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Hot & Cold

Does the thought of cooking in August make you wilt? Can't face grilling another burger in the sweltering heat? Then borrow from the cuisines of our hot-weather neighbors in Mexico, Thailand and India who know how to cool down with fiery foods.

Chiles, whole and ground peppers, curries, ginger and the coolest cucumber of them all - cilantro - lower the body temperature by turning on our natural cooling system. In short, spicy foods make us sweat.

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Couple these ingredients with cold dishes, and summer eating doesn't get much better. Stirred into chilled soups, cold dips and zippy salsas, tossed into salads or mingled with seafood or meats, these bold enhancements fight fire with fire.

"Cold foods chill us down and keep us cool," said certified master chef Rudy Speckamp of Rudys' 2900 in Finksburg, whose summer menu features two chilled gazpacho soups - one traditional, the other with yellow tomatoes and mangos - and a cold cherry soup.

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But, when igniting a summer dish with fiery ingredients, he adds a dash of caution. "Don't add too much heat. Spices should enhance the harvest from the garden. I like to respect the food and add just a little zing."

It's easy to take advantage of summer's low-key style by serving foods that require no cooking and little preparation. Place a "closed" sign on the oven. Put the refrigerator to work. Stock it with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, watermelon and peaches, then grab the fire.

There's no simpler way to savor the sultry, last days of summer.

Cucumber Gazpacho

Serves 8

5 medium Kirby cucumbers, peeled and seeded

1 medium Vidalia onion, cut into 2-inch chunks

2 large red bell peppers, cored, seeded, deribbed and cut into 2-inch squares

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1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and deribbed

4 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

6 slices firm white bread, crusts removed

2 medium bunches mint, leaves only

8 small mint sprigs, reserved for serving

3/4 cup olive oil

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3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 cups water

croutons

In a food processor, puree the cucumbers until very liquid, almost like water. Remove to a large bowl. In the food processor, pulse the onion until coarsely chopped. Add to the cucumbers. Repeat with the red peppers. Add to the cucumbers and onions.

Process the jalapeno, garlic, bread and 3/4 cup mint leaves, while slowly pouring the oil through the feed tube, until a paste is formed. Stir into the vegetables. Stir in the lemon juice, salt and 2 cups water. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until cold. The soup can be made up to 1 day ahead.

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Serve the soup chilled, with croutons and a sprig, or a few leaves, of mint on top of each serving.

- From "Soup - A Way of Life" by Barbara Kafka, 1998 , Artisan

Seafood Seviche Tacos

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 pound assorted raw seafood, such as bay scallops, rock shrimp, diced lobster meat, firm fish fillets

1/4 cup chopped red bell peppers

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1/4 cup chopped yellow bell peppers

1 small fresh jalapeno, seeded and chopped (about 1 tablespoon)

1/2 cup chopped red onion

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

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1 tablespoon chopped garlic

salt

freshly ground black pepper

12 fresh flour tortillas

parsley for garnish

Combine the first 9 ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Serve the seviche either alongside or wrapped in tortillas. Garnish with parsley.

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- From Emeril Lagasse, foodnetwork.com

Asian Spiced Fruit

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1/3 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons honey or to taste

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

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1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced ginger root

1 to 2 small red chiles, seeded and finely minced

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

pinch of ground cloves

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2 ripe mangoes, peeled, seeded and diced

2 ripe red (or yellow) bananas, diced

1 large, ripe papaya, peeled, seeded and diced

2 ripe peaches, peeled and diced

1/2 ripe pineapple, peeled, cored and diced

fresh mint

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In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, honey, lime juice, ginger root, chiles, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Toss with the fruit in a serving bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours. Garnish with mint leaves before serving.

- From "Go Bananas" by Susan Quick, 2000, Broadway Books

Keeping your cool

Here are some tips for making summer's spicy-hot cold dishes:

1. Add the heat last to assure the freshest flavor from the other cold ingredients.

2. Remember that spices should enhance, not overpower, foods served cold.

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3. Don't overlook fresh mint and coriander, or cilantro, which are wonderfully refreshing and pair well with cold dishes.

4. Rely on precooked shrimp and deli meats for sandwiches, wraps and salads.

5. Stock the fridge with foods like tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and seafood that work well served cold.

6. Wear rubber gloves when handling hot peppers.

7. Use ice packs and insulated containers to keep foods cold, and be sure the cooler is packed with ice. A full cooler keeps cold longer than one half full.

8. Keep cold foods under 40 degrees, and don't let them sit around for more than two hours - one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees.

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9. Refrigerate prepared foods in shallow containers, which allow the cold to penetrate the middle more quickly.

10. At the grocery store, buy cold and frozen items last. Be sure to make the store your last stop before heading home.


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