Antidote for the Heat

We’re looking at another week of excessive heat warnings; we must find an antidote for the heat! I live in an early 20th century house. It has 12-foot ceilings and a variable speed dehumidifying heat & air system. I added vents in the kitchen/sunroom area. It should be relatively cool where I’m sitting. It is not. And it will get hotter as the sun sinks directly into the west windows.

When it feels like (checks phone so as not to exaggerate) 110˚ outside, there’s only so much you can do to cool the house. Of course there are things you can do to cool your body – sit in front of a fan, put a wet towel on the back of your neck, sit in a bathtub of cool water, and eat and drink cold foods.

The past week, I’ve been turning almost everything into a salad topping. Pork tenderloin – shred some and throw it on a salad. Baked beets – serve those puppies cold on top of a salad. Blackened Brussels sprouts – you guessed it; chop them up for a salad. In fact, I combined those three atop shredded bok choy, arugula, and Swiss chard yesterday for lunch.

The thing I like about salads is the variety of tastes you can achieve by using the same ingredients paired and dressed differently. This works especially well for families who have different tastes. You can pre-make salad to each person’s preference or get out some colorful serving bowls and let everyone mix their own. This is especially advantageous for families with multiple differing allergies or intolerances.

When I purchase greens, I like to have a lighter lettuce option – butter, romaine, or iceberg – to pair with bitter or peppery greens. My favorite mild salad green is mȃche, also known as corn salad, but it’s not easy to find. Baby book choy and baby Swiss chard are also delicious mild salad greens. I may also offer spinach as an option.

Many like to include greens with bigger flavor. Popular bitter greens include frisée, radicchio, and dandelion greens. Watercress is great in salads. It may be bitter or peppery. Arugula is also bitter and peppery and grows like crazy in my garden.

I recently made a quick happy hour appetizer by topping crostini with cheese, salami, shredded arugula and balsamic drizzle. Arugula, prosciutto, and cantaloupe also play well together. Tomorrow I may make a salad with those flavors. I could also add a little fresh mozzarella, basil, and the same balsamic drizzle. Yum! The perfect salad for a hot afternoon.

The sweetness of fruit helps balance salads that begin with bitter greens. Apples, pears, and blueberries are some of my favorites. Oranges, strawberries, pineapple, mango, and cantaloupe are also great fresh choices.

Fruit doesn’t have to be fresh to top a salad. Dried cranberries, raisins, figs, or apricots add delicious layers of flavor and texture.

And fruit salads don’t have to include greens. They can just be fruit. I like to make dressing for fruit salad by mixing orange juice and mayonnaise or orange juice and plain yogurt. I also like to top fruit salads with a dollop of plain yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon. Fruit is so flavorful it doesn’t need much.

My grandmother loved to mix vegetables and fruit in carrot, raisin salad. Some home cooking restaurants serve this. They often try to fancy it up by adding pineapple. I prefer the simpler version.

When you’re choosing vegetables for salad, you may automatically think of all the things that can be served raw – celery, radish, carrot, squash, cucumber, tomato, cauliflower, broccoli, bell pepper, or onion. But blanched and lightly cooked vegetables can be delicious as well.

A local Mediterranean restaurant serves a salad that’s shredded lettuce topped with sautéed yellow squash, red bell pepper, and onion as well as beef/lamb gyro. I like to add English peas and apple to salads topped with chicken. And sugar snap peas are a great salad addition raw or steamed.

The vegetables can even be canned. Kidney beans, green beans, black beans, and corn from cans can all be used in salads. Bean salads and pasta salads are refreshing cold foods during the summer heat.

Even if you feel like you’re just throwing things together, there’s no harm in topping a salad off with a little extra crunch or yum. Nuts, seeds, cheese, croutons, parmesan crisps, tortilla strips, potato sticks, and bacon all serve this purpose well.

The final element can be light, medium, heavy, or not needed. Some like their dressing creamy. Some like it acidic, citrusy, or sweet. The hotter the weather, the lighter I like it.

Not weighing myself down with hot, heavy food helps counteract the heat, but finishing with a bite or two of sorbetto or granita leaves me feeling cool as a cucumber. And that’s a great antidote for the heat.