Don’t lose your cool — try these chilled dishes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 23, 2015

By Deirdre Parker Smith

The weather has been unbearably hot for weeks, and there’s no relief in sight, so it’s time to rethink your time in the kitchen.

If the manly men want to stand outside and sweat over a hot grill, good for them. You can stay cool inside with these side dishes —some of which could be whole meals — that require little to no oven or stovetop time.

Keep in mind all the fresh vegetables and fruit available at the Farmers Market, produce stands and the grocery store.

Think of the things hanging out in the bottom drawers of your refrigerator.

If you want to go with the tried and true, look no further than fresh, ripe tomatoes. The possibilities are endless. You can start with a tomato sandwich, so you’ll be ready for the hard work involved in this classic salad.

Tomato Mozzarella Salad

2-3 large, ripe tomatoes, a mix of red and yellow

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese

Basil leaves, fresh, not dried

Salt and pepper to taste

Extra virgin olive oil

You can peel the tomatoes if you like, but it isn’t necessary. Slice the tomatoes and alternate the red and yellow on a plate, like a wreath. All red is fine too. Slice mozzarella into thickish slabs, and tuck between the tomatoes. Strip basil leaves from the stem and place a basil leaf in between or on top of the cheese and tomato.

Sprinkle liberally with salt  — kosher or sea salt is a nice change from table salt, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Then drizzle olive oil over the top, lightly.

Serve at room temperature for best flavor. With a hunk of crusty bread, that’s all you need for lunch or dinner, or it’s delicious with fish, chicken or steak.

If you can’t find fresh mozzarella, avoid the sandwich slices, which are rather dry. Look for a small, squarish package such as Polly-O or Sorrento. This has a bit more flavor than the fresh, but it is still soft and creamy.

What else is out there this time of year? Green beans, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, watermelon, cantaloupe.

Another very traditional salad is watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew, though honeydew seems to have little flavor these days.

Try something a little different.

Watermelon Cucumber Salad with Mint

1 seedless watermelon

1 medium size cucumber

Fresh mint leaves

Feta cheese, optional

If you have a melon baller tool, this is the perfect time to use it to scoop out the watermelon, or it can be cut into bite size pieces. Peel cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds, then slice as thinly as possible. Add to watermelon. Sprinkle with shredded mint and gently stir to combine.

Adding feta cheese gives a salty bite to the salad. If you want to skip the feta, drizzle some aged balsamic vinegar over the salad just before serving.

Variations on this theme include sprinkling in a bit of chile powder or coriander.

Another way to use watermelon and tomatoes is in a salad with feta cheese. Make a glaze to pour over the salad by combining 1/2 cup balsamic, 1/2 cup honey and 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Cook the ingredients over medium high heat until thickened. Allow to cool slightly and pour over salad. If that sounds too sweet, omit the sugar— the vinegar and honey make a good glaze.

Following along the same lines, a corn and tomato salad is another way to use fresh, available ingredients.

This version, from Food Network Kitchen is about as easy as it gets

Fresh Corn Tomato Salad

3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

2 tsp. kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

6 ears fresh corn, husked (about 4 cups kernels)

2 cups red or orange grape tomatoes or a a mix, halved

1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes

1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves

Whisk the vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil to make a smooth dressing.

Cut kernels off the cob with a sharp knife. Combine corn, tomatoes, green onions and mozzarella. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and toss to coat. Cover and let set for 15 minutes or up to 2 hours. Before serving, tear the basil over the salad and stir.

This recipe requires a little bit of heat — boiling pasta, but that’s just for a few minutes.

Green Pasta Salad

1 pound pasta, such as ziti or farfalle (bowties)

Boiling, salted water

1 small head fresh broccoli

1 small cucumber, sliced

2/3 cup snow peas or green beans

1 cup arugula

Pesto sauce

Something about the vibrant colors of this salad is irresistible. Separate the broccoli into florets, save the stems for later use. You may blanch the broccoli and beans in boiling water, if preferred, for a minute or so. Otherwise, use them raw. Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain. Using fresh or jarred pesto, stir in 2 tablespoons with the warm pasta. Toss in the broccoli, cucumber, snow peas (or green beans) and arugula and combine. Thin about 1/3 cup remaining pesto with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and add to salad. Chill and serve.

Need some other cool side ideas?

Try using orzo pasta for your salad. Orzo with lemon juice and broccoli is simple and tasty.

• Variations on a three-bean salad: Instead of three cans of beans, go fresh. Use fresh green beans, fresh yellow wax beans and one can of either garbanzo beans, white kidney (cannelini) or red kidney beans, or even black-eyed peas. Cook the fresh beans just until they begin to soften. Combine the canned beans with the fresh. Make a dressing of 1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil, 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, salt and pepper. Toss with the beans and chill at least four hours for flavors to blend.

• Guacamole salad uses avocado, tomatoes, onion, cilantro (if you like it). Slice the avocado and tomato into bite-size pieces. Use green onion or maybe a mild onion like a Vidalia and some chopped cilantro. Add salt and pepper, a good splash of red wine vinegar and a little olive oil. Toss all together to coat. This is great with burgers, chicken or fish.

• Use your veggies as a serving bowl. Put chicken, tuna or egg salad on top of an avocado half. Take the pulp from your tomato (save it to put in a salad or slaw) and salt and pepper the inside of the tomato before adding chicken, tuna or egg salad.

• For a cool and low-fat cucumber salad, slice cucumber and your favorite kind of onion very thin. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of your favorite vinegar (red wine vinegar is good) and 2 tablespoons of low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt and plenty of salt and pepper. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and a good handful of fresh dill. If you don’t like dill, try parsley or a small amount of basil. Combine and chill completely. Alternatively, salt the sliced cucumbers and onion and drain on paper towels before adding the dressing, then hold off on the addition of salt.