Walking around in New York in August, it feels like there’s a bus driving about two inches in front of your face, blowing hot exhaust that never stops. When you finally get to the market, your shirt is darkened wherever it touches your skin, and the herbs are looking as wilted as you feel. The idea of cooking is rapidly seeming crazier.
On the other hand, food-wise, it’s finally truly summer. The tomatoes, peaches, corn, cucumbers, watermelon, and more, have arrived at long last. This is an exciting time, especially since these beloved American ingredients don’t stick around for long.
Thrilled about a bunch of beets I picked up at my CSA last week, I set about making a cold borscht. When it was finally done, several hours later, it was delicious and cooling, but it was also midnight and I was suffering from heat stroke, having roasted the beets, simmered and strained the broth, blended it all and then waited for what felt like an eternity for the concoction to chill.
I’m not a good planner, clearly. But I want to take advantage of the seasonal bounty, and how much lettuce can a person eat?
So I called Gavin McAleer, a longtime restaurant cook who owns Chicory in Cobble Hill. Chicory has a few seats but is mainly a takeout place, providing restaurant-level food to go. McAleer’s taste is eclectic—there are Asian influences on his menu, and Cuban ones, and Mexican ones, and a lot of Southern inflections. But they are also straightforward. That is, the ingredients themselves are always the stars.
Of course, if you live in Cobble Hill, there’s no reason to cook at all, but for the rest of us, he was kind enough to offer three of his simplest recipes for surviving the heat. These dishes keep things cool, in the kitchen and at the table.
Watermelon Agua Fresca
1 seedless watermelon
1 bunch mint
1 teaspoon salt
Cut the rind off the watermelon and save for pickling. Cut watermelon into manageable pieces, about 1″x 1″. Puree in a blender with mint and salt in batches. Serve over ice with lime wedges.
Variation: Instead of the watermelon, this recipe also works using half a honeydew melon and one cucumber, peeled and seeded.
Mexican Corn Salad
6 ears corn, cooked and cut off cob
2 green onion, sliced thin
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeno, minced
2 limes, one juiced and one cut in wedges
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
salt and pepper
Toss the corn, green onions, cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, salt and pepper (to taste) together. Garnish with chili powder and lime wedges.
Cold Cucumber Soup
4 cucumbers, 3 1/2 of them peeled
1 bunch of parsley
1 clove garlic
1/2 red onion
1 cup plain yogurt
juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste
Blend all ingredients well and serve cold.