When the long, hot days of Summer hit, the last thing most of us want to do is spend time cooking. Admittedly, I have found myself baking on 100 degree days, but for the most part, I'm right there with you and don't want to cook. I live on sandwiches when the days are sweltering. But you cannot live on sandwiches alone and sometimes you just want something a little more refined.
My first pick is soup. I know, I know...here we are trying to stay cool and now I'm telling you to make something that you imagine as being piping hot and best enjoyed on a cold, rainy day. But no, it's a chilled soup, cucumber soup. I first came across this recipe in the June 2009 issue of Real Simple magazine and have made it at least once every Summer since. It's quick to put together in a blender, you can make it in the morning before the temperatures start to soar and stash it in the fridge to chill all day. Take the serving suggestions from Real Simple--baguette slices, feta, olives, and salami--and with the soup, you've got a satisfying meal.
My next choice requires a little more work and some time simmering on the stove, but the pay-off is fabulous. Dolmades--stuffed grape leaves. They take less effort than you think. Have them as an appetizer or as a vegetarian main course with a salad and call it a day. I've made dolmades a couple of times and I'm still perfecting my style. I have yet to learn that less is more when it comes to filling them. Quite a few literally burst out of their seams when they were cooking, but in the end, they tasted amazing. One of the nice things about stuffed grape leaves is that you can eat them warm or chilled.
(Adapted from the Chilled Cucumber Soup recipe at Real Simple)
3/4 cup sour cream
6 Persian cucumbers, peeled, chopped roughly
3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup chopped white onion
juice of one lime
2 tbsp basil
salt and pepper, to taste
Throw all the ingredients in the blender and puree. Add a little water if you need to. Season with salt and pepper. Let chill for at least 2 hours.
You can also crumble the feta on top of the soup with a dash of pepper. That way you'll have the tang of the cheese with the subtlety of the soup.
(Adapted from Modern Greek)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, minced
3/4 cup brown rice
20 grape leaves
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup labne or Greek yogurt
1 tsp oregano
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion and saute about 5 minutes until they start to soften. Add brown rice and saute an additional 5 minutes to toast. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.
If you're using grape leaves packed in brine, rinse well. If using fresh, blanch for a few seconds in boiling water and pat dry. Lay leaves vein side up and add about a tablespoon of the rice mixture to the center of the leaf. Fold sides to the center, then fold up from the bottom and roll until you've reached the top end. Place seam side down in a skillet, packing the stuffed leaves in a tight circle as you go. Add enough water to cover the leaves, place a plate on top to hold down the dolmades and simmer for 35-40 minutes.
Blend labne or yogurt with oregano and spoon over dolmades. Serve warm or cold. I think they are better when cool, as it gives them time to set.