Summer, no matter how long, hot, or dry, never overstays its welcome in my home. The season always ends up feeling shorter than the rest, abruptly cut off by the rude interruption of an autumnal cold snap, or forced to jump into the conversation late thanks to a long-winded spring shower. Every moment of warmth in between is savored, if not greedily seized, because it’s just never enough to satiate my cravings. While June, July, and August fly by, I’ve been known to mow through more fully grown watermelons than seems humanly possible, trying in vain to quench a never-ending thirst for both the fruit and the season itself. Cleaning up the wreckage after yet another destructive melon binge, I started thinking about what was left once the juicy pink flesh had been devoured. Surely, there was something better to do with all of that perfectly good rind than lay it to waste in the trash.
Meanwhile, another sort of refuse was piling up in considerable tonnage; cucumber peels, in all their green glory, suddenly seemed too precious to take for granted, much like the fleeting days of summer. Both leftovers possessed a uniquely refreshing, watery constitution, and were neutral enough to bend in either a sweet or savory direction with equal success. Surely, the two could join forces and become something much greater than their individual parts.
Jam is the answer. Cucumber-melon jam, a piece of the season preserved for months to come, without detracting from the immediate gratification of the fresh produce itself. The key for success is to make sure that every last piece of green skin is peeled away from the watermelon rind, since it’s tough and somewhat bitter- The one leftover element that’s only worth saving for the compost heap. Simple and vibrant, the combination could also pair beautifully with a handful of fresh mint, or even basil for a more unconventional approach.
From trash to treasure, rinds and peels haven’t been given their fare share of the culinary spotlight, but I think it’s about time to change all that. One taste of this sweet, simple condiment, and you’ll never be able to justify throwing away the excavated shell of another watermelon ever again.
1/3 Pound Cucumber Peels
1/2 Cup Water
2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
4 Teaspoons Calcium Water*
1 1/2 Pounds Watermelon Rind, Peeled and Chopped
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
4 Teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin Powder
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Paste or Extract
Before you begin, prepare the calcium water. To do so, combine 1/4 teaspoon calcium powder (the small packet included in the box of Pomona’s pectin) with 1/4 cup water in a small container with a lid. Shake well to dissolve. Leftover calcium water can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a year.
Place the cucumber peels, water, lemon juice, and calcium water in your blender and thoroughly puree. Once smooth, add in the prepared watermelon rind and blend on a moderate speed. Depending on your textural preferences, puree the mixture until completely smooth, or leave it slightly chunky. Both approaches are equally tasty!
Transfer the liquid base to a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat on the stove. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar and pectin powder. Bring the liquids up to a boil before adding in the sugar mixture, stirring vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve the pectin while the jam comes back up to a boil. Once it returns to a vigorous bubble, stir in the vanilla, remove from the heat and pour into 4 or 5 clean half-pint glass jars. Simply let cool and seal with an air-tight lid to make “freezer jam” which will keep in the fridge for about a month, or follow these suggestions to properly can the jam and put it up for about a year.
Makes 4 – 5 Cups
Just like the changing of the seasons themselves, the life cycle of a garden is predictable, yet invariably astonishing. It seems so improbable that such tiny seeds could ever be filled with life and produce edible fruit that it truly takes me by surprise, every single year, when I can reach out and pop that first tiny cherry tomato into my mouth. It’s the most natural process on earth and still it tastes like magic.
The first few harvests repeat this very same process; the wonder, the amazement, and the adoration of such impeccably fresh produce growing right in my backyard. Doing anything more than just eating the little red gems raw, still warm from the sunshine, seems like a crime against vegetables. Then, like clockwork, the tomatoes start to take over. There’s never more than a half-dozen working vines out there, and yet they’re suddenly producing more tomatoes than I know what to do with. Now it doesn’t sound like such a bad idea to get them into the kitchen anymore.
Adding a short but intense blast of heat contributes a beautiful char to the tiny tomatoes, introducing a slightly smoky note and concentrating their inherently umami flavors at the same time. The midsummer heat makes it a bit challenging to enjoy hot tomatoes though, so after chilling them down, they became the star ingredient in a salad inspired by one of my favorite stews: Posole.
