I am here to talk summer cooking today! How to keep it cool, delicious, and healthier than ever! You’ll find the links for this GET LINKED! post are scattered throughout — settle in and start clicking! (all links open in a new window) That salad above is one I will be making very soon — click it to go to the blog it came from. Can’t wait to taste it!
Where I live here in Western Washington State, few people have air conditioning in their homes. We have so few hot days, plus those nights usually cool down quickly, that it doesn’t make $ense. You may be having hot weather already, but I’m back in the “hope we have some” stage after our few days of warmth … poor me!
No A/C means the stove is avoided during warm afternoons and evenings! At our house, we use the grill for our protein foods — we do that a lot, even in the winter rains :) We load up our plates with fresh fruits and veggies that can be eaten cold, raw, grilled, or micro-steamed. I cannot wait for summer melons to start showing up!!! If we’re desperate we can put the crock pots or turkey roaster ovens in the garage or porch. And we can use (low sodium, rinsed) canned beans…
But what about those healthy whole grains that require pans of hot water? I’ve spotted dozens of fantastic recipes lately for cool summer salads based on whole grains. I love the flavors, health benefits and staying power from fiber-rich complex carbs. But who wants to have their stove on to cook brown rice for an hour on a day when your house is 80 degrees inside? NOT ME!
So I’ve created for myself — and YOU! — some reminders of how to manage whole grains on hot days. Plus recipe links!
Idea 1: Cook beans and grains during the hour before you go to bed, when no one is in the kitchen and it will have all night to cool down.
Idea 2: Cook beans and grains early in the morning before the heat battle begins. If you make your pasta salads at this time of day, the flavors also get all day to soak into the noodles (whole grain pasta, of course!) I can keep my doors and windows open for fresh cool air until at least 8am – 9am.
Idea 3: On a cool day, cook a big batch of grains and rices ahead and freeze in 1 cup or 2 cup portions:
- brown rice
- hulled barley (not “pearl” which is the white rice of the barley world)
- grain “berries” or “groats” — the whole or cut grains of wheat, oats, spelt, etc
- polenta — made fresh at home is SO much better than the plastic tubes (freeze in loaves that can be sliced and grilled! — yum!)
Tip: we put smaller portions in inexpensive non-zip sandwich bags, then put those into a larger freezer bag. This way, they thaw faster and are also available in 1-person sizes.
Idea 4: Use fast-cooking grains and grain-like carbs:
- whole wheat couscous
- “instant” or “quick” versions of whole-grain rice and grains, although you lose some flavor, texture, and nutrients this way
Idea 5: Cool Combos for Cool Carbs: stir-ins to jazz up the whole grain offerings — get creative!
First plan a dressing that coordinates with the flavor of your stir-ins. A nice 3 parts oil : 1 part vinegar/lemon juice, plus salt, pepper, and flavorings (herbs) or a bottled vinegar-based dressing adds zip. I like to flavor some oil (usually olive) with lots of garlic and dried chile flakes in a small frying pan over low heat. Or keep it slim with no oil, just sprinkle over the vinegar, citrus, or whatever you like!
Then choose a combination from the list, in quantities to suit YOU!
Kalamata olives and tomatoes, plus any of the following: cucumber, red onion, feta, herbs (herbes de Provence, oregano, or a bottled Greek vinaigrette dressing)
Diced fresh or dried apricots, and toasted nuts (pine nuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios)
Substitute lime juice for any vinegar in the dressing, and add cilantro, green onion (or any other onion you like), red and green bell peppers or roasted mild green chiles (Anaheim, poblano)
To the above, add any or all of these: black beans, corn, diced tomato, avocado (superfood!)
Fresh and cool: 1 part feta, 1 part chopped fresh mint, 3 parts sliced green onion
Use balsamic vinegar in the dressing, and add parmesan, then:
Add tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella
OR toss in some grilled veggies hot off the grill! (onion, zucchini, peppers, mushrooms,&/or eggplant)
Season with dill and lemon zest (or any herb you like, with any zest you like)
Spinach, arugula, or other greens, optionally wilted briefly by any means — great with citrus zest &/or fresh ground pepper flavors
Add egg wedges and tomatoes to the above.
Roasted mushrooms and thyme (marinate, skewer, then grill the shrooms — yum!)
Sliced red onion, fresh sliced garlic, artichoke hearts, tomato, herbs (rosemary, sage, basil)
Peas with parsley and lemon zest (rinse to barely thaw some baby frozen peas)
Subsitute seasoned rice vinegar, sesame oil, and some soy sauce in the dressing, add fresh ginger, fresh garlic, sliced green onions
To the above, add any or all: grilled pineapple, green or red bell pepper, celery or cabbage, almond slices.
Add proteins to any of the above to make them a meal (chicken, shrimp, ham, etc — leftovers? deli meats? fresh off the grill? eggs?)
Idea 6: Prompts to help you think of your own whole grain salads. Start with a recipe or not, but make it Just Right and Uniquely Yours! (and use what you have on hand)
Add veggies for flavor and to lighten up the texture.
Don’t forget about dressing change-ups: different oils, vinegars, juices; include mayo or sour cream, or greek yogurt; bottled Russian or Catalina dressing, or Ranch (what about using ranch dressing mix to flavor things?)
Don’t forget about fruits: dried fruits, raisins (golden raisins, too), pineapple, apple chunks, blueberries, melon cubes, pears, grapes!
Don’t forget about seeds! Sunflower, pumpkin, sesame.
Don’t forget about beans and legumes! Black, kidney, garbanzos or those giant marinated canellini beans from the olive bar at the grocery store, edamame, lentils.
Don’t forget about cheeses! Feta, goat cheese, fresh mozz, extra sharp cheddar, cubes of Monterey Jack (my fave!), smoked cheeses.
Well, there you have it! You can see how we will be eating this summer — if it ever gets here!