Get your tongue receptors ready for a souped-up summer
Here is the theory. We eat cool foods in the summer: cucumber soup, gazpacho (which is basically cold tomato soup with a PhD), a salad Nicoise (sounds so much better than tuna fish and egg salad, doesn’t it?), and of course ice cream, because cool foods make us feel better on hot days.
Who wants a plate of steaming pasta or a beef stew when the temperature scrapes into the 90s? And forgive me if I slip into something Fahrenheit. Saying that it is 30 degrees and blistering doesn’t cut it for me.
Then there is the other theory: Hot spicy foods cool us down. Hence, curries and jalepeños, Mexican, South-Asian, la vida piquante. We go heavy on three-chili items at Thai restaurants and search out vindaloo on Indian menus.
Spicy foods jumpstart our body’s air-conditioning system. We sweat profusely. Perspiration leads to evaporation and we feel cooler. (Although I know this works, when it is hot I still go old school and reach for a beer.)
Spicy dishes do not have to be hot in the temperature sense. The heat factor of spices, particularly hot sauces and chilis, is rated in Scoville units. A sweet bell pepper gets zero on this scale. Frank’s Redhot, which is my current favourite and is great in rice dishes and Bloody Marys, comes in at 450, with bottled tabasco sauce a bit more.
Eating a tabasco pepper by itself, however, is an eye-opening 50,000 Scoville units. That’s hot but most of us could handle it. However, a Habanera pepper ups the ante to 350,000 which is why wearing gloves is a good idea when cutting up these babies.
After that, we enter the insane multimillion Scoville territory, where bottled sauces are given names that would work for the Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Mad Dog 44 Magnum Extract, Blair’s Jersey Death, Satan’s Blood. The labels look great and I love to give them as gifts (nudge, nudge, dare you ... yeah, maybe later ...) but you really don’t want to try these. The Flavourguy knows that these burn out the tongue’s flavour receptors.
By the way, if your food is too hot and spicy, ask for hot tea. Hot water lifts the pepper oils from the tongue quickly. Yogurt dishes like raita or lassi may seem to do the trick but they only give the tongue a short, quick cooling down. For me, the ideal summer recipe is low in temperature and high in spicy heat. Shaking more tabasco onto my gazpacho gives me a dish that heats me up and then cools me down.
Three cool soups for hot days
Schav is the Yiddish/Polish word for sorrel. Sorrel leaves are similar to spinach but more sour. Cook the sorrel in a little boiling water as you would spinach. Don’t drain. Let this cool and then chop in a blender or food processor, adding milk and salt to taste. Serve cold. The more milk, the thinner and sweeter it will be.
This dish brings Greek tzatziki together with Indian raita because it uses garlic and cucumber. If you don’t dilute it, it makes a great dip. Peel and slice one English cucumber or two regular sized cukes. Chop them finely in a processor or blender with a glove of garlic, a tablespoon each of chopped onion and fresh dill, a teaspoon of salt, 3 cups of yogurt and enough water to dilute for soup. Serve cold with freshly ground pepper and more fresh dill.
In a blender or food processor, put a clove of garlic, a large piece of peeled cucumber, a can of crushed and peeled tomatoes, half a sweet red bell pepper, a teaspoon of good olive oil and a little salt, some hot sauce and freshly ground black pepper.
I taste this and adjust the ingredients freely. Do not add more garlic, but let the flavours blend as they sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving. Add ice cubes to dilute and cool it further. Let them melt fully before serving.
Serve with toasted garlic croutons.
(Toast bread and then, while the toast is still hot, rub both sides with a cut garlic clove and slice into croutons.)
Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org