Admittedly, I had never eaten hominy cold before, or outside of the classic soup for that matter, but it proved a delightful addition to this Tex-Mex mixture. Flavorful like fresh corn but more toothsome like miniature gnocchi, those chewy kernels lent the blend a heartiness akin to pasta salad, without all the gluten.
Speaking of those predictably unpredictable seasons, almost as soon as I had my picnic set up and ready to enjoy in the great outdoors, the sky decided that was the perfect moment to open up and begin to pour. Thus, I can now speak from experience to say that this salad does indeed keep well, for up 3 – 4 days in the fridge, and it’s even tasty when eaten warm.
While tomatoes are still plentiful and at their peak, celebrate the season with a unique preparation. It may be tough to sacrifice such perfect specimens, but I promise that the leap of faith will pay off in even bigger flavors.
4 Cups Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Red Onion, Diced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/2 (1 1/4 Pound) Savoy Cabbage, Shredded
1 (29-Ounce) Can Cooked White Hominy, Drained and Rinsed
2 Ripe Avocados, Diced
1 Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely minced
1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro
1/4 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes
1 Clove Garlic
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cherry tomatoes and diced red onion with the olive oil and oregano, and spread them out in one even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 15 – 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are blistered and beginning to burst. Let cool before proceeding to assemble to salad.
While you’re waiting for the tomatoes to cool, go ahead and prepare the dressing. Simply toss the cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic in your food processor or blender, and slowly pour the lime juice in while running the machine on low. Thoroughly puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if needed. Once mostly smooth, introduce the chili powder, cumin, agave, and salt next. Run the motor again while drizzling in the olive oil to emulsify.
Finish the salad, by tossing together the blistered tomatoes and onions, shredded cabbage, hominy, avocados, and jalapenos in a large bowl. Pour the dressing on top, tossing to coat. Chill for at least an hour before serving to allow the flavors to fully meld.
Serves 8 as a Starter or Side Dish
The only thing worse than suffering through a sweltering hot summer day without air conditioning is trying to survive those same conditions without any ice cream in the house. It’s entirely possible that one can make do without such convenient modern amenities that would help abate the heat, but only if generous amounts of frozen, creamy treats are kept close at hand. Ice cream makes even chilly days more bearable, so going without a single tub of the cool confection is tantamount to criminal insanity. For those with limited equipment and limited patience, there have been few solutions to this conundrum outside of an impromptu grocery trip. Thankfully, non-dairy alternatives are no longer the anomaly in mainstream markets, although homemade ice cream will still beat out anything prepackaged any day of the week.
This recipe today goes out to all those ice cream fiends without ice cream machines. Plenty of low-tech methods exist for fabricating frozen treats without fancy machinery, but let’s be honest: Few people, myself included, care to fuss with scraping ice crystals or tossing around a plastic bag of ice cubes all day, just for a few bites of sweet satisfaction.
Your icy irritation ends here. All you need is a freezer, four ingredients, and an appetite. I would wager that you’ve already got two out of three already covered.
The ingenious CocoWhip by So Delicious is the secret ingredient that makes this sweet act of alchemy possible. Providing light, scoopable structure without any further agitation, the same results can also be achieved with good old whipped coconut cream, but starting with a ready-whipped and exceptionally stable base makes the process infinitely easier.
As luck would have it, So Delicious recently launched their Snackable Recipe Contest, so it would have been crazy for me to hold onto this treat any longer. Besides, as much as I love cooking, summer is meant to be enjoyed, not spent in the kitchen. Whip up this effortless ice cream base and go play; you’ll have a delicious dessert waiting for you when you return.
No-Churn Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
In a large bowl, stir together the creamer, agave, and vanilla. Add in one small scoop of the Cocowhip, stirring to incorporate and begin to lighten the mixture. Introduce half of the remaining Cocowhip, folding it carefully into the liquid, keeping the airy structure as intact as possible. Repeat with the last portion of Cocowhip, leaving a few streaks in the mixture if need be; it’s better to under-mix than over-mix.
Pour the ice cream base into a loaf pan or air-tight container and carefully move it into your freezer. Allow it to sit, undisturbed, for at least 6 hours before serving.
