Depending on where you live in the U.S. you may be nodding your head in agreement or be totally dismissive when I complain that right now in San Diego the heat and humidity is making me wilt. Yes, San Diego is probably much cooler than almost any other part of the U.S. but I’m not in any other part of the U.S. and while it’s not in the three-digit temperature category, it’s September, and temperatures beyond the coast are in the 90s and could very well go up further tomorrow or next week. In the meantime, those thick clouds that hang in the East tell me a monsoon is happening elsewhere and slipping humidity to us.

No one likes to cook in heat and humidity if they don’t have to. Or eat heavy food. That’s why I take advantage of late summer harvests of cucumbers and tomatoes to make this easy, very refreshing salad. It’s something you can make for clients or show clients how to make for themselves–or, hey, make it for your family to have something cool and simple to have at the ready once you’ve gotten out of your client’s kitchen.

For this salad I use either hothouse cucumbers (you know, the ones so delicate they’re wrapped in plastic) or Persian cucumbers, along with cherry tomatoes. I’m lucky because my garden is overflowing with Sweet 100s and other cherry tomatoes.

To make the salad I pull out my handy little Kyocera slicer, set it to the thickest opening, and get to work. It takes no time to slice the cukes. Then I slice the tomatoes in half in what, maybe two minutes? I clip some mojito mint from my garden and rinse and chop that up in less than 30 seconds. Then I quickly mix together a dressing using seasoned rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. I layer the cukes in a serving dish with a two-inch lip, toss the tomatoes over them, followed by the mint, then a few dashes of toasted sesame seeds and red pepper flakes. I slosh the dressing over the salad, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for about an hour so it can marinate.

The reward is a mouthful of fresh crisp veggies complemented by a mix of flavors and textures–sweet, salty, smoothness, crunch, and a pop of heat. It takes so little effort and the flavor rewards are so great (since all these vegetables are at their peak ripeness) it would be a shame to not make this part of your hot weather  repertoire.

Cucumber and Tomato Salad
Serves 8

2 large cucumbers, thinly sliced (if conventional cucumbers, peel the skin)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2 tablespoons fresh mint, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 teaspoon sea salt

Dressing
1 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon good quality soy sauce
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil

Layer the cucumbers in a bowl or flat serving dish with a lip at least an inch high to hold the dressing. Sprinkle the tomatoes over the cucumbers. Sprinkle the mint over the cucumbers and tomatoes. Sprinkle the sesame seeds, the red pepper flakes, and sea salt over the top. Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar, give it a good shake, and then pour over the salad. Cover and chill for an hour. The vegetables should absorb most of the dressing and the cucumbers will soften a little but still have a little crispness to them. If you want to add some protein to the salad cooked shrimp or beans (I love garbanzo beans with this) will work just fine.

What’s your summer/heat wave go-to salad for yourself or clients?

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Whole salad1

It’s hot. And sticky. In case you hadn’t heard San Diego had a brief respite from drought over the weekend and enjoyed a tropical storm. Now on the East Coast when this happens, people give a sigh of relief because a storm usually clears away the humidity. Not so here. The storm has mostly moved on but we’re enjoying 85 percent humidity and 90-degree temps. Ick.

We need relief. And perhaps so do you and your clients. Several months ago I came across a little piece online somewhere that showed a watermelon pizza. It immediately caught my eye, but, eh. It was really just a fruit salad on a slice of watermelon. Interesting, but not especially original. The concept stuck with me, however, and what I realized was that I wanted a savory watermelon pizza.

Watermelon salad is one of my favorite dishes this time of year as the temps start to climb. One of my all time most enjoyable versions is served at a local restaurant, Urban Solace. Every bite is different, filled with cherry tomatoes and arugula, feta and currants, toasted pine nuts and cucumbers. And it’s tossed with a sweet vinaigrette.

Once the seasons turned and the weather warmed up I was able to translate this concept in my head to a dish. I gathered a baby watermelon, cherry tomatoes, a hot house cucumber (Japanese or Persian–all with no seeds–will do as well), an onion, pine nuts, kalamata olives, arugula, currants, and goat cheese.

I also went out to my little garden and nabbed some a couple of stems of my treasured mojito mint (it’s a little less astringent than peppermint or spearmint) and basil. This is a “pesto perpetuo” variety of basil, which grows as a perennial.

Mojito mint and Pesto Perpetuo Basil

With these herbs, along with white wine vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper, I made a vinaigrette.

Basil Mint Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together all the ingredients except the olive oil. Then slowly whisk in the oil until all the ingredients are blended together and the dressing emulsifies. Set aside.

With that done, I sliced what needed slicing and put the “pizza” together.

Slice the watermelon about an inch thick and place on a flat surface. If you want, you can grill the watermelon slices to create an altogether different kind of flavor. But, for me the point is to stay away from heat so I just start layering.

layer 1

First you add the cucumbers.

layer 2

Then come the tomatoes. If you have access to heirloom cherry tomatoes, you’ll have even more color and flavor.

layer 3

Next come sliced kalamata olives and onion. I like a sweet white onion, like this, or red onion.

layer 4-cheese balls

Goat cheese can be difficult to work with, so I use a small melon baller.

Finally, I scatter the top with currants and toasted pine nuts. Make a bed with the arugula and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Then quarter the slice.

slice2

You can serve quarters as an appetizer or a whole slice as a lunch, accompanied with some crusty bread.

What’s your go-to dish for summer heat waves? What do your clients request?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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