Who wants to spend hours standing over a hot stove or sitting down to a loaded plate full of heavy food when the pool and the ballpark are calling? And mounds of macaroni and cheese tend to reappear in unflattering ways under summery, tell-it-like-it-is attire.
Fortunately, there's a world of options for refreshing summer fare in international cuisine. Most of the recipes here were cooked up in balmy regions, and we'll focus on foods that hit their peak in summer in the United States. Some require little face time in the kitchen. A few don't even require an oven.
We've ordered these dishes as you might serve them, from appetizers to sides to main course. It's a 10-course buffet on us, starting with a choice of soups.
This chilled soup from the region of Andalusia in southern Spain descends from the ancient line of peasant bread soups. Traditionally, you start by soaking slices of stale bread in water and squeezing them to a spongy consistency. You then crush and blend the remaining ingredients in a mortar and pestle. Most recipes today skip the first step and replace hands-on prep with kitchen gadgets. But the garden-fresh goodness remains: Tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers, simply seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper, are whirled in a food processor with olive oil (it's aptly called a liquid salad) and beef or chicken stock. Garnish with your choice of hard-cooked egg, green and black olives, crumbled cheese, diced onion, and fresh herbs.
Looking for something even simpler? You can't "beet" our next selection.
As a cold-weather main course, this Eastern European soup (claimed by Ukrainians as the national dish) is a hearty stew of beef simmered with tons of root veggies: carrots, cabbage, turnips, parsnips, potatoes and onions. Its stripped-down summer version builds on a single ingredient, beets, which are simmered, shredded and chilled in the cooking water. The addition of sugar and lemon juice or vinegar provides the sweet-and-sour tang, while the beets dye the broth a characteristic red. For garnish, a dollop of sour cream is almost required; diced, boiled potatoes and slices of hard-cooked egg are traditional, too. You can also blend the borscht with buttermilk and serve it as a drink.
We leave the Continent briefly for appetizers. One is from the New World; the other is from a (very) old one.
Is it raw? Is it cooked? It's ceviche, a unique dish from South America, handed down from the ancient Incas of Ecuador and Peru.
The ingredients in ceviche are chunks of raw seafood marinated in lime and other citrus juices. The citric acid firms up the flesh but doesn't technically cook it. So, there's the risk of foodborne illness from lurking bacteria and parasites. Therefore, you should use only fresh or commercially frozen fish. For added insurance, you can partially cook the fish before marinating.
Once safety issues are addressed, you can make ceviche with most any seafood, from tuna to shrimp to octopus. Add onions, cilantro and chili peppers for the desired degree of heat.
Not sure about ceviche? No problem -- there's nothing fishy about our next appetizer.
Summer recipes don't get much lighter, or more artistic, than Vietnamese spring rolls. Parchment-fine rice paper is rolled around a colorful medley of filling ingredients. You might choose ribbons of Asian noodles, balanced with crisp veggies and water chestnuts, savory grilled pork, or mildly sweet shrimp. Season with garlic, ginger, soy sauce or fish sauce. Serve these tidy bundles fresh, not deep-fried, with dipping sauces like salty-sweet peanut or fiery chili. You might wrap each one in a lettuce leaf, which not only adds color and crunch, but also helps keep them moist.
What could follow these flavorful morsels? Cooling grain recipes from the Mediterranean are next.
Tabouleh places the entire Mediterranean diet into one salad bowl. It starts with bulgur, whole wheat kernels that have been precooked and ground into rice-sized bits. You can buy bulgur off the supermarket shelves, and preparing tabouleh with it is really simple. Steep the bulgur in water or chicken broth until it's fluffy and tender. Toss with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, feta cheese, artichoke hearts, pistachios, plus fistfuls of chopped parsley and mint -- a cornucopia of the Mediterranean market. Dress the dish lightly in olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. The flavors will blend as the tabbouleh chills.
The Italians have also turned some impressive feats with wheat. Our next offering is one of them.
Pasta al Limone
Lemons may not be the first ingredient that comes to mind when you think of Italian cooking. Yet the boot of southern Italy dips its toe in the temperate Mediterranean, and lemons made the Amalfi Coast famous. Pasta was introduced in Italy in the south, adapted from the Arabs by way of Sicily and Spain.
