Friday, July 15, 2011

Eating by the numbers...

Mid-summer, daily cooking is a numbers game: if the thermostat reads above 80, I'm not using the stove. No matter how many pictures I see in July food mags of grilled this and baked that, it doesn't work for me. And if there isn't a breeze, forget the crockpot, too.

That's when eating what I can chop and throw together in ten tiring minutes or less is not a choice but a necessity, if I'm going to avoid expensive takeout that is probably too heavy and greasy anyway. All we want around here during superhot days is a good salad, or a cool, crusty sandwich and some iced tea.

It's imperative to have plenty of fresh veg on hand. I still end up making runs to the grocery for a little bread, or cheese; whatever can help me turn a few odds and ends into a real meal, cool and crunchy and satisfying without being too weighty. Like Panzanella, or Taco Salad.

My Taco salad tends to look different than, say, what you'd get at Chili's. (Okay, not as different as the picture above, which I took for another purpose). I might use raw taco nut meat, or just scads of shredded veggies and salsa, or torn pita for the tortilla part. Panzanella might be simple, just bread, tomatoes, olive oil, herbs and cheese. Or it might be crazily full of grilled and raw veg.

You have to use what is on hand, make the most of the best and use up the worst before it wilts. That's everyday cooking, even when you're not applying heat. But there are a few things that make any salad or even supper sandwich into a meal: avocado, sliced or mashed with garlic and fresh citrus of any kind, red bell peppers in thin slivers or big juicy chunks, a crunch of almonds sprinkled with shoyu or vegan worcestershire, a dollop of fresh fruit salsa, a homemade garden relish or pickled onions, cubes of marinated feta, olives tossed with lemon zest, perfectly ripe tomatoes, chickpeas in lemon and olive oil.

Put a few of those together with some slivered zucchini, spinach or lettuce and a drizzle of viniagrette and you have a salad or sandwich filling that beats the heat. It's the no cook, no recipe way to get through days like today, and tomorrow, and half of August. Eat something cool tonight, and don't forget, the Italian Heritage Festival is happening now, and tomorrow, on Hertel Avenue between Elmwood and Colvin. Big, and delicious!

Ciao, Mari

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