Last week, a historic heat wave began to scorch California. (And this comes on the heels of the hottest decade ever recorded on Earth.) Where I live, the mercury rarely reaches temperatures hot enough to induce air conditioner envy. And, ordinarily, if you do need relief from the heat, you can find it at the beach, the pool, the skating rink or the movie theater. But Covid makes those excursions challenging if not impossible. So over the weekend, people sat indoors and baked. Then PG&E warned of rolling blackouts.
“You honestly believed I was finished with you?” asked 2020.
In the wee hours of Sunday morning, we awoke to unusual, house-shaking, car-alarm-setting-off thunder and dry lightning strikes that set off wildfires all over the San Francisco Bay Area. We are surrounded as I type.
The climate crisis doesn’t take a break for Covid. And Covid or not, we’ll face more heat waves and more fires if we continue to burn fossil fuels.
But we still must eat. And we can eat well without heating up an already hot kitchen. The following ideas require minimal energy. Some require none, which will come in handy if the power goes out.
Clear out the refrigerator and freezer
Raid your refrigerator for leftovers that you can quickly warm up—unless you find soups meant to be eaten cold (more on that later). If your family complains about eating leftovers, ask them if they’d prefer you cook in an oven set to 400°F for an hour during a heat wave.
Get creative with what you find on hand. Turn some prepped or cooked ingredients into a new dish. Purée roasted vegetables with some leftover broth to make a quick soup. Make omelets. Think salads (more on that below). If you squirreled away some jars of soup or dal or pesto in the freezer for a rainy (or hot) day, eat them now. While they thaw, set the frozen jars in front of that fan you have running and enjoy the cool breeze.
Turn a salad into a meal
A summer picnic favorite, mouthwatering salads will keep your kitchen cool as you prepare them.
Clearing out your refrigerator, did you find some cooked grains, beans or cheese and a bunch of vegetables in the refrigerator? Turn those components into a salad. For example, you could toss together cooked chickpeas, leftover pasta, tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt for a quick meal.
Leftover cooked potatoes can go into a potato salad with aioli. Cubed watermelon, lots of cilantro, red onion, lime juice, feta and salt taste fantastic tossed together. If you’re vegan, this also tastes delicious without the feta. Leftover rice makes a satisfying base for a salad tossed with finely chopped tomatoes and cucumber, lemon juice, olive oil and salt.
Make cold soup
To make gazpacho, purée tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion and garlic, then emulsify with olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. And remember to add some vinegar. No heat required. I haven’t made this particular recipe from NYT Cooking but it looks good. Everything I’ve tried from NYT Cooking has turned out well.
Another classic cold soup, Vichyssoise, does require some cooking in a pot on the stove, after which you chill it and serve it cold. (Add heat and it becomes potato-leek soup.)
Make dips and spreads
We eat loads of hummus. I don’t know what would become of me if chickpeas fell victim to the extinction crisis. I eat hummus—and other dips—with sourdough crackers. And because we live in Northern California, we also eat lots of local avocados and guacamole. Make pesto for spreading on bread for sandwiches loaded up with summer tomatoes and lettuce. (I’m getting hungry writing this.)
Cook your dinner outside
My daughter MK is obsessed with the Instapot she recently bought. She cooks all kinds of food in it quickly. If you have a spot on a deck or balcony, and an Instapot, electric pressure cooker, slow cooker or portable induction cooker, you could cook meals in it outside and keep your kitchen cool during a heat wave. If you have a solar cooker, you can harness the sun to make your dinner.
Start breakfast at night
Make overnight oats for a satisfying and nutritious cold breakfast. If you prefer steel-cut oats, before you go to bed, bring the oats and water to a boil. Turn off the the heat immediately and cover the pot. The oats will finish cooking overnight. In the morning, heat them up quickly just before eating. You can find the full recipe here.
Have breakfast for dinner
During the first lockdowns, I ate piles of sourdough pancakes. They taste delicious, fill you up and you can add sweet or savory toppings. You will need a sourdough starter to make these. Go here for the pancake recipe. Go here for the vegan version.
Now’s the perfect time to start some sauerkraut, kimchi or dill pickles. You need zero electricity to make these. I once did a sauerkraut demo in a park near the Golden Gate Bridge. Likewise, simple mead does not require energy to make.
The dill pickles and kimchi can become too ripe if you let them ferment on the counter for more than about five days, depending on the temperature of your kitchen. A heat wave will speed this up further. So check your ferments a couple of times a day. The refrigerator slows down the fermentation so store them in there when they are ready. Even if your electricity provider shuts off your power for a couple of days, your fermented vegetables and drinks won’t go bad. They’ll simply continue to ferment, which merely changes the flavor not their edibility.
Stay cool, stay safe!