PARIS -- When you've got triple-digits by noon, just the idea of walking to your car overwhelms. It's just too hot. You can't remember if you cracked the windows. Suddenly, it all seems like too much. Plus, you're not that hungry anyway, you tell yourself.
We don't get many super-hot days in Paris, but when we do, like we did a couple of weeks ago, when the mercury climbed to 98 degrees -- note that we have no air conditioning in our apartment, and we rely on two old, creaky fans to push the hot air around -- eating is the last thing I want to do.
But my hunger eventually gets the best of me, and all I want is cold. Cold and light. Something that I can pull out of the fridge, that's ready to eat as is.
Much more so than when I was living in Texas, my eating has become aligned with the seasons. I'm more connected now because I'm out walking through it, every day, whether I'm on the Metro or walking my dog Rose at nearby Parc de St. Cloud -- rain or snow, warm or frigid temperatures, we hit the trails.
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I keep an eye on the persnickety French weather, and I know that when it's hot and sticky, I won't want to cook, so I make something in advance and pop it in the fridge.
Many of these light and easy, packable summer recipes came about accidentally. And in France, many dishes are served either cold or at room temperature this time of year. Lentils are great in the winter, and most traditionally served with thick sausages, but they are just as nice served cold with roasted veggies, also cold, on top. Ditto with Asian noodles, which I love steaming hot, either in bowls of soup or stir-fried, and now, just as much cold.
I enjoy cold salmon so much that I now make extra just to have leftovers. The Provencal tuna sandwich, pan bagnat, is basically salade Nicoise on a baguette -- a taste of the south of France for those of us who can't make it to Provence.
Which, I hear, gets quite warm this time of year. Perhaps it's best that we all just stay put, and keep our fans on. That's what I plan to do.
Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef. Read her blog and watch her cooking videos on www.cowgirlchef.com. You can also follow her on Twitter, @cowgirlchef.
Pan bagnat (salade Nicoise on a baguette)
An easy, elegant sandwich that will have you wondering why you hadn't made it before. Be sure to buy the tuna in olive oil -- it makes all the difference.
2 handfuls mesclun
1 5.64-ounce can tuna in olive oil, drained
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
6 Kalamata olives, halved
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
2 medium basil leaves, roughly torn
E-Z Dijon vinaigrette (see recipe)
Cut baguette lengthways, then hollow out some of the bread in the bottom half, making sort of a baguette "canoe" so all of the good stuff won't fall out. Layering mesclun, tuna, tomatoes, olives, egg slices and basil on the bottom half. Cover it with the top, and wrap it tightly if you're taking it to go. Just tote your E-Z vinaigrette with you in a jam jar and drizzle it over the baguette before you eat it.
Nutritional information per sandwich, with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette: 960 calories, 31 grams fat, 123 grams carbohydrates, 44 grams protein, 117 milligrams cholesterol, 1,870 milligrams sodium, 9 grams dietary fiber, 30 percent of calories from fat.
E-Z Dijon vinaigrette
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh herbs, such as thyme, basil or parsley, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Put vinegar, shallot, mustard and herbs (if using) in a jam jar and shake until combined. Let rest for 10-15 minutes.
2. Add olive oil and taste. Add salt and pepper, and taste again to adjust seasonings.
Nutritional information per 2-tablespoon serving: 162 calories, 18 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 30 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 97 percent of calories from fat.
Cold ginger-chicken noodles with jalapeño and lime
I made a similar recipe in the winter, with warm noodles and leftover chicken, and I loved it -- but when I saw a recipe by David Tanis in The New York Times for Chinese boiled chicken, I wanted to try this instead of buying a precooked chicken. I'm so glad I did -- it adds one more Asian note to the dish. Use whatever chicken pieces you'd like here. It's a very forgiving recipe, and makes the moistest chicken you've ever tasted. Be sure to make this the night before you want to eat it so that the chicken can cool in its juices in the fridge.
