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Summertime an’ the Livin’ is Easy (Gazpacho and Sumptuous Strawberry Soup)

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Living in Florida, I know first hand how oppressive the Summer heat can be. When it’s 98 in the shade, the last thing anyone wants to do is slave over a hot stove – myself included! Since we still have to eat, I’m always looking for meal ideas that require a minimal amount of cooking, or better yet, no cooking at all. Simplicity is the magic word here. Those are the times that I toss together a big salad, throw some protein on top and call it a day.

I did just that last night. I made what I like to call a “Kitchen Sink” Salad. I call it that because when I make it, I clean out the vegetable bin in my fridge and raid my pantry and mix it all together. A lot of people underestimate salads. They view them as boring. Sure, a wedge of iceberg lettuce drowning in Hidden Valley Ranch [3]with a few slices of anemic tomatoes is not the most exciting thing in the world, but who says that’s all a salad can be? When I make a “Kitchen Sink” Salad, I literally use everything but the kitchen sink! There is no recipe for it and the ingredients are different every time. Just use your imagination and create with reckless abandon!

For this salad, I started with an Italian salad mix from the market that had romaine, radicchio and some leaf lettuce in it. I added some leftover steamed green beans and boiled potatoes, hard boiled eggs, diced red onion, black olives, diced cucumber and some beautiful tomatoes from the farmers’s market. I also had an old can of artichoke bottoms lying around, so I diced them up and put them in too. I opened a few cans of red sockeye salmon and mixed it with some extra-virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice and dumped it right on top. Then, I dressed it all with a light vinaigrette made with sherry vinegar, dijon mustard, olive oil, roasted almond oil, salt and pepper.

I love adding fruit, nuts and seeds to my salads too. Many times, I will toss in blueberries, strawberries or orange slices, as well as walnuts, almonds or toasted sunflower seeds. The point is that anything goes. As long as you like it, that’s all that matters.
Another thing that goes well with a great salad is soup. Don’t you roll your eyes at me! Obviously, spending hours in the kitchen making a bouillabaisse [4] from scratch kind of defeats the purpose, but I’m not proposing that. I’m not talking about opening a can either. What I am talking about are some quick and easy summer soups that require little or no cooking and can even be served chilled. All of these soups can be made in advance too.

One of the most popular soups that fits in this category is gazpacho. Gazpacho is a Spanish-style soup that sort of resembles a chunky, liquid salad. It has lots of fresh, raw vegetables suspended in a broth of puréed tomatoes or tomato juice. In the summertime when all of the vegetables are at their peak, this simple chilled soup is full of zesty and refreshing flavors. There are a myriad of excellent variations for gazpacho, but one of the recipes that I like best is Ina Garten’s [5]from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook [6]. It’s fresh, chunky, tomatoey and absolutely delicious! I like to jazz it up a little with some diced jalapeno, fresh lime juice and a dash of Tabasco.

Another one of my favorite summer soups is, again, from Ina Garten. I’ve posted about her Zucchini Vichyssoise [7]before, but it definitely deserves another mention. Even though this soup does require some cooking, the recipe is pretty easy and takes less than an hour to prepare. It is also one that can be served hot or cold, so it makes a great leftover dish too. It is a wonderfully velvety, elegant and satisfying summer soup.

The final summer soup that I want to tell you about is one that I have served both as a brunch dish and a dessert. It is a smooth, creamy and sumptuous Strawberry Soup. This is probably the quickest and easiest to make of the three and it is amazing! Fresh, ripe strawberries are blended with yogurt, sour cream, lime juice and honey. The result is a cross between a rich mousse and a smoothie. Sublime!

The next time you just can’t bear the thought of turning on your oven or simmering for hours, don’t despair. You need not go hungry! Whip up your own “Kitchen Sink” Salad and one of these quick and delicious summer soups and you’re good to go. And, while you’re doing it, you can listen to a little mood music courtesy of yours truly. Here is a recording of a jazz arrangement I wrote of Summertime by George Gershwin [8]. Hope you like it!