Hot Autumn, Cold Soups

Autumn looks different than it used to. It feels, smells, and yes, tastes different, too. If you’ve set foot outside in the past decade to compare, no matter where in the world, you know what I mean. My perception is biased from cooler childhood memories on the east coast, but there’s more to it than just living in Texas as an adult. 90 to 100 degree highs are still normal for early October, with any remaining leaves bleached and sun burnt before they ever had a chance to turn yellow, amber, or red.

I don’t miss the cold and bitter winds, the grey skies and damp earth; if this is the price I pay, so be it. When confronted with autumnal revelers in other parts of the country celebrating the changing weather, I’m not envious. “Soup season!”, they cry, steaming bowls filled to the brim. “Sure is,” I’ll respond, “because soup is always in season, and gazpacho would really hit the spot right about now!”

Soup For Every Season

I laughed it off for a bit, but the thought kept rattling around in my head. Gazpacho really would be lovely today, if only tomatoes weren’t past their prime. Why can’t we bridge the gap with a more seasonal approach?

Pumpkinundation is here again, and thanks to the marvel of modern food production, canned pumpkin is always on the shelf. Even while the heat is still on, it’s a reliable staple to make the creamy chilled base with ease. Rich and satisfying, it takes this no-cook classic to a whole new level.

Swaps and Substitutions

Pumpkin isn’t the only orange squash on the market that deserves your attention. You can easily swap in a wide range of roasted or steamed squash to keep the flavor fresh well into winter. Consider one or more of the following to replace the canned pumpkin puree:

For a different twist, consider more hardy root vegetables, such as:

Blended Gazpacho for Blended Seasons

Each spoonful of pumpkin gazpacho speaks clearly of the arrival of fall, while adapting to the reality of climate change during this transitional time of year. The bright, refreshing sensations of summer mingle with the more earthy, herbaceous notes of autumn. It’s a homage of nature’s bounty, fickleness, and resilience.

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No Cook? No Sweat

When it gets hot enough to bake cookies in the car, a considerable portion of the day is devoted to simply staying cool. Just flipping on the AC will never be an effective line of defense against this unstoppable foe, finding every crack in the foundation to slip right through. That’s assuming the increasing demands on electricity don’t cause power outages in the first place. Each summer is only getting hotter than the last, so we need better ways to stay cool.

Step Away From The Stove

The key is to generate as little heat as possible. There’s no need to adopt a fully raw diet, but who wants to eat a boiling vat of thick stew right now anyway? Still kissed from the chill of the fridge, no-cook recipes are the refreshing, re-invigorating ways to beat the heat.

Eat Well With Ease

Stay far away from the oven, put away that saute pan, and embrace a fresher approach to summertime meals. Fortunately, with such a wealth of incredible produce waiting in the markets, they don’t need extensive prep work to be transformed into unforgettable seasonal treats.

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Fresh is Best

Salsa, literally meaning “sauce” in Spanish, is every bit as versatile as that all-encompassing name suggests. Traditional renditions are as simple as chopped tomatoes and peppers with a pinch of salt, but there are no rules for this savory dance. Spicy or mild, acidic or alkaline, crisp or creamy, smooth or chunky; there’s a taste and texture to complement every meal.

In fact, modern salsas can just as easily be sweet and fruity to pair with dessert, not a vegetable in sight. The one universal rule to salsa is that no matter the ingredients, they must always be fresh. Forget about the shelf-stable stuff collecting dust on supermarket shelves; it may call itself salsa, but it sure doesn’t live up to this piquant condiment’s proud legacy.

You know you have a truly great salsa when you want to eat it with a spoon. No chips are needed to start the party with Sam’s Fresh Salsa, which is every bit as bold and flavorful as the fresh-cut produce that goes into each chilled package.

Inspired by the premier “Sam’s Fresh Salsa Blogger Recipe Challenge,” I decided to cut out the formalities and turn it into something I really could serve by the bowlful. Made from tart tomatillos, lime juice, garlic, peppers, and cilantro, the salsa verde immediately stood out to me as a versatile stand-alone snack and recipe starter. Bright, light, and refreshing with a subtle hint of jalapeño spice, it sings of summer’s bounty. The only other thing I can think of that might rival that fresh experience is gazpacho.