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces (or 4 breasts or 6 thighs)
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced into thick coins
4 garlic cloves, sliced
3 star anise
3 green onions, 2 whole and 1 sliced
3.5-ounce package rice noodles (I used vermicelli)
About 2 cups shredded cold chicken
1 tablespoon sesame oil (or to taste; I drizzle a little more when serving)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime, plus sliced limes for serving
Handful chopped cilantro
1 jalapeño, minced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1. Put chicken pieces in a deep stockpot, and add ginger, garlic, anise, whole onions, peppercorns and about 2 cups of cold water -- just enough to cover. Turn the heat to high, let it come to a boil, skim off the foam, cover and turn down to a simmer for 1 hour. Remove the chicken and let cool in a bowl.
2. Cook the stock on high for about 10 more minutes, or until it reduces by half. Pour this over the chicken and refrigerate overnight.
3. Boil some water and pour it over the noodles so they soften. They should be ready after 5-10 minutes. Let cool and refrigerate.
4. To assemble, put the cold noodles in a bowl with the shredded chicken, sliced onion, sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice, cilantro, jalapeño and sesame seeds. Taste for seasonings. Serve with a couple of lime wedges.
Nutritional information per serving: 476 calories, 19 grams fat, 50 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams protein, 85 milligrams cholesterol, 602 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 36 percent of calories from fat.
Poached salmon, avocado and cherry tomato salad
Besides the fact that this salad is just fabulous, I love it because it's so easy to make -- plus poaching salmon takes less than five minutes, and doesn't give your kitchen a fishy smell.
About 7 ounces salmon (I buy two 3.5-ounce filets)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white wine, such as a chardonnay
1/2 of a shallot, sliced
About 4 basil leaves
1 3-inch piece lemon zest
Big pinch sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 avocado, diced
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns, crushed with the back of your knife
1. Poach the salmon: Put the filets in a saucepan with the water, wine, shallot, basil, lemon zest, peppercorns and salt. Turn the heat on low, and when it reaches a simmer, set the timer for 3 minutes and test for doneness. Remove the salmon, and let cool.
2. Flake the salmon with your fork and mix it in a medium bowl with the olive oil, cherry tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, lemon juice, cayenne and peppercorns. Taste for seasonings, and refrigerate for an hour before serving.
Cowgirl tip: I like to store this salad in jam jars, which are easy to pack and transport, too.
Nutritional information per serving: 318 calories, 18 grams fat, 10 grams carbohydrates, 22 grams protein, 52 milligrams cholesterol, 138 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 56 percent of calories from fat.
Cold lentils with roasted veggies
This easy do-ahead dish has become one of my summer staples. Make this now, cold, and file it away to serve warm in the winter.
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
1 pound lentils du Puy, rinsed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 bay leaves
Pepper and sea salt
1 eggplant, skin on, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, plus more for serving
1 red bell pepper, chopped in 1-inch pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 medium onion, sliced
4 torn basil leaves, for serving
1. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil, the onion and the garlic in a large, deep pot, and turn the heat on medium-low. Let cook until the onions become translucent, 5-10 minutes, then add the carrots and stir occasionally. Let the carrots cook for about 5 minutes, then add the lentils, tomato paste and bay leaves. Add enough water to cover the lentils by 4 inches, 4-6 cups at least. Cover, let come to a boil, then reduce heat for 30 minutes. Taste your lentils, and add pepper and salt to taste.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put eggplant pieces on a parchment-lined cookie sheet lightly coated with olive oil (eggplant likes to stick), then drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil all over them, give them a toss and sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme.
3. Toss bell pepper pieces, tomatoes and onion slices on another parchment-lined cookie sheet, drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Slide all of the veggies in the oven, if they'll fit (I do this in batches). Cook for 20 minutes or until browned (flip the eggplant and bell pepper pieces about halfway).
5. Refrigerate the lentils and roasted veggies in separate containers. To serve, spoon the lentils into a shallow bowl and top with the roasted eggplant, bell pepper and tomatoes, a bit more thyme, and torn basil leaves.
Nutritional information per serving, based on 4: 650 calories, 22 grams fat, 85 grams carbohydrates, 35 grams protein, no cholesterol, 63 milligrams sodium, 41 grams dietary fiber, 29 percent of calories from fat.