Memorial Day is right around the corner on the calendar. Most celebrate this 3 day weekend as the unofficial start of summer. Throughout the United States backyard barbeques abound. As the summer heat is turned up simple, cool dishes are served up on many family dinner tables. Interestingly enough, most perceive the colder the better to eat in summer, but in some countries the “hotter” the food the better for “beating the heat.” If a stay-cation is your plan this summer you may need a culinary diversion adventure. Here are some treats you might want to try:
A traditional Indian ice cream developed to melt slowly in the heat of the Indian subcontinent, kulfi tends to be creamier and denser than its Western counterparts, with flavors such as rose and mango. It’s served in matkas (little clay pots) that keep it even more insulated.
The Mexican version of corn-on-the-cob may be higher in calories than other styles, but the taste makes the extra weight worth it. After being grilled, sticks of golden corn are slathered with cheese or mayonnaise. Chili powder and lime juice are sprinkled on top.
Mul naengmyeon goes best with some hot galbi. These Korean cold noodles are served with ice cubes in the broth to keep the dish chilled while you eat. Chewy buckwheat noodles are mixed with slivers of cucumber, pear, boiled egg or beef and submerged into icy broth for a tangy concoction laced with sharp mustard oil.
Gazpacho is thought to have Arab roots. A cold tomato and bread-based soup that originated in Andalucia, gazpacho bursts with summer flavor. Traditionally pounded under a mortar and pestle to a creamy consistency, the soup’s main ingredients are tomato, cucumber, bell peppers, onions, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and most importantly, stale bread. That last one is what gives it body and distinguishes it from being just a liquid salad.
These days it can be difficult to find vichyssoise — the fat content is too high for the health-conscious. Vichyssoise is an elegant cold soup made from potatoes, leeks, cream and chicken stock. Possessing a beautiful vanilla color and a silken consistency owing to the heavy cream, it’s served at a cold temperature, which keeps the taste light and refreshing. Although French recipes with similar soups have been around for centuries, the late chef Louis Diat says that he first coined the name “vichyssoise” at The Ritz-Carlton New York in 1917.
Acaraje and vatapa
African influence. From the land of eternal summer, acaraje is Brazil’s representative street food. It comes from the country’s northeastern regions, where cuisine is influenced by African culture. Black-eyed peas are crushed and made into a ball, then deep fried, and formed into a bread-like base to hold vatapá, a creamy mix of shrimp, ground peanuts and fragrant coconut milk.
One bite of this flavor bomb will get your energy flowing. Thailand’s green papaya salad combines briny fish sauce, tart lime juice, the kick of chili peppers and the freshness of unripe papaya. It’s all pounded under a mortar and pestle to form a delicious antidote against hot-weather lethargy. Basically fat-free, som tum is a favorite for Thais trying to lose weight.
Korean fried chicken
A trendy food in South Korea that’s caught on around the world, Korean fried chicken has won us over as a crunchy finger food for hot weather. Koreans have perfected the holy fried chicken trinity: crispy, thin skin that still retains some gooey fat underneath, a strong spicy flavor and delicious moist meat.
Hanoi is obsessed with this dish. Two summer favorites, barbecue meat and salad, come together perfectly in this dish. The explosion of flavor comes from Vietnamese food’s ubiquitous dipping sauce, nuoc mam pha, made of fish extract, sugar, chili, lemon juice, garlic and a generous dose of MSG.
Live on brain freeze and sugar highs all season. The name of this Filipino dessert means “mix” and that’s just what it is — a jumble of sweet and colorful ingredients mixed together. It can include anything from sweetened beans and chickpeas to preserved fruit and ice cream flavored with mango, taro, coconut or other summery fruit.
There are lots of ways to enjoy Spam. A slice of fried spam on top of sushi rice wrapped with nori is one of our favorite foods for summer because it reminds us of the beaches in Hawaii, the backdrop to all our fantasy summer vacations.
Bruschetta dates to the 15th century. An antipasto that can be eaten as a light summer dinner. Not many better ways to showcase one of summer’s best products: ripe tomatoes, scarlet and bursting with flavor.
