By Holly Glen Gearhart
Why heat up your kitchen if you can enjoy foods that take little or no stove time? Foods from a variety of countries that have tailored their menus to their months of extreme heat are easy to fix and the ingredients are readily available in our area. Summer is the time to expose your taste buds to something new.
We enjoy a bounty of foods in the Sky Valley and the summer months are a fun time to explore Washington-grown vegetables, as well as delights from the Pacific Coast. A little preparation can dress up your dinner plates, or be the inspiration for a picnic lunch alongside of one of our rushing rivers.
In the chilled food department a favorite is a Turkish cucumber and mint soup. The soup base is yogurt, and is set off with a mild, smoky pepper that can be spicy hot or not-depending on your preference-either way the cucumber tames the heat to your tongue.
Turkish Cucumber Soup
For this dish you will need:
2 or 3 good sized cucumbers; English cucumbers are preferred but I have great success with the everyday cucumbers at the store. Peel the outer skins and remove the seeds.
2 or more garlic cloves, chopped or minced.
1/4 cup or more lemon juice.
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil.
3 containers (7 to 8 oz. each) plain, low-fat Greek yogurt.
2 tsp. (+ or -) Aleppo pepper* or coarsely ground dried California chili
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, plus small whole leaves
1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
If fresh mint leaves or dill are too hard to find, dried will do, if you soak them in a little bit of water to freshen them up. Fresh herbs can be found at various farmers’ markets this time of year; take a look.
Mix together cucumbers, garlic, lemon juice, oil, and 1 container yogurt in a blender until smooth, then remove to a bowl and whisk in rest of the yogurt, pepper, salt, and black pepper.
Place the bowl in ice water for about 15 minutes, lightly stirring the mixture from time to time. I cover the bowl and place it in the fridge until the mixture is cold enough; it seems to work fine for me.
The mint and dill should be minced or chopped and put into the soup just before serving. If you are grilling outdoors, this soup can serve as an appetizer before the steak, lamb, pork or salmon.
Hickory Grilled Salmon
Smoked salmon is a mainstay for our part of the country. Many prefer to cook the fish with a cedar plank, but trying a few different woods to smoke it can pair the main dish with tarragon and other herbs. Many hot weather countries adapt to the heat by cooking outdoors; in the Northwest, we do that on the grill.
My favorite “Celebrity” chef is Lynne Rosetto Kasper who hosts a weekly food show on Public Radio– The Splendid Table. Kasper has a way with salmon, and here is one of her summer salmon treats that I love. I’ve tinkered with the recipe, and here is my version.
Soak hickory or fruit-wood chips in just enough water to cover them; once you have brought the fire to coals, add a half cup or so on the fire to begin, adding the chips as you desire.
Make a basket with handles out of a sturdy foil roll and poke a few small holes in the bottom of it so the smoke gets to the fish. Rub the foil and the salmon with olive oil, then place the fish skin-down in the foil basket and lightly shake some salt and pepper over the top.
Close the lid on the grill. The vents should be opened top and bottom; the smoke should billow out while it cooks. Should the smoke lessen add more wood chips. The fish is done when it turns a light gold and the oils pool on the surface– 25 to 30 minutes, depending on your fire.
When you are ready to serve, sprinkle some fresh minced tarragon over the top of the fish. I serve this with French bread lightly toasted with bits of tarragon I added into the butter.
A chilled salad works well with both dishes. This one is very basic and should be chilled in the fridge an hour before serving – remember it is basic – the amount of herbs, oil and onion you use will vary depending on your individual taste. This is inspired by Chef Roberto Santibañez and is tagged as a Lebanese salad. I have changed a few ingredients to my personal taste.
Diced tomatoes. Fresh is best, and Roma tomatoes work best for me
Finely chopped red onion to taste; red onion can be very strong.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil.
2 tbsp. of fresh lime juice.
2 tbsp. vinegar, sherry, red or balsamic; each have distinct personalities.
A fist full of chopped fresh parsley.
1 tbsp. chopped fresh mint.
A dash or more of southwestern chili powder, often called New Mexico mix.
¼ tsp. sea salt, or to taste.
¼ tsp. dried oregano.
Combine all and set in the fridge for an hour or so. If you are heading out for a riverside picnic, I suggest you put both the soup and the salad bowls in bigger bowls with plenty of ice. This will serve to keep the chilled foods fragrant and delicious.