The news around here hasn't been all that interesting lately. It's been hot, but that's not really news anymore. It's hot in a lot of places these days, and it seems that the longer the heat stretches out before us, the less we're inclined to talk about it. It's not new, unusual, or different, it just is.
We're doing the typical hot-weather things: Going to the beach. Playing in the sprinkler. Swinging in the hammock. Sitting in front of the fan and playing with its voice-altering effects (does anyone else remember doing this as a kid?). We haven't been wearing much in the way of clothes.
Oddly, the kids seem not to have noticed that the mercury and relative humidity have been closing in on the 90°/90% marks almost every day now for weeks on end. They continue to run and jump and dance, matted with sweat, but with as much energy and exuberance as ever. That's one aspect of childhood that my adult self hasn't figured out how to recover. (And honestly? I'm not that eager to. I'm content with my fan and a lemonade.)
But what the heat does change, for me anyway, are my food choices. What I want to eat, how I want it prepared, and where I want to eat it, are all dictated by the weather these days. Mostly, I can say that my preferences are pretty static: I want lots of fruits and veggies, eaten raw or minimally cooked, and served outside, preferably in the shade of our large maples. (Unless it's dinner at the beach, of which I'm becoming an ardent fan.) My once bustling, constantly-in-use kitchen has been reduced to a food-storage facility, with a nice countertop for chopping and slicing. A quick mental check tells me I've only turned on my oven once in 12 days - surely a record for me! But the thought of preheating that behemoth is a terribly strong deterrent lately.
That is one tired, sweaty-looking boy!
So now the challenge has been to find enough variety in what I am willing to make to satisfy my palate, while keeping me out of the kitchen as much as possible. This has been harder than perhaps it should be. I blame it on the fact that I make almost everything from scratch, so have very few convenience foods to work with, just ingredients. Couple that with my children's annoying habit of refusing to eat green salads, and I have lately found myself hard-pressed to come up with a good dinner. This is not a position I am familiar with, or comfortable in.
Which leads me to you: how have you been beating the heat while still keeping your families well-fed? Are you all raw foodists these days? Or maybe you've got some favorite make-early-while-the-kitchen's-cool dishes that you've been relying on? These are common questions in the food blogosphere, but I'd like to hear your take on it. (Obviously, I'm fishing for ideas here.)
In the spirit of sharing, I'll start things off by giving you my new favorite no-cook summer recipe, which I'm calling Asian Slaw. I think most "Asian" slaws have those crunchy (full of gluten) noodles in them, but mine is cabbage-based. Specifically, it is full of baby bok choy. Do you remember how much I hate bok choy? Well, not anymore! Thanks to the encouragement of friends in response to that bok choy post, I bought some and tried out a couple of dishes with it.
The biggest surprise for me, given my historic distaste for the cabbage? Turns out that the only way I don't like bok choy is steamed whole! This, you must understand, was not what I was expecting at all. I was hoping for a best-case scenario where I might find one or two specific preparations in which the texture of bok choy was buried deeply enough under other appealing textures and flavors that I could tolerate it, if not outright ignore it. Imagine my surprise to discover that the slippery texture I was so put off by isn't ever an issue as long as you put a bit of thought into the preparation of bok choy! And the flavor is refreshing: sharp and bitter, but in a much cleaner, clearer sense than the earthy bitterness of, say, kale or chard. It is a wonderful vegetable to spend the summer with.
So, here's the secret to my newfound friend: separate the leaf from the stem, and cut it all up into manageable pieces (I like to chiffonade it). This way, I can cook (or not cook, as the case may be) the bok choy stems just long enough to soften them a bit, without going all the way into limpdom, and toss in the leaves at the end to just barely wilt them. Perfect. And, truthfully, not a "secret" I can take credit for at all - I owe a big Thank You to my friend Irvin over at Eat the Love. He's just a wealth of ideas and inspiration, this bok choy situation being just one example. Irvin, thanks to you, I have gone through two heads of bok choy and one head of baby bok choy in about a month, and I've got another head of baby bok choy waiting to become dinner tonight! I am officially a convert.
Back to that Asian Slaw recipe - this is my current favorite incarnation of bok choy, not coincidentally due to its raw state. I get to keep my kitchen cool, and the bok choy stays crisp and crunchy, miles away from the dreaded sliminess. When I first made this slaw, I intended to have a base of all bok choy, but a last-minute moment of doubt caused me to add some mild green cabbage as well. It was delicious, but I think you could go even heavier on the bok choy without it becoming unpalatably bitter. The sauce is nothing surprising, a typical Asian peanut sauce, but it's perfect with the cabbages, and makes for an addicting slaw. Seriously - I ate it three days in a row without tiring of it. And if you have leftover sauce (and you may want to make extra to ensure that you do), it makes a fabulous cold pasta salad with gluten-free spaghetti, grated carrots, and chopped scallions.
There, now I've given you two cool, easy-to-make summer meal ideas. Your turn!
Makes a large bowlful, about 6-8 servings. You may get a couple meal's worth out of it, unless you've got guests over. In which case you might want to make a double batch.
For the sauce:
6 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp sesame oil
5 Tbsp all-natural peanut butter (creamy or crunchy)
3 Tbsp wheat-free tamari
3 Tbsp light brown sugar
a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger root, grated (I use a ceramic grater like this)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
For the slaw:
1 head of baby bok choy, cut into chiffonade
1/2 head of green cabbage, sliced thin
1 large carrot, julienned
2 scallions, sliced thin
2 Tbsp cilantro, coarsely chopped, plus extra for garnish
Make the sauce:
Place all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl, stir (or whisk) to combine, and set aside to let the flavors mingle and intensify.
Make the slaw:
Place all the slaw ingredients in a large bowl, toss to mix, and add the sauce, mixing to thoroughly coat everything. You may want to add half the sauce first, taste, then add more according to how strong (and saucy!) you want your slaw.
Garnish with cilantro and serve, preferably outside. Asian slaw keeps, refrigerated, for up to three days.