Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ten Cool and Refreshing Dinner Ideas for Hot Days


“naplesBy Julie Koester, Life with Moxie

Summer has just arrived and it is already incredibly hot and humid. The last thing that feels like a good idea is slaving over a hot stove at the end of the day. With a few easy and very nutritious seasonal ingredients, summertime meals can offer a refreshing alternative to the hot and often heavy dinner options. Here are just of few of my favorites from Life with Moxie’s own cookbook. A few do require some cooking, but all are chilled before serving so prep can happen earlier in the day before the oppressive heat really sets in.

1- Classic Gazpacho

If any soup declares the beginning of summer, this is it. Gazpacho has a very ancient history, starting in Mesopotamia as a soup of bread, garlic, water and olive oil, traveling to Spain where they added vinegar. Having become a staple in Andalusian cuisine, tomatoes and salt were added. Many modern day variations supplement or replace the tomato, with watermelon, avocados and cucumbers. Original recipes fully pureed all ingredients, the following recipe is gleaned from the Portuguese tradition, as they use diced ingredients.  Feel free to puree!

2 organic Hothouse cucumbers, chopped, or roughly 3 cups of other firm crisp cucumber.  If not organic, then peel.

1 bell pepper, seeded and diced

6 small organic tomatoes, preferably heirloom in assorted colors, chopped, if not, chopped plum tomatoes or a pint of grape tomatoes sliced in half. Roughly 2 cups.

1 red onion, diced

4 cloves fresh garlic, minced (4 teaspoons).  Use fresh if possible, as the pre-minced in a jar has a very different flavor and you’d notice the difference here.

4 cups organic tomato juice

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ olive oil

2 Tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

2 Tablespoons fresh chopped chives

½ Tablespoon Himalayan salt

1 teaspoon course freshly ground black pepper

As you prep the ingredients, keep adding them, together, into a large mixing bowl. Once all ingredients are added, stir well, then remove roughly half the content and put it into a blender. Gently pulse to finely chop but not puree. Pour back into original bowl with balance of soup, stir well and season to taste. Chill for at least 30 minutes to let flavors blend.

2- White Gazpacho

Fresh, bright, high in protein and only seven ingredients. Cucumbers are so light and fresh, this is a great addition to and summer menu, or alone as a quick, light, yet substantial snack.

3 Hothouse cucumbers (organic!),  peeled, or roughly 4 cups of other firm crisp cucumber

1 ½ cups Marcona almonds (roasted unsalted regular almonds if you can’t find Marcona, use raw if that’s your preference)

1 cup seedless green grapes

2 fresh garlic cloves

1 scallion, minced, white part only

2 Tablespoons olive or walnut oil

¼ teaspoon Himalayan salt

White pepper (as not to discolor) or my favorite, smoked black pepper

Place all ingredients in a blender, and puree until smooth and uniform, season to taste. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Serve dressed with grapes (halved), toasted (untoasted if going for raw) almond slivers and chopped chives.

3- Classic Potato Leek

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup vegan butter

3 leeks, cleaned and sliced through light green

6 cups diced potatoes, Yukon gold preferably

6 cups vegetable broth

1 cup vegan sour cream (I use tofutti, some brands have a very strange after taste that shows up in cooking, I know that tofutti works well here, no guarantees on other brands.

1 cup plain soymilk.

In a large pot, sauté leeks in the olive oil and butter over medium-high.  Add diced potatoes, sauté for 5 minutes.  Add vegetable broth, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender.  Add sour cream and soy milk, then blend with an immersion blender until creamy, but chunks still remain.  Add salt and pepper to taste, top with chopped parsley or fresh chives to garnish.

4- Classic Cold Antipasti Salad

1 Pint organic grape tomatoes, washed

I 14 oz can salad cut palm hearts, drained

1 12oz jar quartered, marinated artichoke hearts

1 7.75 oz jar sundried tomatoes in olive oil, drained

4 cutlets (1 package) of vegan chicken breasts, sautéed (I prefer Gardein scaloppini, GF options available)

½ cup soy feta or a vegan mozzarella, crumbled if adding to salad, leave whole if serving as an accompaniment.

