By mid-August, it often seems too hot to cook, and sometimes it even seems too hot to go out where someone else is doing the cooking.
On a recent day like that, I reluctantly went into a local taqueria, without much enthusiasm for my usual favorites like chiles rellenos or enchiladas.
After all, how appealing is melted cheese when you’re already on the verge of melting?
Scanning the menu, however, turned up something that sounded way more cooling than the usual Tex-Mex offerings. On a hot day, “Tostadas a la Siberiana” evoked a climate (if not a destination) with real appeal.
Siberia may not be known for its cuisine, but tostada a la Siberiana reflects the wintry landscape with cool and snowy white ingredients.
A crisp tostada (fried tortilla), spread with guacamole, is topped with cold, finely shredded or ground chicken breast. An even whiter layer of sour cream or Mexican cream fresca blankets the chicken, then the snowy layers are covered with another tostada. It’s sort of a mix-your-own chicken salad, scooped up with pieces of the tostadas.
Almost every restaurant has at least a few of these “air conditioning on a plate” dishes tucked away on their menu.
At the newly remodeled Galvez Bar and Grill, in the lobby of the historic Hotel Galvez, the Campechana seafood cocktail combines the best flavors of a trip to the seashore and a vacation south of the border.
Vietnamese restaurants usually have cold noodle dishes topped with meat, greens and other summer-friendly ingredients.
Making similar dishes at home doesn’t necessarily involve heating up the kitchen; many rice noodles cook simply by soaking in water.
There are other ways of keeping cool in the kitchen. Using convenience foods like rotisserie chickens in dishes such as tostadas a la Siberiana is a good alternative to roasting or poaching.
Microwaving is another way to beat kitchen heat. Instead of boiling a big pot of water to cook corn on the cob, half a dozen ears can cook in the microwave without steaming up cooks and their surroundings.
Steaming seafood eliminates the vats of boiling water by enlisting the help of the grocery store.
Most grocery butcher counters offer to steam any seafood purchased.
Their big steamers make a quick job of cooking shrimp, crabs and other shellfish.
Keeping the kitchen cool isn’t just a matter of comfort.
Late afternoon brings a big spike in electricity use, and reducing the energy it takes to offset a hot kitchen could be the difference between having plenty of electricity for the whole community and a brownout.
We definitely don’t want any interruptions in electrical service when the fridge is full of refreshing cold foods such as noodle salads and seafood cocktails.
Tostadas a la Siberiana Estilo Monterrey
- 2 big chicken breasts
- 2 Haas avocados
- 2 red tomatoes (chopped in cubes)
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup Mexican-style cream (crema Mexicana) or light sour cream
- 8 corn tostadas
- 16 pickled jalapeño slices, optional
Cook the chicken until is done by boiling it in water and some salt to taste. Shred it finely and set aside.
Mash the avocados and add the tomatoes and the 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt.
Spread the mixture of the avocados and tomatoes over four tostadas.
Add the shredded chicken on top of the tostadas with the mixture.
Top tostadas with the crema Mexicana. And add more salt to taste, if needed.
Optional: Add 1 or 2 slices of jalapeño peppers per tostada or finely chop the jalapeño slices and add some on the top.
Place the remaining tostadas on top.
(SOURCE: Recipe adapted from “The Hispanic Kitchen,” by Sonia Mendez Garcia)
Campechana de Mariscos
- 1⁄2 cup fresh lime juice
- 1⁄4 cup ketchup
- 1⁄4 cup chili sauce, such as Heinz
- 1⁄4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
- 1⁄4 cup chopped green olives
- 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1⁄4 cup finely chopped white onion
- 1⁄4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1⁄4 cup tomato — clam cocktail, such as Clamato
- 1⁄4 cup seeded and chopped fresh tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
- 1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
- 2 Anaheim chilies, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 serrano chilies, roasted and finely chopped
- 1⁄2 pound cooked and peeled medium shrimp
- 1⁄2 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked and cleaned
- 1 avocado, cut into 1⁄4” cubes
- Kosher salt, to taste
1. Combine the first 15 ingredients in a large bowl and season with salt; toss to mix. Fold in shrimp, crab, and avocado. Serve with tortilla chips. (Recipe from Jennifer Cooks, by Jennifer Locklin)
Cold Noodles with Peanut or Sesame Sauce
- 1 medium or 2 small cucumbers (optional)
- 12 ounces fresh Chinese egg noodles or long pasta, like linguine
- 2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
- 1/2 cup tahini, peanut butter, or a combination
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (optional)
- 1 tablespoon rice or white wine or other vinegar
- Hot sesame oil or Tabasco sauce to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
- At least 1/2 cup chopped scallion for garnish
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Peel the cucumbers if you’re using them, cut them in half lengthwise, and, using a spoon, scoop out the seeds. Cut the cucumber into shreds (you can use a grater for this) and set aside.
2. Cook the noodles in the boiling water until tender but not mushy. Meanwhile, whisk together the sesame oil and tahini, sugar, soy, ginger, vinegar, hot oil, and pepper in a large bowl. Thin the sauce with hot water until it’s about the consistency of heavy cream; you will need 1/4 to 1/2 cup. Stir in the cucumber. When the pasta is done, drain it and run the pasta under cold water. Drain.
3. Toss the noodles with the sauce and cucumbers. Taste and adjust the seasoning (the dish may need salt), then garnish with the scallion and serve, or chill in refrigerator and serve cold.
(SOURCE: Recipe from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman)
Bernice Torregrossa is a correspondent for The Daily News.