The simplest elements of a meal, those unassuming side dishes that are all too often overshadowed by flashier, more expensive, or more complex mains, serve up far more nuance than they’re given credit for. A perfect example of this is the humble ear of corn. As summer marches on and those golden yellow kernels swell larger, juicier, and sweeter underneath the hot sun, truly sumptuous fresh corn is a rare treat despite its ubiquity. That’s because few cooks truly value this starchy staple as more than just plate filler. A whole world of flavor can be found within those pale green husks, just beyond the tangled forest of corn silk, if only one knows how coax it out.
Finesse is the key to letting such a pared-down dish shine, accentuating the inherent flavor of is base ingredients without covering them up with a heavy-handed smattering of seasonings. Elote, served up either straight on the cob or sheared off and mixed up in the humble “corn in a cup” presentation, is worth getting excited about. The concept is hardly a new one, appearing as classic Mexican street food for countless decades, and yet it’s still nearly impossible to find a vegan rendition to indulge in. Mayonnaise, sour cream, and/or cheese typically binds the creamy corn concoction together; an easy fix for the home cook, but good luck finding an accommodating eatery. That’s why eating my way through the menu at Cool Beans was such a revelation. Clearly, the chef at the helm here knows how to treat an ear of corn right. Not only do they make their own corn tortillas, placing the resulting tacos easily near the top of my list, but they’re perhaps the only ones outside of California that offer a proper vegan elote.
Tempted as I was to wheedle the recipe out of them, elote really should be so simple that only a basic formula is required. Start with sweet corn at the height of its growing season, prepared soon after it’s picked, and you can’t go wrong. Consider what follows more of a reminder to reconsider corn this summer, giving it a place of honor on the plate. Tweak seasonings as your heart desires; you truly can’t go wrong with either a spicier or subtler blend.
Do me a favor, would you? Stop taking corn for granted this summer and at long last, do the common cob proper justice with at least one big batch of elote.
8 Ears Sweet Corn, Husked
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Cup Raw Cashews, Soaked for 3 Hours and Thoroughly Drained
1 Clove Garlic, Roughly Chopped
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
3 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Minced
Chili Powder, to Garnish (Optional)
It’s easiest if you can simply toss the corn on a hot grill, but you can also take it indoors by heating up a large griddle over high heat. Depending on the size of your cooking surface, you may need to work in batches since the corn must make full contact directly with the surface of the vessel. Lightly brush the corn with oil and grill the corn until lightly charred, turning as needed. This process should take approximately 10 minutes, but let the color of the corn serve as your guide. Set aside to cool.
While the corn cools, turn your attention to the creamy accompaniment. Place the cashews, garlic, and lime juice in food processor, and pulse to combine. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula so that the nuts are all fairly well broken down. Add in the nutritional yeast, agave, paprika, cayenne, and salt, pulsing to incorporate. Allow the motor to run while slowly drizzling in the water, blending thoroughly. The sauce should still be a bit coarse in texture, as the small pieces of cashew that remain will more closely emulate the traditional curds of cotija cheese.
Cut the kernels off of the corn cobs and place them in a large bowl. Pour the cashew sauce on top and mix thoroughly. Add in the fresh cilantro, tossing to combine. Divide the elote into 6 – 8 cups and top with a sprinkle of chili powder, if desired.
Makes 6 – 8 Servings
Saying that Texas gets hot during the summer would be like calling the Pluto a “little bit chilly,” as it spins around outer space to the tune of -180° C on a good day. Despite being better suited for the tropics than the arctic, nothing could have prepared me for the crushing heat that settles in like a thick blanket by midday, every day without fail, refusing to abate even after the sun has long since abandoned its post in the sky. Whereas Hawaii has trade winds to push the offending humidity to the side every now and then, so much as a gentle breeze can be tough to come by around here. What’s even more ominous and vaguely alarming is the fact that it’s technically not even summer yet. The locals all give a knowing, far away stare and a nod whenever the subject comes up, as if to say, “You just wait.”
Unprepared for but not altogether unhappy about the extreme climate, I would still much rather be too hot than too cold, so the intensity of the daily highs is just a part of life. After the morning bath in sunscreen, proper hydration is the only way to cope. It’s impossible to drink enough water, which is why it’s critical to make those bottomless glasses as appealing as possible.
