Cold soup, paruppu rasam, chilled gazpacho: Summer foods to beat the heat
All of a sudden, the curious English obsession with the weather seems to have infected the local populace. From the crusty old uncle in Jayangar 4th Block (very heaty, I say) to the millennial mall rat (Omigod yaar, it’s only early March, but it’s already like, sooo hot) the sole topic of conversation is how hot it’s become and how weather patterns have changed.
It’s not just melting polar ice-caps, climate change or global warming; some of the blame lies at our own doorstep.
The findings of a recent study published by IISc make for interesting reading: “By 2020, India's IT capital will be an unlivable sea of concrete and glass with barely any trees, a victim of the unplanned urbanization that will reduce its greenery to barely 6.46% from the 63% green cover it enjoyed in 1973.”
In the last 34 years, Bengaluru has seen a jump of 1005% in concrete area or paved surface.” Very soon we won’t have two seasons, just a wet summer and a dry summer…
Summer foods are perfect when eaten outdoors
Anyway, as ridiculous as it may sound, when you can’t stand the heat, it’s probably a good idea to head for the kitchen, if only to plan out your summertime blues strategy.
So, while making cucumber, tomatoes, watermelon and turmeric an intrinsic part of our summer diets is sensible, adopting a counter-intuitive approach is even smarter.
When it's summer, opt for salads or cold soups
For example, soup is traditionally considered a winter dish, but a bowl of soup in the evening as temperatures start to drop can actually help you stay cool. Chinese clear soup with wontons, a bowl of spicy paruppu rasam or even a cold gazpacho tastes brilliant on a hot summer’s day.
Cold gazpacho is a wonderful summer dish
While hot soup may make you perspire more, you will find as the sweat evaporates the energy and heat is absorbed that your body actually feels cooler. In the 90’s I travelled extensively in Gulbarga (where temperatures reach 40 C in the shade) and was horrified to see the locals wolfing down jolada roti with vast quantities of changa podi, basically gunpowder made with chilli, garlic and peanuts.
What can I say, it’s science dude: apparently chilli is an excellent choice in hot weather because the capsaicin sends a signal to your brain that your body is over heated. So, you sweat more and you cool your body down progressively.
Any vegetable or chicken curry made with a healthy dollop of turmeric is a good dietary option in summer and the logic is simple. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, promotes good circulation, helping to speed up your blood flow and cool your body down. Salads are totally in, like duh.
Watermelon salad is refreshing and delicious
Besides the usual suspects like kachumber or the ubiquitous green salad, try cubes of watermelon with crumbled feta, a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of fresh basil leaves for an adult chilled-out option.
Arugula with grapes, cucumber and pomegranate essence, tossed with olive oil tastes killer. A good breakfast option is Bircher’s muesli which is oats, soaked overnight in orange juice to which you add yoghurt, fresh fruit and almonds. Packed with anti-oxidants, it helps kickstart your day.
As clichéd as it sounds whoever coined the expression, “as cool as a cucumber” was spot on. Cucumber has high water content and several medicinal properties: it acts as a diuretic to flush toxins out of the body and maintain healthy tissue and skin.
The bonus is that cucumber is extremely low in calories and has minimal amounts of sugar, carbohydrates and fats, while it is loaded with good stuff like vitamin B, phosphorus, calcium and zinc. Thinly sliced radish and cucumber, amla, squeeze of lime, salt and pepper make for an amazing salad.
Sardines are superb sources of Omega 3 fats
Oddly enough mac-n-cheese, potato salad, burgers, pizza are lethal food choices when the weather is warm: this is because they leave you bloated and are harder to digest.
Summer is good for fish: sardines and mackerel are superb sources of Omega 3 fats and if you’re tired of curries, try marinating the filets in a blend of garlic, sea salt, chilli flakes, lemon zest, juice and olive oil and then grilling them for 15 minutes.
It tastes insane with pita or toasted sourdough bread. Neer dosa with a coconut milk-based veggie or chicken curry is a good choice for lunch. Summer is also when we add raw mango or bimblis to curries which help give it that lovely sour tang so you can cut back on tamarind.
To summarise, stay hydrated with lots of water, buttermilk and green tea. Poha, idlis, green gram dosa, mudde, anna-saaru and phulkas as opposed to upma, masala dosa and puris. Plenty of fresh fruit, veggies and salad, grilled and braised lean meats, fish and seafood, cut back on junk food, fizzy drinks and booze.
Here's one of my favourite recipes...
2 cups tomato juice
4 medium tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
1/2 cup finely chopped spring onion
1 green chilli, finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 slices of crusty bread, roughly chopped.
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or juice of 1 lime.
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pour the olive oil and cider vinegar over the bread for a few minutes and roughly crumble with your hands. Now mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl and refrigerate for 3 hours. Serve in bowls with a thin slice of cucumber or freshly torn basil leaves as garnish.