be and stay refreshed
I found this red soup recipe online last year, and I gave it my own five-star rating. It sounds a bit weird but, trust me, it is tasty and refreshing, also low in calories, so you’ll still fit into your bathing suit. Red and green are thought of as Christmasy, but they certainly star in the warmer weather.
This makes four servings, but I’ve easily doubled it. You can make it more substantial by adding a bowl of croutons to the table. The addition of the ground almonds is a thickener trick you’ll find in many Spanish recipes for gazpacho, of which this is a kissin’ cousin. I use a blender to puree—it results in a smoother texture than either a processor or hand-held immersion blender, but either of those will do in a pinch.
- 2 c. cubed seedless watermelon—or remove the seeds
- 2 large red, ripe tomatoes, quartered and peeled with a serrated peeler
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted ground almonds (see note)
- 1 fat clove of garlic or shallot, peeled and minced
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. red wine or sherry vinegar
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. crumbled feta cheese
- 1 Tbsp. Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh mint
Blend watermelon, skinned and cored tomatoes, ground almonds, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, and oil (you may have to do this in two batches). When smooth, divide among four bowls. Chill. Just before serving, garnish each bowl with feta, olives, and mint. Cruets of vinegar and olive oil are as welcome as salt and pepper on the table.
Note: Make sure none of your diners have a nut allergy. You could substitute fine, unseasoned bread crumbs as a thickener.
Chilled Cucumber Dill Soup
You can make this with regular (but peeled) cucumbers or with the long English variety that I only half peel. Although called “seedless,” I still split them and scrape away the watery cores. For more of a main course, add halves of cooked shrimp or even some crabmeat (yum) or white fish scattered over the soup. Or serve with smoked salmon on baguette slices. Add some seeded lemon quarters to the platter to spritz on the fish.
Not into fish? Try passing a serving plate with slices of pâté on pita chips. Finely chopped parsley sets this off tastefully. And now’s the time to use those small plates that you’ve collected over the years.
- 2 cucumbers, peeled (see above)
- 2 c. 2 percent Greek yogurt
- 1 shallot, peeled and finely diced
- 1 fat garlic clove, finely minced or passed through a microplane
- 1⁄4 tsp. ground cumin
- Juice of one lime
- 2 tsp. fresh chopped dill, plus sprigs
- Sea salt or Malden salt to taste
- 6 rounds of skin-on cukes for garnish (optional)
Cut the peeled cucumbers in half and remove the seeds with a teaspoon. Add to the blender along with the rest of the ingredients except the cuke rounds. You might want to mix the ingredients in a bowl and puree the mixture in two batches. Use a processor if you must, but the soup will not be quite as smooth. Taste for salt and then chill for at least one hour. Taste again and then serve in chilled bowls with a sprig of dill for décor. Incidentally, the soup looks great in those big-bowled wine glasses if you have some. Cut partway into the round disks of cucumber and slip one onto each bowl’s rim.
Briefly Cook, Blend, Chill, Serve
That’s a mouthful. But wait until you taste a mouthful of this delicious soup. I had to include it because it includes three of my favorite ingredients: asparagus, leeks, and spinach. They are easily sourced these days (perhaps in your garden plot) and, with a guacamole-like garnish, it’s so easy to “eat your greens.”
I found this recipe on Kathleen Flinn’s food blog. She adapted it from Hubert Keller, the Las Vegas chef and TV personality. I also caught the TV show in which the chef demonstrated the soup.
Chilled Spinach and Asparagus Soup
- 1 large (or two small) leeks, white and pale green parts
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 2 shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1-1⁄2 pounds asparagus, tips reserved, coarse stems lightly peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 4 c. low-salt chicken broth
- 2 c. chopped spinach leaves (about 3-1⁄2 ounces)
- 3 Tbsp. parsley (preferably Italian), roughly chopped
- 1⁄4 tsp. cayenne
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1⁄2 avocado, peeled and pitted
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp. sour cream
The best way to clean the leeks is to trim off the root end and tough outer leaf or two. Then chop the white and light green parts into about 1-inch pieces. Add these to a bowl of lukewarm water and agitate the vegetable to loosen any trapped soil. Rinse with more water and drain well.
Melt butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks and shallot and sauté until softened—about 5 minutes. Add trimmed asparagus and broth. Bring just to the boil, lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook 7-8 minutes, or until the asparagus is tender. Uncover and add spinach, recover until the spinach wilts, 2-3 minutes. Add the parsley and let the soup cool slightly off the heat.
Puree the room-temperature soup in a blender in batches. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne and pour into a large bowl, cover (use a sheet pan if your bowl doesn’t have a cover.) Refrigerate until soup is chilled, about 2 hours or overnight. Meanwhile, place the asparagus tips in a small microwave bowl with 1⁄4 cup water. Cover with a microwave-safe plate and cook 2 minutes or until the tips are tender.
Just before serving, check for salt and pepper to taste. Mix the ripe avocado with the lemon juice and sour cream. Ladle the soup, dividing it into six bowls. Top each bowl with the cooked tips arranged dramatically, then add a dollop of the sour cream/avocado mixture to each.
An Easy Summery Dessert
Ever tried strawberries in red wine? It’s a simple and seasonal red-on-red treat, and a favorite of mine. This serves 4.
2 pints fresh strawberries
2 Tbsp. granulated white sugar
2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
2 c. dry, fruity red Finger Lakes wine (ask the clerk)
Zest of one well-scrubbed lemon
Toppings: dollops of whipped cream or crème fraiche or vanilla yogurt (the Greek stuff is great)
Rinse the berries, stem them (an inexpensive strawberry huller is a low-cost investment that speeds prep), and cut them into 1⁄4-inch slices. Place them in a shallow dish. Add the sugars and toss. Add the wine, making sure the berries are covered. Cover with a lid (again, a flat cookie sheet or sheet pan will work). Let the berries macerate for up to 2 hours at room temperature. Spoon them and some of the liquid into a wine glass and top with a dollop of your choice—crème fraiche, lightly whipped cream, or yogurt.
As for me, check the nearest lawn chair. I’ll dive into the latest Agatha Raisin, the sleuth in several “cozy” novels, or any old book by that other Agatha—Christie. I hope I’ve solved the mystery of what to serve on a warm day.