Spicy hotpot from Chongqing may be the last thing Westerners expect on a list of favorite foods for summer. Chongqing is one of the hottest corners of China and residents believe that Chinese spicy food forces diners to sweat, thereby helping to expel heat and excess moisture to help cool the body. It’s therefore natural that hotpot is a favorite summer food for locals — the bubbling pot of spicy broth comes filled with scarlet chilies and heaps of mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns.
Shaved milk ice
Fluffy and creamy, cotton ice should be served with dollops of syrup and fruit. Known as “cotton ice” in Chinese, this Taiwanese dessert has become popular across East Asia in the last few years. Instead of plain crushed ice, this version is made with frozen condensed milk that’s run through a shaving machine to create thin sheets of white milk ice that piles up in folds.
Ceviche is one of South America‘s most popular seafood dishes. This raw dish originated in Peru and is consumed throughout Latin America. It’s so fresh and so good, Peru has a national holiday in honor of the dish.
Japanese noodle fans believe the best way to experience the texture of quality handmade soba noodles is to eat them cold. To make Zaru Soba, buckwheat noodles are run through ice-cold water then drained on a bamboo sieve known as a “zaru.” The noodles are served directly on the zaru with a topping of shredded nori and a dipping sauce made of dashi, soy sauce, mirin and a dab of wasabi.
Sliced watermelon rind
Summer’s ambassador: the noble watermelon. When it’s hot outside, watermelon is one of the first foods we crave. The rind is usually thrown out, but it can be saved to make pickles or dressed to make a salad — the extra crunchy part of the melon makes an excellent juicy substitute for boring old lettuce. It’s also good stir-fried or stewed.
Simply good. Affogato means “drowned” in Italian, and we really wouldn’t mind being dunked into a sea of this dessert of Italy. A scoop of vanilla gelato is scooped into a cup and a shot of hot espresso is poured on top. The result is a beautiful swirl of semi-solid ice cream and streaks of golden, bitter coffee. Adding a shot of Amaretto or coffee liqueur ups the flavor.
Barbecued meat on sticks — essential summer eating. The national dish of Indonesia, satay can be made from any type of meat. Turmeric is added to give satay its characteristic yellow color. It’s likely an adaptation of Indian kebabs, as it became popular after the influx of Indian immigrants in the 19th century.
Southern-style cobbler with Georgia peaches on homemade biscuits — perfect for summer nights. Peach cobbler is a timeless, simple American dish that coats cooked peaches in a blanket of biscuit crust. Summer gives rise to the best peach cobblers, as intense heat is needed for the plant to mature and produce a perfect, succulent sweet-tart peach.
Like eating strawberries and cream in a public toilet. This famously challenging fruit is the alleged king of all fruits in Asia. Durian addicts who love the fruit’s distinct rotten-garbage odor look forward to durian season every year — the fruit can be grown only in tropical areas and is available between June and August. Of 30 varieties of durian, the most expensive is mao shan wang, which sells for up to $10 per kilogram in Singapore.
A spread of small dishes for a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern breakfast, lunch or dinner. The meze plate is usually served as an appetizer platter throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East and has a little bit of everything. It can be as simple as a piece of feta cheese with a few kalamata olives, or an impressive spread of hummus, tarama, cacik, baba ganoush, falafel, dolma and haloumi cheese.
One of the easiest dinners to make. We can fish for salmon all year round, but the biggest sport fishing season for wild salmon (most of what we eat is farmed) is in Alaska during summer and early fall months. That’s when wild salmon spawn and run back to rivers. Once that fish is caught, there are a bewildering number of ways to prepare it for a summer dinner. Poached in champagne or grilled outdoors, it’s all delicious.
Salads are sometimes served on injera. The national bread of Ethiopia, injera is a flatbread with a spongy texture and sour taste. The acidity perks up appetites and the porous texture makes the bread a great carrier for sauces and wet salads.
The Scandinavian buffet has seasonal versions. The summer smorgasbord retains all the classic items, such as gravlax, rye crispbread, pickled cucumbers, cheese, and the quintessential pickled herring, but hot foods are omitted.
If you love fish, ayu, or sweetfish, is a perfect on-the-go snack. It is usually grilled and is associated with the summertime in Japan. The fish have a sweet taste sweet that some say is similar to that of a watermelon. Ayu is popular at festivals and fireworks displays, so be on the lookout for a skewer of this grilled fish wherever you see food booths.