In pasta al limone, lemon juice and zest combine with olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese in a thick dressing that warms to a creamy consistency as it embraces the hot noodles. Add fresh basil and it's ready! Long, sturdy pastas, including spaghetti, linguine and fettuccine, are good choices for this sauce.
From sides we go on to main dishes. Our first stop takes us to the land of mango trees, spotted hippos and Timbuktu.
Several West African nations claim this dish, a precursor of the "red rice" recipe known to Cajun-food lovers as jambalaya and to Creole enthusiasts as Spanish rice. It's a little more labor intensive than our other selections -- but worth the effort. Beef cubes or pieces of chicken are browned and stewed in a stock seasoned with onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes and tomato paste. Some recipes also include curry powder. Rice is stirred in, and the whole thing simmers until done. You can add other assorted veggies according to your mood and what's in season at the farmers market.
No international menu would be complete without a representative from one of the world's oldest, most varied cuisines. Read about it on the next page.
A Chinese proverb says that you should live in the city of Hangzhou for its natural beauty and historical sites, die in Liuzhou where the best coffin wood grew -- and eat in Guangzhou. Guangzhou (known as Canton in the West) is still famous for its food, and this classic stir-fry illustrates why: fresh ingredients, simply prepared, with a light hand on the seasonings. Shrimp, garlic, green onions and ginger are quickly cooked, glazed with soy sauce and rice wine, and studded with cashews. You can prepare it in a single pan while cooking the rice and have dinner on the table in 30 minutes.
A different sort of fish is the feature ingredient of our next entry. It's a fitting way to "wrap up" our seafood selections.
This dish puts the tuna salad sandwich to shame. Although they've been popular in the United States for only a few decades, fish tacos are a centuries-old tradition along the Mexican coast, where both fish and tortillas are popular; the Baja city of Ensenada is the epicenter.
Any firm-fleshed fish will work in this recipe. Marinate the fish in oil, lemon or lime juice, and add Mexican seasonings like cumin, coriander and chili powder. Grill and flake the fish, and then wrap it in a soft tortilla along with pico de gallo -- a fresh salsa of diced tomatoes, onions and chiles in lime juice -- for a colorful, healthy dish.
We hope you've left room for our last dish -- now is no time to chicken out.
This Indian recipe takes its name from the vessel traditionally used to cook it. A tandoor is a large, clay pot oven, partially buried to intensify the heat and capture the smoky essence. You can replicate the effect on an outdoor grill. Marinate skinless chicken pieces in lemon juice, yogurt and masala, an Indian spice blend. You can make your own masala if you have a well-stocked spice rack: coriander, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, mint, fennel, fenugreek, and black and cayenne pepper are just a few of the many possible ingredients. Otherwise, visit your favorite ethnic market.
Alternately, you can oven bake the chicken and brown the coating with a quick pass beneath the broiler -- but at 500 degrees Fahrenheit (260 degrees Celsius), that's a recipe better saved for a winter's day.
For lots more information on cooking for all seasons, see the links on the next page.
Here is a delightful dish for a Fall harvest dinner party; Jim Deliman's carrot saffron soup recipe. Learn how to make Jim Deliman's carrot saffron soup.
- Anderson, E.N. "Guangzhou (Canton) Cuisine." The Encyclopedia of Food & Culture. Gale Cengage, 2003. (May 19, 2011) http://www.enotes.com/food-encyclopedia/Guangzhou-canton-cuisine
- The Congo Cookbook. "Jollof Rice." (May 18, 2011) http://www.congocookbook.com/rice_recipes/jollof_rice.html
- Jaffe, Matthew. "In search of the real fish taco." Sunset. July 1997 (May 13, 2011) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1216/is_n1_v199/ai_20567187/?tag=mantle_skin;content
- The Oxford Companion to Food. "Pasta." Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1999.
- Saberi, Helen. "Masala." The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1999.
- Sunnyland Mills. "Bulgur Wheat ... A 4,000-year-old process." (May 17, 2011) http://www.sunnylandmills.com/bulgur_wheat_history.shtml
- Wright, Clifford A. "Gazpacho." (May 14, 2011) http://www.cliffordawright.com/caw/food/entries/display.php/topic_id/5/id/64/
- Wright, Clifford A. "The History of Macaroni." (May 18, 2011) http://www.cliffordawright.com/caw/food/entries/display.php/topic_id/16/id/50