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Very cold dishes bring coolness directly into your tummy, which certainly helps cool you down when the weather is hot. Why would you eat spicy, sweat-inducing foods when it’s hot outside? It seems illogical, right? Sweat triggers the body’s natural cooling system, like a sprinkler built into your skin, which is why eating spicy is traditional in the hottest regions of the globe.
While ice cream and sorbet are obvious choices, there are also some surprises in this month’s look at what a variety of cultures turn to when the midsummer temperatures head skyward.
Gelato is the king of summer treats, but few realize that people have been eating something ice-cream-like for millennia. Alexander the Great liked to eat snow drizzled with honey, and Emperor Nero had runners zip up into the mountains and rush down to bring him a similar treat (let’s hope they ran real fast). But it was around 1553 that the chefs accompanying Caterina de Medici when he traveled from Florence to marry Henri II of France, who developed a recipe that closely resembles the creamy ice cream of today. From around 1660 on, ice cream became available to those beyond the gates of royal palaces, and Café Procope in Paris, run by Sicilian immigrants, was the first to serve it to the masses.
North Korean mul-naengmyeon
Cold noodles in a cold broth sounds pretty cooling. Noodles made of buckwheat and potato starch are served in a dongchimi, radish water kimchi broth. There are several variations, but their origin seems to be in North Korea, brought to the South by immigrants. You can have them spicy or not, but either way the noodles are cold and the broth is, too.
Raw fish had better be kept nice and cool until served, and ceviche simply calls for margination in a lightly-acidic liquid, like lemon juice, to ever-so-gently “cook” the fish through the acid reaction, kicking up the flavor without adding a lick of heat.
Italian bread is often pretty bleak - there’s a centuries-old tradition in central Italy of refusing to salt bread, dating back to outrage over a salt tax. Bruschetta is a catchall term for a slice of toasted, usually salt-free bread loaded with various goodies: olive oil, salt and garlic, for the purists, chopped tomato, basil and olive oil (and salt), or all manner of other variations. One constant is that the topping should have a measure of salt in it.
Light tabbouleh salad that is just the thing for sultry days. Bulgur wheat is at the core, augmented with chopped parsley, onion, tomato, olive oil, lemon juice and mint. The Arabic tabil means “seasoning,” and some might look at the salad as a mixture of seasonings, but the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. In the Middle East, tabbouleh’s focus is the parsley, whereas in Europe the bulgur wheat is the star. Tabbouleh looks like a parsley salad, but the brightness of mint, lemon and tomato, all fresh in the heart of summer, and the lightness of the dish, though it is satisfyingly filling, make it ideal for the hottest months.
The story goes that Marco Polo returned from China with a sorbet-like recipe, introducing the concept to the West. A sort of sorbet or granita, this “shaved ice” is still a favorite in Rome, scratched from a large block of sweetened ice so you can eat it with a spoon.
American deviled eggs
Historians can’t quite figure out why they are “deviled” but hardboiled eggs sliced in two, with the yolk removed, zested with mayo and mustard, whipped, and reinserted into the cavity of the white, are a lovely, filling summer snack.
The summer favorite of cold tomato and pepper soup is surprisingly complex, with hits of lime juice, vinegar, raw onion and garlic expanding the palette and chilling you out, all at once.
Sichuan cold sesame noodles
Liangmian cold noodles with a sesame paste are a big hit in American takeout stands, a super street snack that cools and spices. They are eaten as a street food throughout China and Taiwan, but the version most Anglophone readers will know has its origins in New York’s Chinatown.
Capri insalata caprese
As the history books say that it hails from the island of Capri (as the name suggests). Slices of tomato and mozzarella are layered on the plate, topped with some basil. Whatever the case, it’s completely delicious, but utterly reliant on wonderful, fresh ingredients. And it even looks like the Italian flag!
A Greek person explained to me that in a Greek salad there must be no lettuce, the salad must not be tossed before serving, feta cheese must not be cubed but in one large slice, tomato and cucumber must be in large pieces, and it must be served in a shallow bowl. I guess it depends on who you ask and, since horiatiki is, by definition, a “village” salad, then the recipe can alter from village to village. Whatever your definition, it’s going to be good.
Chongqing hot pot
In this region of China, summer weather calls for super spicy hot pot, gurgling with lava-like beef fat, into which you can dip your choice of ingredients to cook. The Chinese believe that hot dishes can relieve qing huo, or internal heat, so the more spice-induced sweat, the merrier!
German cole slaw
Shredded cabbage in oil and vinegar is the base of this German version, Krautsalat, but the more famous one is the Americanized style, with shredded carrot and loads of mayonnaise.