In a large mixing bowl, add grape tomatoes, palm hearts, artichoke hearts with marinade, and sundried tomatoes with marinade. Gently toss and set aside. In a large skillet, sauté the four scallopini until golden, remove from skillet and let cool and cut into small bite sized-pieces. Add to salad, toss and serve. Serve with slices of toasted very crusty bread and a side of vegan mozzarella or feta (the cheese can just as easily be tossed into salad as well).

5- Classic Cobb Gone Vegan

1 package vegan bacon, cooked and chopped (I prefer lightlife Smart bacon)

½ head iceberg lettuce, shredded

1 head Romaine, wash, chopped, dried off

2 cups watercress, wash, dry

4 cutlets (1 package) of vegan chicken breasts, sautéed (I prefer Gardein scaloppini)

1 6 oz. package vegan blue cheese (I use Vegcuisine’s soyblue, if that isn’t accessible, Daiya makes a blue cheese dressing)

3 roma or heirloom tomatoes, seeded and diced (organic!), any tomato is fine, these are just so beautiful and have more flavor.

1 avocado, cubed

2 tablespoon minced fresh chives

Dressing –

1 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 small shallot clove, minced

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup red wine vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients for dressing into a container with tight fitting lid, seal and shake well, set aside. Shake every so often while you’re preparing the salad to help meld flavors. Can be made days ahead of time and stored in the fridge, just be sure to bring back to room temperature before using. (I use larger canning jars for dressings, make them ahead and just keep in the fridge as a staple)

Prepare iceberg, romaine and watercress, toss together in large mixing bowl to blend well, drizzle and toss with enough prepared dressing to very lightly coat the leaves when tossed. Reserve the rest for use later. Divide leaves among plates for serving and then top with remaining ingredients with each ingredient forming a single row across the length of the plate. Sprinkle minced chives across the top. Present with a small side of additional dressing and a lemon wedge.

6- Panzanella

1 ½ cups basil leaves

2/3 cup and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from organic lemon!)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from organic lemon you zested)

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

3 pounds organic tomatoes. (Heirloom varieties offer the most color and flavor variety)

1 organic hothouse cucumber, skin on, seeded and cut into bite size pieces (if not organic, then peel).

½ cup pitted Kalamata olives

3 tablespoon capers

1 12 ounce loaf rustic, prairie, sourdough, etc. bread cut into ½ inch thick slices

1 clove garlic, halved

For dressing:

Blend at low speed ¾ cup basil and 1/3 cup oil in a blender until small bits of basil are seen, not to puree. Strain through fine-mesh strainer, pressing to extract as much liquid as possible. In a pinch I’ve poured into center of cheese cloth, pulled the corners together, and twisted until it was tight over the solids and kept twisting, like wringing out a towel. Discard solids. To liquid, add shallot, lemon zest and lemon juice, whisk to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Dressing can be made up to a day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Return to room temperature and re-whisk before using.

For Salad:

Slice tomatoes into bite-size shapes. Place into large bowl, toss with dressing, let marinate for 30 minutes. Take bread slices, brush with olive oil and rub with garlic. Place in sauté pan, turning often, until nicely browned (or just toast if you tend to walk away). After letting bread cool, tear into bite-sized pieces. Add bread, remaining basil, cucumber, olives and capers to tomatoes. Toss to coat, season with salt and pepper if needed, and serve.

7- Cold Pasta Salad, Summer Garden Variety

1  8-ounce box organic pasta, use a small shape variety, like shell or elbow macaroni, cooked as directed.

