Cool kitchen cooking: Simple dinners for hot nights

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

While the well-known adage refers to life stress rather than meal prep, there’s practical wisdom to it in summer. The 90-plus temperatures of August have me looking for ways to keep our kitchen cool, while still getting dinner on the table. The fix: dinner recipes that keep the cook in the kitchen but keep the hard work and the heat out.

By incorporating store-bought items, relying on the backyard grill and using a few small appliances, meals that are simple enough for weeknights and special enough for company will leave you enjoying spectacular summer suppers sans indoor heat.

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)

Weeknight dining

When the temperatures rise, there’s nothing better than a slightly spicy, flavorful bowl of cool rice noodles and grilled shrimp.

A selection of toppings enables diners to customize bowls to suit their particular cravings. With no pots or pans, cleanup is nearly as simple as assembly. We make versions of this meal with grilled chicken or beef, too. The recipe could come together even faster by using a favorite store-bought peanut dressing. The red curry paste on the shrimp is a must.

Rice Noodle Bowls

  • 1 8-ounce package rice noodles
  • 1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
  • Quick pickled daikon and carrots (see below; alternatively, serve with 2 carrots, grated)
  • 2 small cucumbers, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • Red, yellow or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup salted peanuts, crushed
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • Small bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped

Cook noodles according to package instructions (generally boiling water in kettle and pouring over noodles). When softened, drain and rinse well under cold water. Run your fingers through noodles to separate them. Tip: I use kitchen shears to cut noodles in half to make them easier to eat.

Toss shrimp with 2 tablespoons red curry paste and remaining vegetable oil. Let sit at room temperature 15 minutes (can be tossed earlier in the day and kept covered in refrigerator).

Plate pickled vegetables, spinach, cucumbers, bell peppers, cilantro, lime and peanuts for diners to top bowls with.

Make dressing by mixing remaining curry paste, vinegar, peanut butter, ginger, honey, sesame seed oil, garlic and salt (if using) and some warm water (add a few teaspoons water at a time until mixture is thin enough to dress noodles).

Toss noodles in dressing and set aside while you cook shrimp.

Heat outdoor grill on medium high. Be sure grill is clean, then brush 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over grates. Divide shrimp evenly and on skewers for grilling (alternatively, grill in seafood basket). Grill shrimp 2-3 minutes per side.

Divide noodles among four bowls, place grilled shrimp on each and serve with toppings on side.

Note: To quick pickle daikon and carrots, peel and slice daikon root and 1-2 carrots into small matchsticks and place in jar or bowl. Whisk together 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 cup boiling water and 1 teaspoon salt – whisking until sugar is dissolved. Pour pickling mixture over sliced vegetables and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Saturday Spanish dinner

As friends return from summer travel and kids head back to school, we enjoy reconnecting with families we haven’t seen since June. A dinner inspired by the foods of Spain that takes full advantage of our incredible in-season produce, is a perfect party for relaxed reunions. This dish is based on Spanish-style grilled pork skewers. I like the ease of cooking the entire tenderloin and serving slices rather than skewers. 

Spanish-Style Grilled Pork Tenderloin

  • Juice of 1 lemon (plus a lemon for serving)
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed or olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon paprika 
  • 1- to 2-pound pork tenderloin, fat trimmed off

Mix lemon juice, oil, ginger, garlic and spices together to create paste. Slather paste all over pork tenderloin and let marinate 30 minutes. Heat outdoor grill on medium high. Be sure grill is clean, then brush 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over grates. 

Place tenderloin on grill and cook 5 minutes on each side, for a total 20 minutes. Check if internal temperature is 145 F and remove from grill – cook longer if needed. Tent loosely and let sit 10 minutes.

Slice and serve with lemon wedges.

Side of bread

This outrageously easy dish shows up at our dinner table even when we’re not eating Spanish fare. It is a great way to use tomatoes. If you have tomato fans in your home, this is sure to be a favorite.

  • 1 loaf ciabatta bread, cut in half and then into 3-inch slices
  • 1 very large and very ripe tomato
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • Few tablespoons olive oil
  • Muldoon Irish flake sea salt
Cut tomato in half width-wise, place box grater in shallow bowl and grate tomato with inside against grater. Once all pulp is grated, compost skin. Repeat on other side. Add a decent pinch of sea salt to bowl and stir to combine. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Heat grill to 450 F. Be sure grill is clean and lightly oiled before adding bread slices. Close lid and toast bread 2-3 minutes – keeping your eye on it.

Remove bread from the grill and rub peeled garlic clove over each slice.

Glug a few tablespoons of good olive oil into bowl and spoon or brush over each slice of bread. Spoon desired amount of tomato pulp over and finish with a sprinkling of flake salt.

Summer salad

Summer, for me, is all about fresh side dishes and out-of-the-ordinary salads. The greens of winter keep us happily noshing on salad bowls in colder months, but this time of year is ideal for making lettuce-free medleys. Toss this salad just before serving it. 

  • 1 English cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 ripe peaches, sliced
  • 2 avocados, cubed
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and Aleppo pepper, to taste

Toss cucumbers, peaches and avocados with lime juice. Place in serving bowl and season with generous pinch of salt. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Sprinkle Aleppo pepper atop and serve immediately.

Cava Lemon Sorbet

This is a recipe that went viral the old-fashioned way – by word of mouth. My friend, Katrina, called after hosting a paella party for her dinner club and couldn’t stop talking about the dessert another friend, Dawn, had brought to the dinner. Dawn shared that she learned the recipe from her son, who had attended a cooking class whilst in Spain. It really is the perfect ending to a hot day. Plus, it’s outrageously simple to make as it relies on store-bought sorbet. 

Cava, which is Spain’s contribution to the sparkling wine world, is a great value bubbly. For this recipe, I like Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava ($9), available at Costco. With subtle citrus aromas and fresh, zesty lemon-lime notes on the palette, this wine is super with the sorbet. An easy-to-find locally and equally great option is Freixenet Sparkling Cordon Negro Brut Cava ($12). The almond notes of this sparkling wine are wonderful counter to the citrusy dessert.

  • 2 pints lemon sorbet
  • 1 bottle Cava, well chilled
  • 2 fresh mint leaves, plus more for service

About 30 minutes before assembling, remove the sorbet from the freezer and let sit in the fridge. Add both pints of sorbet and the mint leaves to a blender. Pulse a few times. Add the well-chilled Cava and blend just until fully incorporated. Pour into glassware, garnish with a sprig of mint. Serve immediately.


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