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June 5, 2013

Summer Guide 2013: Nobody got time for a hot kitchen in the summer

Recipes to help you and your kitchen keep cool

I was laughing with a girlfriend recently as she recounted how, in the heat of the summer, even though she hadn’t seen her long-distance boyfriend in quite some time and their time together was limited, it was just too hot to touch each other, much less rekindle any, um, romance. We all know the feeling of sweltering summer heat. Some of us are lucky enough to have more effective air conditioning systems, but even the nicest of houses can suffer from a hot kitchen in the summertime. And if you think about it, why would anyone want to create more “hot” in the kitchen in summer?

OK, so the house is hot, but there’s no need to starve. Grilling offers a fine alternative to indoor cooking and can actually provide a quicker and more flavorful meal, all while keeping the cooking outside, our energy bills low, and our homes cooler and more pleasant. Firing up the grill doesn’t have to be something that is saved for special cookouts or the weekend. If you have a propane grill, it only takes a few minutes to heat and the cooking time is significantly faster than baking. Yes, some might find charcoal to be the superior grilling technique because of the flavor it imparts, but getting a charcoal grill started is time consuming and it makes everyday grilling less realistic. Save that for special occasions.

Although my grill doesn’t see much action in the cold weather, at the first signs of spring it becomes my mainstay of cooking throughout the warm season.

Better yet, there are plenty of cold dishes and salads that make the perfect refreshing meal or accompaniment on a hot day. There is something unmistakable about the weather heating up that changes our natural cravings for the types of food we eat. In the winter, we crave warm, hearty food. In the summer, lighter, cooler food becomes the refreshing preference, as if it can cool our bodies down as much as it can provide nourishment. Cold dishes are often quick to prepare and make use of fresh seasonal produce.

One of the best things about summer is that the hottest months of the year also coincide with the seasonal abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. Nothing says summertime like juicy ripe tomatoes, fresh watermelon or sweet corn. Seasonal produce has unmatched flavor, aroma and uniqueness that makes every recipe taste better.

Below are some of my favorite dishes that take advantage of the seasonal produce. The best part is, it will leave your house and kitchen cooler, making it much more temperate for rekindling that lost romance. Because a hot kitchen in the summertime? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Black Bean Burgers

2 16-ounce cans of black beans drained and rinsed (or 3 cups drained, cooked black beans)

1 jalapeño, deseeded

½ onion, chopped

1 small bunch of cilantro

3 eggs

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 tablespoons cumin powder

1½ cups whole wheat breadcrumbs

½ teaspoon salt and pepper

Parchment paper

In a food processor, combine half of the black beans, jalapeño, onion, cilantro and spices. Combine until smooth and the vegetables are finely chopped. Add the other half of the black beans and pulse to blend the beans, but still leave some texture. Remove the black bean mixture and place in a large bowl. Add the eggs and breadcrumbs and combine until smooth. Form into patties with clean hands, placing patties between layers of parchment paper. Recipe should yield 8-12 patties depending on the size. Freeze for two hours or longer to help the patties stay together on the grill. Extras can be frozen indefinitely and saved for future use.

To cook: Lightly spray the patties with nonstick spray before placing on grill. Cook patties on a preheated grill, cooking about six minutes per side. Serve with all the fixins. I recommend Thai chili sauce and sliced avocado on a bun.

Sesame Kale Salad or Grilled Sesame Kale

This makes a delicious and refreshing kale salad, but the dressing can also be used as a marinade and the kale can be grilled for a unique spin on cooking greens.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

¼ cup rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon unrefined sugar

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

8 ounces curly kale, de-stemmed and chopped

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

In a large bowl, whisk the first six ingredients together until thoroughly combined and sugar has dissolved. Add kale and mix to coat. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and mix again. Allow to sit for 30 minutes or longer for best flavor.

To serve grilled, grill marinated kale on high heat in a vegetable grill pan stirring occasionally with tongs until kale is still bright green but slightly charred, about eight minutes.

Watermelon, Tomato & Bleu Cheese Salad

6 cups chopped watermelon (about one medium watermelon)

3 cups chopped heirloom tomatoes

¼ cup chopped scallion

¼ cup thinly sliced basil ribbons

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

2 ounces crumbled bleu cheese

salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk olive oil and balsamic vinegar until emulsified and creamy. Place watermelon, tomato, scallion and basil in a large bowl. Gently stir to combine. Drizzle with oil and vinegar and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add bleu cheese and gently toss. Serve cold, of course.