1 large bell pepper, any color, diced

1 small can sliced olives

1 cup peas (fresh or frozen, not canned)

1 cup corn organic kernels (fresh or frozen)

¼ cup chopped parsley (5 tufts)

¼ cup chopped basil (10ish leaves)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon grey salt

¼ teaspoon ground pepper

¼ cup olive oil

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

¼ cup vegan Parmesan

Cook pasta, rinse to cool, drain well, set aside. In large mixing bowl, add all prepped vegetables and fresh herbs, loosely toss. In container with tight lid, mix oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic, shake well. Add pasta to vegetables, pour dressing over pasta, and toss well until all parts are evenly distributed, chill for at least 30 minutes.  Serve, dusting each serving with vegan parmesan, my favorite is by Follow your Heart.

8- Orange and Fennel Salad

A bright and beautiful crunchy side.

1 bag fresh organic spinach, rinsed and dried

1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced

4 Clementines or 2 oranges, peeled and separated into natural sections (if using oranges, cut each section in half).

½ red onion, macerated (soaked) in rice vinegar

½ cup broken walnuts

1 tablespoon walnut oil (or olive oil in a pinch)

1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar in a pinch)

salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, toss fennel, oranges, onion with dressing.  Plate a bed of spinach on each plate, top with fennel mix.  Dust with walnut bits.

9- Avotonayo

My all-time favorite Sandwich! I’m not sure there is a more perfect combination of summertime flavors than in this sandwich. If you can grab a warm tomato from your sunny garden, even better.

4 slices sprouted whole grain bread, toasted (publix makes a lovely organic edition in their bakery)

1 ripe organic avocado, sliced

1 ripe organic tomato (heirloom if available), sliced thin

¼ cup sprouts

2 Tablespoon vegan mayo- I prefer Whole Foods 365 brand

sprinkle Himalayan salt and pepper if desired.

Toast bread, let cool.  For each sandwich apply mayo to one piece of bread and to the other piece of bread press half of the sliced avocado onto it, it will breakdown into a spread consistency. If to firm, just leave in slices. Add a layer of tomato, then add a fluff of sprouts, dust with salt and pepper. Top it off with the mayo’d bread slice.

Serve with sliced fruit, such as apples, star fruit or the like.

Alternate ideas*

-sprinkle with smoked paprika

Make it healthier*

-add a layer of baked sweet potato.  I regularly have baked sweet potatoes in the refrigerator, so this is my go-to edition.

10- Crisp Okra and Olives

Okra is a wonderful summer food. If you’ve experienced it before, it was most likely cooked, like stewed tomatoes with okra, or fried. Unfortunately, when you cook okra, the insides get an unfortunate texture and losses significant flavor. This uses fresh okra, which is very crispy and flavorful, light and fresh. I came across this combo decades ago and it has remained a staple of summer so long as the okra is in season.

Keep in mind this is a finger food mix, exact measure is hardly necessary…

2  7oz jars Kalamata olives (pitted)

7 cups fresh okra (roughly… ) cleaned, leave whole

Lemon zest of three large organic lemons

1 ¼ cups fresh organic lemon juice (about 7 lemons)- do not use bottled juice if you avoid.

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon Himalayan salt (I sometimes use herbed grey salt- wonderful!)

Combine all ingredients in a very large zip-top plastic bag (gallon size), and seal. Refrigerate at least 2 days turning bag several times a day. Serve chilled. Great for picnics, lunch box, pot luck dinners. I keep this on hand all summer.

These are just a few of my very favorite summer recipes, try a few, get a few new ideas of your own and experiment.  The abundance of summer harvest found in local farmers markets offers so many wonderful options to be taken advantage of.

Have ideas you’d like to add? Need more suggestions? Let me know!

Julie Koester is CEO of Life with Moxie, a Lifestyle Revolution Company and Host of Life with Moxie Radio, Saturday’s at 1pm on 98.9 WGUF in Southwest Florida. You can reach her at

Passionate Living by Design, That’s Life with Moxie

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