That’s so cool! Foods to fight the heat

freshcucumbersBy the time August rolls around, and the sun is at its fiery peak, summer may start to lose some of its appeal (at least in Colorado). Temperatures soar, the soft, lush grass turns brittle and brown, and we seek refuge in pools, creeks, and air-conditioned shopping centers. And how long, really, can you stay in either the water or the mall?

In Chinese medicine, summer is the time of fire, or yang energy; it’s hot, it’s dry and it’s intense, and it can leave the best of us feeling irritable, depleted, and ready to relocate to Iceland. But you can beat the heat, with cool, moist food that balance soaring temperatures and dampen the fiery flames of summer.

In general, look for foods that are lighter in color, with a high water content. Fresh, seasonal produce will be your mainstay: focus on cucumbers, celery, cantaloupe, watermelon, nectarines, herbs, berries, eggplant, avocado, figs, fennel, lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini, mint and corn.

For grains, choose barley, millet and amaranth; for protein, great Northern beans, mung beans, sprouted almonds, yogurt and fish have the least fire-producing potential. And sea vegetables, growing as they do in the depths of the cool, quiet ocean, are calming to summer’s dryness and expansive energy of heat.

Avoid heat-producing foods like butter, spicy foods, garlic, black pepper, meat, cheese, eggs, chili peppers, salsa and pungent spices, and keep cooking methods light and moist. In preparing foods, use as little heat as possible; eat most of your produce raw, and when you do cook, stick to short cooking times and those that add moisture, like steaming, low-temperature sautéing or brief grilling (not the best choice from a TCM standpoint, but I would never suggest you give up your grill for the entire summer; use it in moderation, and on cool summer evenings).

Upping your beverage intake further cools the body and replaces moisture, but skip the coffee, alcohol and spicy chai – they’re heating and drying. Instead, stick to cooling, calming beverages, like chilled white tea mixed with white grape juice, mint lemonade, chrysanthemum tea with grapefruit juice, green tea with honey and lime, or blueberry nectar mixed with sparkling water. But don’t drink them iced: you’re aiming to cool your body, not freeze it. The point is to gently counter the effects of summer’s heat, without being excessive; Chinese medicine recognizes that extreme amounts of a cooling food can have the opposite effect. Approach all of this in the spirit of balance.

Try the recipes that follow; they’ll help decrease your internal temperature and moisten your body, and they’re lovely enough to share at your next summer cookout. How cool is that?

Heirloom Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Avocados, with Cucumber-Herb Dressing
Serves 4
2 medium English cucumbers
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil leaves
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint leaves
4 cups baby spinach leaves, loose
2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, in a variety of colors and sizes, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 large avocado, pitted and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1. Peel both cucumbers, halve lengthwise, and scoop out seeds with a melon baller or a spoon. Cut one of the cucumbers crosswise, into 1/4-inch-thick slices; set aside.

2. Coarsely chop the remaining cucumber. Combine in a blender with vinegar and olive oil, and puree until smooth. Add basil and mint; pulse until mixture is smooth, but small bits of herbs remain. Season with sea salt and white pepper.

3. In a medium bowl, combine spinach and sliced cucumbers; add just dressing to lightly coat leaves, and toss to mix. Transfer to a serving platter.

4. Arrange tomatoes on top of cucumbers and spinach. Arrange avocado slices amongst tomato slices. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with additional basil leaves, if desired. Serve with remaining dressing on the side.
Blackberry & Butter Lettuce Salad with Figs, White Pansies and Raspberry-Grapefruit Vinaigrette
Serves 4
1/4 cup grapefruit juice (about 1/4 of a grapefruit)
1/4 cup fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons chopped basil
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 small heads butter lettuce, core removed and leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
8 medium to large black mission figs
1 cup fresh blackberries
1 cup white pansy leaves, violas, or other edible flowers

1. In a blender or small food processor, combine grapefruit juice, raspberries and basil and puree until thick and smooth. (Add 1/2 teaspoon of raw honey, if raspberries are tart.) With blender or food processor running on low, slowly pour in grapeseed oil, until mixture just thickened (alternatively, pour raspberry-grapefruit mixture into a small bowl and whisk in grapeseed oil.) Season with white pepper and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine butter lettuce, 1/2 cup of the flowers and 1 to 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Toss to lightly coat leaves. Divide salad between four individual plates.

3. Cut the stems off the figs. Using a sharp knife, thinly slice each fig lengthwise. Arrange on top of lettuce. Arrange blackberries on salad. Scatter with remaining flowers and serve, with additional dressing on the side.