Enter the agua fresca. Traditionally augmented with a generous dose of sugar, it turns out that simply using perfectly ripe fruit makes it unnecessary to further gild the lily in that department. Chasing after flavor rather than pure sweetness, my interpretation of the fruit-based beverage may look downright swampy, but trust me, the flavor is all bright, light, and refreshing watermelon goodness. While the added nutritional punch from a handful of spinach is to blame for the deceptive color, it ultimately acts as a silent partner in this successful production.
Although I may not stick around long enough to experience the true terror of a full-fledged Texan summer, I know that with a pitcher of this cool, fruity blend by my side, I’ll be prepared for any of the heat or humidity that awaits me back home.
Minted Melon Agua Fresca
1 – 2 Cups Fresh Baby Spinach, Packed
1/3 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves, Packed
4 Cups Cubed Seedless Watermelon
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1/2 – 1 Cup Cold Water
Pinch Salt (Optional)
Ice, to Serve
Pull out your blender and add the spinach and mint into the canister first, followed by the watermelon chunks. Begin blending on a low speed, just to start chewing up all the leafy greens at the bottom. Drizzle in the lime juice and 1/2 cup of water to help keep things spinning, and slowly turn it up to a high speed. Thoroughly puree until completely smooth. It may take a bit longer for machines with a bit less power to process through all the greener, so be patient and don’t rush this step.
Strain the juice through a fine mesh sieve or nut milk bag, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard any remaining pulp. Add more water if desired. Pour over ice and enjoy immediately. Stay cool, everyone!
Makes About 4 Cups
“Summer is over, summer is over!” the masses cry, pointing to the calendar as the days advance past Labor Day, deeper into the heart of September. Sure, school is back in session and thoughts do naturally turn to the future, preparing for the changing of the seasons sure to come, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a done deal already. I don’t know about you, but for us east coasters back here in New England, the weather has turned more hot and humid than ever, finally feeling like the summer we’ve been anticipating for months. The thick, moist air, dense enough to swim through on particularly sultry afternoons, isn’t exactly my idea of perfect weather, but pouring rain will inevitably break through the clouds, washing away that oppressively muggy atmosphere for at least a few enjoyable hours. Seize those fleeting opportunities and make the most of the lingering sunshine- Now is the time to go for a picnic if there ever was one.
The most impressive picnic spread I’ve ever had the fortune to enjoy was lovingly composed by Cobi, the mastermind behind Veggietorials. Just about anything would have tasted divine while sitting on one of Oahu’s few white sand beaches, enjoying the perfect 80-degree afternoon in the middle of January, but her lavish spread far surpassed all prior picnic experiences. The highlight amongst her numerous fresh fruit and veggie options were the inari sushi, stuffed with tender sushi rice and richly umami braised shiitake mushrooms. Based on her classic recipe that originally called for quinoa, it set the standard for a whole new world of picnic fare in my mind, and got me thinking about additional alternative fillings. If the grain could be swapped out so seamlessly, why not shake up the flavors too? Nostalgic for Hawaii, there couldn’t be a more fitting filling than Mahalo Macadamia Quinoa Pilaf, guaranteed to inject a bit of sunshine into even dreadfully overcast days. Always well-received on the Passover table and beyond, Pistachio-Quinoa Pilaf cleans up quite nicely in these tiny tofu pouches, converting effortlessly into a grab-and-go lunch that’s more memorable than the norm. Summer Corn Salad shines with prime summer produce, foregoing the grains in favor of juicy, tender-crisp kernels of sweet corn. My so-called “Halloween Rice” could be a delightful way to transition into more autumnal flavors though, if you’re still convinced that fall is already upon us.
The possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination. Proper inari care and management is the key to success here. Although they’re designed to be edible straight from the can or plastic packaging, your dishes will fare much better with a tiny bit of additional prep work. Take the tofu pouches and simmer them gently in water for just 5 – 10 minutes, removing the tinned taste that canned food can sometimes acquire and draining off the excess oils absorbed by those porous soy sponges. For an extra savory punch, you can use vegetable broth instead, or add a touch of tamari to the cooking water.
It’s never too late for a good picnic, especially when you bring some irresistible edibles to share. No matter where or when you decide to partake, make sure you don’t miss your opportunity for at least one leisurely, luscious picnic lunch this year.