You see where I’m going here, right?

Gazpacho Verde is creamy and subtly sweet, closely aligned to classic Andalusian gazpacho, which is at least partially blended and surprisingly rich. Stale bread and a generous pour of extra virgin olive oil traditionally thicken this cool contender, but this Tex-Mex twist employs the luscious green flesh of ripe, buttery avocados instead.

As summer heats up, this is one instantly gratifying dish that will help you stay cool. Don’t touch that stove and put away your pans; this no-cook recipe only needs a brief blitz in the blender. For those really sweltering days, there’s no shame serving it in ice-filled glasses with a splash of vodka for a piquant Bloodless Mary.

You can get more fresh inspiration by checking out Sam’s Fresh Salsa on Facebook and Instagram, too. You can find them at ShopRite, Acme, and Safeway stores. Wish me luck in the contest!

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Lettuce Feast

Don’t lose your cool as temperatures rise. There’s no need to sweat the details in the kitchen or the dining room when you could whip up an easy, breezy, no-cook meal in minutes.

Equal parts spicy and refreshing, each crisp bite will wake up your senses with an invigoratingly spicy, creamy almond sauce. Staying perfectly chilled with a refreshingly juicy, sweet and savory mango-tofu salad, the combination of tastes and textures can’t be beat.

Swaddled in fresh lettuce leaves, you don’t even need to break out the forks or knives. It’s a party starter, last minute meal, and relief from the heat all in one.

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Long-Suffering Syntax

If you’re a child of the 90’s like myself, you grew up with Looney Tunes and all the idiosyncrasies of those animated characters. Much of the “adult” insinuations went right over my head, precisely as intended by the creators, but offer curious nuggets of knowledge today.

Uttered many times by a certain conniving cat, the term “suffering succotash” comes back to me in a flash, just as quickly as summer produce proliferates in local markets. The dish itself comes from the native Americans, originally a stew of vegetables, not limited to one season at all, but Sylvester undoubtedly had nothing of the sort in mind. Supposedly a bastardization of the curse “suffering savior,” it has religious undertones that have lost their original bite today, through the current vernacular of much more harsh language.

Things sure have changed since 1910, the earliest record of its usage in print. Primed for the ridiculous by the 1940’s when these cartoons took off, it managed to fly under the radar of most conservatives, and of course by all the kids distracted by comfortingly predictable cat-and-mouse antics (or cat-and-Tweety-bird antics, as it were.)

In any event, this is all to say, words are strange, wonderful, and only meaningful if you want them to be. No matter what, you should try your hand at making succotash this season while the corn is sweet and tomatoes are plentiful. I don’t give a flying fish what you call it, either.

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More ‘Taters, Less Haters

Potato salad, as a basic concept, brings to mind visions of buttery golden cubes of potatoes, drenched in a heavy white blanket of mayonnaise, with a few token flecks of celery and onion strewn about like stray confetti.

Turning that concept on its head, Chinese potato salad isn’t even cooked, let alone heavily dressed. Raw potatoes, shredded into fine floss, crisp as taut guitar strings, are lacquered with a simple, acidic, and often spicy vinaigrette.

The finest example of this rare specimen I found was in Honolulu, at Angelo Pietro where it’s their signature salad. It’s been a long time since I was lucky enough to visit the islands, and sadly, it will likely be a while before I can return. For now, recreating those cherished flavor memories is the next best thing to making that 2,397 mile journey.

Turns out the full recipe (all 5 ingredients of it) was published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin 20 years ago! The secret is that the potato is cut with the sharp, peppery bite of daikon radish, and a touch of lettuce for a refreshing crunch. Even if you can’t pick up the official, branded dressing, that too is effortlessly replicated in your own home kitchen. For a lighter, brighter, refreshing take on potato salad, this is one you’ve got to try.

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