Most of us in the U.S. have been very aware of the heat lately, particularly in the country's mid-section which has been baking! But speaking of mid-sections, a family still has to eat, heat or no, right? I happen to live in a charming old house with a lot of nice features, but no central air conditioning. So any amount of stove or oven cooking makes my kitchen feel like the surface of the sun. And since installing central A/C would cost more than most new cars, I have had to learn to live (and eat!) with the heat.
Now, the simple answer is to go out to a restaurant, order in, or just eat a bowl of cold cereal for most meals. But when the heat drags on, our health, our bodies, and our wallets beg for some cool and nutritious options. The following is a list of my favorite ideas to beat the heat and still eat healthy, homemade meals. Maybe you have a few ideas of your own that you would like to share -- please do!!
1. Salad, salad, salad!
When it's hot out, I make as many kinds of cold salads as possible that require little or no heat to prepare. If you can handle the added steam of a boiling pot of water, potato salads are certainly tasty (especially this one by Ina Garten), and pasta salads are great for using up leftover anything in the fridge, but for me, these are very heavy eating, and the cooking creates too much heat, so here are some alternatives:
- Green salad -- Of course, for many, lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers with dinner every night is a no-brainer, especially when all the fixings are in season. But try giving your salad a little more "umph" and add some of your favorite nuts and seeds, like walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, and flax. Include some croutons, dried cranberries, or crumbled feta and you can hit all the major food groups. Not only will your salad turn into a meal, but with those brain-boosting omega-3s, your dinner just got smarter!
- Corn salad -- Try this recipe for a corn and bean salad or check out some other ideas from a TDB post about frozen veggies. Yes, if it's fresh, you do have to cook the corn, but when you do, make extra to cut off the cob and save. Or just buy a bag of frozen corn!
- Bulgur Salad -- Bulgur (or cracked wheat) is my go-to grain to avoid lengthy cook times and lots of steam heating up my kitchen. It takes a scant 10 minutes to cook, so I like to make a big batch at the beginning of the week and live off the leftovers. If you're new to cooking and eating bulgur, Tabbouleh salad is a classic preparation, but there are many ways to use this delightful ingredient. It can be combined with just about any vegetable, herb or spice....tonight I made some with a traditional basil pesto -- let your taste buds guide you!
- Crab salad -- mix some jumbo lump crab meat with chopped onions, fresh dill, lemon zest and juice, a little Dijon mustard and just enough mayonnaise to hold it together. Serve it with whole-wheat pita, and watch it all disappear into happy, hungry mouths. Good crab can sometimes be pricey, so consider frozen, cooked shrimp as a more cost-friendly alternative.
- Spinach salad -- fresh spinach, cut strawberries, red onion, walnuts, crumbled feta, and a raspberry vinaigrette. Try it -- it's delicious!
- Wheat berries -- fully cooking wheat berries requires 30+ minutes on the stove, but it's great served at room temperature, and it's a healthy alternative to starchy options, like potatoes or pasta. Check out two delicious recipes for wheat berry salads from a friend of Two Dancing Buckeyes. In our house these always get rave reviews.
2. Go Raw and Vegetarian!
It's fortunate that the heat of summer coincides with the harvest season. Each week I pick up as many seasonal veggies from the farmers markets that can be consumed raw, such as cucumbers, bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, green onions, and tomatoes. I serve these almost every night with a cold dip, such as tzatziki, hummus, or salsa. Seeds, nuts, and dried fruit combined like a trail mix also make a filling snack or meal accompaniment. Take this opportunity to consume more of the foods that are available to eat straight off the tree or out of the ground. Many veggies are very hydrating and easy to digest. Meat, on the other hand, is harder for your body to process, which can make you feel hotter. Best of all, fresh veggies are delicious and good for you and many require no cooking at all!
Of course, eating a lot of ripe, seasonal, and local fruit is also a great way to beat the heat. While peaches, berries, and melons abound, pack as many as you can into your daily diet. Blend them with milk and yogurt for a refreshing smoothie snack. Or top your fruit with a little Greek yogurt and drizzled raw honey, to make a delicious dessert to top off a healthy summer meal.
4. Iced Coffee
If you are a caffeine addict, like me, chances are that you can't go without that morning coffee (I never claimed to be without a vice!) But who wants to put something that is 100+ degrees in the body when it's 100+ degrees outside the body, too?!?! Instead, simply make a full pot of strong coffee, and promptly transfer it to a container with a lid. Add sugar and cream to your liking, shake it up, and let it chill in the fridge for a couple hours. My preferred ratio is 8 oz coffee / 4 oz milk / 2 teaspoons sugar. Serve it in a chilled glass the next time you desire a cool pick-me-up. You can also blend it with ice for a frosty treat or some vanilla ice cream for a tasty milk shake!
5. Slow Cooking
Many people turn to the outdoor grill as their cooking apparatus of choice when the temperatures are on the rise, but what about some other alternatives to the oven and stove? Admittedly, I am not normally a huge Crock Pot user, but when it's hot outside this portable source of heat becomes my friend. Many recipes can be adapted to be made in a slow cooker, such as baked casseroles, lasagna, and stews. Find a spot in your house that will not be so affected by the heat (such as an unused room or an enclosed porch), and cook away.
6. Smoked Salmon
Finally, I have to include my 3-year-old son's favorite food - smoked salmon. It can be served many ways, including on salads, in scrambled eggs, with pasta, or between slices of bread. The sandwich, in particular, makes a great summer evening meal option. Spread some cream cheese mixed with chopped chives on two slices of toast, then add thinly-sliced cucumbers and a single layer of sliced smoked salmon. It's a nice alternative to processed deli meats. Tip -- rinse the salmon briefly with cold water, or if serving with pasta, dip the salmon for just a few seconds in the hot pasta water. This helps to remove some of the excess salty flavor leftover from the smoking process and loosens the layers of pre-sliced salmon.
What are some of the ways that you have been beating the heat? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this post. We'd love to hear from you!
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