Quick meteorological fact: by this time last year, Washington, DC registered ten days with high temperatures over 90F. This year, so far, we’ve experienced forty, with more to come in August. Welcome to summer on the eastern seaboard. In the spirit of the season, I’m participating in the Summer Food 2010 Project, where other foodical types will write and podcast about the many foods of summer. Picnics, beach food, barbecues, putting up jam and pickles … if it’s about summer, we’ll be talking about it!
I don’t need to tell you that, once the temperatures rise, firing up the stove seems less and less appealing. On the hottest nights, I don’t cook anything at all. That doesn’t mean we don’t eat. After all, summer dinners are about simplicity and taking advantage of the season, and few things are easier or tastier in the summer than fresh produce.
Two things. First, complicated raw preparations are out of the question. Could you simulate cheese with raw cashews, or make a raw mushroom “burger”? You could, but it takes time, planning, and effort. Could you make some kind of kale-mint-broccoli drink? Yes, but it would be gross. Second, a number of foods aren’t edible or tasty when raw. Some, like most mushrooms and most beans that you usually find in a dry state, must be cooked to neutralize toxins before eating. (There exist some exceptions, like button, cremini, and porcini.) Others aren’t tasty without cooking. Raw potatoes and sweet potatoes possess an unpleasant crispness and starchy taste from the free water and starch. Raw plantain and okra are slimy. Eggplant/aubergine is astringent and bitter unless cooked; quince, usually used for preserves like membrillo, is mouth-puckeringly tart. To me, raw brassicas like cauliflower, broccoli, and kale, are unpleasantly cabbage-y, although I know some people who love uncooked kale.
Instead of trying your damnedest to whip up a raw potato salad, try these refreshing light dishes. Each one can be prepared in minutes, without heating up your kitchen. You can use the time you save to sit around doing nothing in particular.
Cantaloupe soup with mint
I came up with this one evening when I finally got tired of the half cantaloupe taking up space in the refrigerator. Coincidentally it was about 90F outside even though the sun had set, and I wasn’t interested in firing up the stove. This might be the easiest and most striking summer dish in your repertoire. Don’t limit yourself to cantaloupe – honeydew and watermelon work just as well. If you elect to use watermelon, you might consider a seedless variety to save time.
one cantaloupe (or other similar melon), halved, and seeds scooped out
one lime, halved
about 4-6 mint leaves
mint and basil leaves, chiffonade
Scoop the cantaloupe flesh – I use a giant metal serving spoon – into a Vitaprep or blender, add a pinch of salt, the mint leaves, and the juice of about half a lime (use less if the cantaloupe is not very sweet). The lime juice is not meant to make the soup tart – you want to bring out the flavors of the cantaloupe with a little acid. Add more if necessary. Purée until completely smooth.
Pour into cups or small bowls. Garnish with a quenelle of yoghurt, a little sea salt, and the chiffonade herbs.
Zucchini, peach, ricotta salad
Strictly speaking this is not a “raw” dish. Ricotta cheese is made from whey or milk that has been heated before curdling. (Arguably, the same is true of the yoghurt garnish for the cantaloupe soup.) That said, most of you aren’t making your own ricotta – or yoghurt, for that matter – so don’t let this technicality bother you unless you are a raw food enthusiast.
1 zucchini/courgette, washed well
1 large peach, washed well
1/2 c ricotta cheese
one lemon, zested and halved
1 tsp green peppercorn mustard or Dijon mustard
espelette pepper (if you have it) or sriracha chile sauce
salt and pepper
Slice the zucchini thinly, lengthwise. Halve the peach, remove the pit, and slice each half thinly. Squeeze the juice of half the lemon over the peach slices.
Whisk together the juice of the other lemon half with the mustard. Season with a pinch of salt and a little pepper. If you do not have espelette pepper, add two or three drips of sriracha. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to form an emulsion (you will use between 2-3 times the quantity of oil as you have lemon juice).
Arrange the zucchini and peach on a platter. Drizzle with the emulsion and season with lemon zest, a little sea salt, and pepper. Spoon ricotta in 1 teaspoon bits over all.
Drizzle this sauce onto tomatoes, peaches, or nectarines, stir into steamed green beans, or use to sauce grilled or roasted meat. This sauce is equally at home with grilled chicken, halibut, and roast beef (or bison – see the photo below).
1 c watercress leaves
1 c arugula leaves
1 c basil leaves
1/2 c Italian parsley leaves
2 salt-packed anchovy filets
1 tbsp green peppercorn Dijon mustard
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 1/2 to 2 c extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Purée the herbs and greens in a Vitaprep or blender with anchovy, mustard, a grind or two of black pepper, and olive oil until completely smooth. You may need to turn off the blender from time to time and turn the contents to move the raw greens to the bottom, tamping everything down. When puréed, add half of the lemon juice and the vinegar and process again. Taste and add salt and additional lemon juice if necessary. The anchovies may make further salting unnecessary. Set aside in tightly sealed nonreactive container.
This is a true summer salad – tomatoes out of season are no good. If you grow your own heirlooms or otherwise have access, this is the time to use them. The pictured dish used red zebras and Cherokee purples, but nearly any tomato will work. The only tomatoes to avoid are the paste tomatoes, like San Marzano – these are less juicy by nature and are too dry for use in salad.
2-4 heirloom tomatoes
sea salt and pepper
Square off tomatoes and garnish with sauce verte, drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Retain tomato trimmings for another use (like saucemaking or just plain eating).