It’s 9:15 in the morning and the digital thermometer reads 86 degrees in my kitchen. No, I have no air conditioning, and I don’t really mind that there’s no air conditioning, especially if I can keep the cooking to a minimum on days like this one.

Unless you are reading this from London where it has rained almost non-stop since the end of April, or some spot in or near the cloudy and 60-degree city of San Francisco, it’s hot where you are too. I have some ideas for ways we might continue to enjoy summer’s produce and eat well without lighting too many burners or firing up the oven or even standing over a hot grill.

Before I get there, though, I’d like to point out that Food and Fiction‘s look  has been revamped over the past couple of weeks. Readers who receive the blog posts via email may not have seen the new front page, but you should take a minute to check it out now. I believe the new format will allow me to include more recipes featuring the week’s main ingredient, or similar themes, all on one page. It’s my goal to help the reader and home cook go back through the catalog of recipes and find more things to make, sort of: “If you like this, you may also like to try this from the archives.”

The navigation bar for the blog site now runs along the top of the page. You’ll find the same old regularly updated recipe index (now just called The Recipes) along with some revised and expanded sections. Don’t forget to check out The Videos as well. We’ve filmed a lot of videos in the past several weeks, all of these demonstrating seasonal recipes. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve added recipes and videos for Arugula Pesto, Parsley Pesto and the British dessert classic Raspberry Summer Pudding.

This week, a cool salad and an even cooler dessert are on the menu.

Beets are new to the share this week. This variety is small, slender, tapered. You know how much I love beets pickled. It takes a hot day to discourage me from lighting the oven to roast the beets for my mother-in-law’s delicious and simple pickle. So we ate them raw, tossed in a puckery dressing, and the salad made a nice addition to the week’s romaine and arugula. In their raw state, beets taste and crunch a lot like carrots; shredding them into slaw as you would carrots makes sense, especially when they are young and still small. I used a mandoline to get ultra thin slices from these tiny roots, but the raw beets can also be grated on a box grater or by using a shredding disc in your food processor. Beets are just as colorful raw as cooked, though, so I recommend and apron and gloves if you want to come out of the salad assembly stain-free.

Raw Beet Salad

  • 1 pound beets
  • 4 scallions, finely chopped
  • 3 good size basil leaves (or to taste) cut into thin ribbons
  • 2 generous spoonfuls of fat-free plain Greek yoghurt (I used a regular place setting spoon)
  • splash of red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Wearing gloves, peel the beets with a vegetable peeler.

Shred by hand with a box grater or in the food processor fitted with a shredding disc. Alternately, slice the beets very thin using a mandoline. Place the shreds or slices into a glass or metal mixing bowl.

Add to the beets the finely chopped scallions and the ribbons of basil. Torn tarragon leaves would also be excellent here. Add the yoghurt and just a splash of red wine vinegar. Stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and add salt and ground black pepper as you like. Excellent served on a bed of fresh salad greens.

Store leftovers in glass. If there are leftovers.

Last week’s strawberry granita stripped ice cream- and frozen treat-making down to the essentials: a metal pan, a couple of forks, a freezer. That got me wondering if other ice creams and sorbets could be made as successfully without fancy machines or hand cranking. Testing batches of frosty desserts is rigorous work, but for you, readers, I will do anything.

Several years ago I made a buttermilk-lime ice cream to serve for dessert at the end of a rich meal with friends, and I liked the tangy and refreshing combination of citrus and sour buttermilk; the buttermilk made a smooth ice and the resulting dessert wasn’t as rich as one made with cream. However, being classified as ice cream meant it did have an egg custard base. In this heat, I wanted capture the same lighter texture and tartness but without any cooking.

On Epicurious, I  found exactly what I was looking for in a recipe for Lemon Buttermilk Sorbet. Their version calls for an ice cream machine and you may use one if you wish. But I froze the base using the granita method and that yielded a super product, so why bother with the extra equipment?

I put the extra attention instead into coming up with and assembling a few variations to the basic recipe. Toasted coconut, hand-crushed fresh raspberries, chopped thyme all complemented the sweet-sour lemony finish without overpowering. The result? A sorbet that is as complex as it is simply refreshing.

Lemon-Buttermilk Sorbet

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • add ins: 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme leaves, 1/2 cup hand crushed fresh raspberries, 1/2 cup toasted flaked coconut

In a large bowl, stir together the lemon juice and the sugar. Whisk to start dissolving the sugar. As it becomes more syrupy, add the buttermilk and the lemon zest and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Leave the base as is and freeze it, or stir in an add in ingredient of your choice.

toasted coconut

to crush, pinch berries in your fingers before dropping them into base

lemon thyme works particularly well

To freeze, place the sorbet base in a 9-inch by 9-inch metal baking pan, preferably non-stick if possible. Place pan into the freezer. After half an hour, remove the pan. Use a dinner fork and scrape the forming crystals from the edges of the pan and wherever else they have formed. Push these crystals with the fork into the center of the pans, and return the pans to the freezer. Repeat every 30 minutes until all the liquid base has frozen to a slushy, but spoonable/scoopable consistency.

Transfer the sorbet from both pans to a storage container that can be fitted with a tight lid. Serve the sorbet immediately and save any leftovers tightly covered in the freezer.

©2012  Jane A. Ward