Cold comfort

Local chefs offer midsummer dishes to make at home - no cooking required


Baltimore in August can feel like one big oven. So why would anyone want to go home and actually turn one on? Fortunately, it's also the season for pristine seafood, beautiful tomatoes and fresh herbs. To take the heat off dinner, we asked local chefs and restaurateurs for some of their favorite no-cook dishes.

"You can almost go strictly vegetarian in the summer without even intending to because all the produce is so great," says Laura Dolid, owner of Sun, Moon and Stars Cafe in Owings Mills.

When the temperature rises, Dolid turns to bean salads. A Tuscan-inspired salad comes together easily with drained, canned cannellini beans. To make her chickpea salad, all you need are a handful of chopped mixed herbs, some black olives, minced onion and garlic and a little red-wine vinegar and olive oil for a dish that's both refreshing and filling. If you can stand a wee bit of broiling time, bruschetta topped with tomatoes and basil make a nice accompaniment.

For chef Paul Jarrett of Oceanaire Seafood Room, there's nothing more pleasant in the summertime than a fresh baguette stuffed with thinly sliced Spanish or Italian cheese and cured meat, dressed lightly with balsamic vinegar and a touch of olive oil.

According to Jarrett, cured meats can be presented a number of ways - no cooking required - as in a simple preparation of mozzarella and prosciutto with basil, or prosciutto with melon and black pepper.

One seasonal item that might make an appearance at Oceanaire is ceviche, a dish that has its roots in the hot environs of Latin America. Jarrett makes the dish with scallops and snapper combined with tomatoes, chile peppers, cilantro and lime juice.

"Basically, you marinate the seafood in an acid [the lime juice] and the citric acid coagulates the proteins in the seafood," Jarrett says. "It chemically cooks the food and no bacteria can grow in that acidic an environment."

Although the process of "cooking" in an acidic marinade is safe, Jarrett underscores the importance of using extremely fresh fish for a successful ceviche. The same rule applies to his tuna tartare, which uses sashimi-grade tuna in an Asian-infused marinade.

For a twist on the tartare recipe, Jarrett suggests using fresh salmon with green goddess dressing and a sprinkling of capers.

Patrick Conelius, sous-chef at the Wine Market in South Baltimore, recently featured a seasonal item on the menu that took advantage of the abundance of fresh melons.

The recipe used cubed watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew served on a bed of field greens, dressed with a citrus vinaigrette and topped with blood orange sorbet. "It's easy to do and it satisfies the palate, plus the presentation is beautiful," he says. "Personally, that's how I like to eat at home on a hot day."

Another popular item at the Wine Market is the gazpacho, which Conelius makes distinctive by adding New Mexico chiles and aged sherry-wine vinegar. The cold soup gets topped with a cook-free crab salad (at the restaurant, it would feature a fried won ton).

The most important part of making gazpacho at home is to use fresh, flavorful tomatoes. "A lot of times if you use the hothouse tomatoes, they don't have the flavor you expect," says Conelius.

Chef Cindy Wolf of Charleston likes to beat summer's palate-withering heat with cured salmon, a dish she says is misunderstood. "People are intimidated by the unknown, but curing salmon is really quite simple as long as you have a really fresh piece of salmon," says Wolf.

She also likes salmon's versatility. The fish can stay fresh for about two days and can be used as an entree, an appetizer or in a salad. Wolf likes to serve it on toast points, with raw sweet Vidalia onion and creme fraiche.

She also suggests tossing it into a green salad or serving it with scrambled eggs, or with ripe sliced tomato or on a baguette with cucumber.

At the restaurant, Wolf is capitalizing on the fresh bounty Maryland offers, preparing vegetable dishes such as julienne baby squash tossed with olive oil and herbs. A chilled peach soup recently appeared on the menu. In the heat, "No one wants to eat braised beef and mashed potatoes," Wolf says. "Your body's going to feel better if you eat something with extra-virgin olive oil and a handful of herbs."

There's a bright side to the oppressive humidity of August, she says - it encourages people to slow down and eat what's fresh.

"We're fortunate that we live where we live and that we have the great farmers that we do," Wolf says. "I hope people will support them and this is one way to do it. If you plan your meals around fresh local produce, you're supporting your local farmer."

Tuscan-Style Bean Salad

Serves 6 to 8

two 19-ounce cans of cannellini beans, rinsed

two sprigs fresh sage, finely chopped

1 plum tomato, cored, seeded and diced into 1/2 -inch pieces

1 small red onion, chopped (about 6 ounces)

1 celery rib, diced into 1/2 -inch pieces

1/2 cup thinly sliced scallion greens

2 tablespoons shredded basil

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

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