Bringing the Heat for Summer
Spicy, tangy, zippy foods to complement steamy months
It may seem irrational, nonsensical, even downright stupid. But, there’s nothing quite like enjoying hot food during the summertime.
No, I’m not talking about a heavy, hearty stew or dense pie that should solely be prepared in the depths of winter (you can turn your ovens off). I’m talking about food that packs a punch: spicy, tangy noodles in Southeast Asia, hibiscus drinks in West Africa infused with spicy grated ginger, piping hot barbecue to celebrate national independence under the sweltering July sun.
Amid an influx of ice cream cone orders, chunks of near frozen watermelon, and cold, fruit-filled salads, hot food is an inevitable part of summertime, and hotter days. But, to enjoy food that demands a bit of sweat, the food has to be pretty excellent. It’s why I turned to recipes from some of my favorite cuisines this summer. These recipes highlight fresh ingredients and the range of well-seasoned, hot foods, two of my favorite things during the steamy months.
First, I turned to Cajun author and James Beard Award winner Melissa M. Martin for shrimp boulettes in her cookbook, Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou. Essentially refined shrimp balls, this recipe utilizes common Cajun and Creole vegetables and herbs like green onions, celery, and parsley, heats them up with a bit of Louisiana hot sauce, and produces delightful, airy seafood balls. Like Martin suggests in her book, these shrimp boulettes make a great sandwich filler.
¾ cup (110 g) coarsely chopped green bell pepper
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped green onion
¼ cup (25 g) coarsely chopped celery
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1¼ pounds (565 g) peeled and deveined small or medium shrimp (see page 33)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
⅛ teaspoon cracked black pepper, plus more as needed
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon hot sauce, preferably Original Louisiana Hot Sauce, plus more as needed
Peanut oil, for frying
1. In a large bowl, combine the bell pepper, green onion, celery, parsley, shrimp, salt, black pepper, cayenne, and hot sauce and toss to distribute the ingredients evenly. Using an old-fashioned meat grinder or a food processor, grind the mixture together. If using a food processor, work in small batches and pulse until smooth, then transfer to a bowl. In either case, after grinding, you should not see any vegetables; the boulette mix should be a homogenous paste.
2. Fill a large heavy-bottomed pot with 4 inches (10 cm) of peanut oil and heat the oil over medium-high heat to 375°F (190°C).
3. Using two spoons or a small (#100) cookie scoop, form a ball of the boulette mix no bigger than the diameter of a quarter and carefully drop it into the hot oil. Fry this tester boulette for about 6 minutes, until golden brown on the outside. Transfer the boulette to a paper towel or a brown paper bag to drain excess oil and let it cool. Taste the boulette: Does the mix need more salt? More pepper or more heat? Add salt, black pepper, cayenne, or hot sauce to your liking — I like boulettes to have a slight vinegary taste, and hot sauce gives them that flavor. There is no one perfect formula. You have to taste your mix every time.
4. Once you’ve adjusted your mix, drop about 15 balls at a time into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer the boulettes to paper towels or brown paper bags to drain and cool briefly, then serve.
5. The boulette mix will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for 2 days. If making ahead of time, add the salt right before frying to keep the mix from getting watery.
— Recipe excerpted from Mosquito Supper Club by Melissa Martin. (Artisan Press) Copyright © 2020.
Spicy Crispy Peanuts
Time: about 50 minutes
Makes: 10 to 12 servings
Arbol chiles, dried whole anchovies, and gochugaru (Korean chile flakes)? Sign me up! Mister Jiu's in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food, is a masterful collection of Chinese cooking and stories about family and identity. Among more complex recipes like sizzling rice soup, white-cut chicken galantine, and seafood shui jiao, are spicy crispy peanuts. Easy to customize for various heat preferences, the spicy crispy peanuts offer a range of vibrant flavors, and are a really lovely summer dinner party snack.
2 cups / 480ml neutral oil or unrefined peanut oil
8 to 10 dried árbol chiles
½ cup / 30g very small dried whole anchovies
2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp Korean chile flakes (gochugaru)
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp red Sichuan peppercorns, crushed with a mortar and pestle
2 cups / 250g roasted, unsalted peanuts
½ cup / 100g granulated sugar
2 Tbsp water
1. Line a large plate with paper towels. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
2. Pour the neutral oil into a medium saucepan and secure a deep-fry thermometer on the side. Set over medium-high heat and warm the oil to 325°F, being careful to maintain this temperature as you fry.
3. Carefully add the árbol chiles and fry, ladling oil over them constantly, until crisp, darkened in color, and shiny, 20 to 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chiles to one side of the prepared plate. Add the anchovies to the pan and fry, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown and crispy, about 30 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the other side of the plate. Set aside and let cool.
4. Pinch the stems off the chiles and then, over a medium bowl, crush the chiles with your hands into pieces ⅓ inch or smaller. Add the chile flakes, salt, and peppercorns and mix to combine.
5. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the peanuts, sugar, and water and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. The water will evaporate and the sugar will seize and become powdery and grainy, 10 to 12 minutes. At that moment, turn the heat to medium-low and keep cooking, stirring every minute or so, until the sugar melts and caramelizes to a dark blonde and the peanuts are evenly coated, 8 to 10 minutes more. If the mixture smokes at any point, take it off the heat for a few seconds and lower the heat before continuing. Remove from the heat and stir in the chile mixture.
6. Transfer the caramelized peanuts to the prepared baking sheet, spread into a single layer, and let cool, then break up pieces that are stuck together. Transfer the fried anchovies and caramelized peanuts to separate airtight containers and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Serve the peanuts with the fried anchovies on top.
— Reprinted with permission from Mister Jiu's in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food by Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho, copyright © 2021. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Watermelon Ginger Beer
One of the first recipes I tried when I purchased Nicole A. Taylor’s Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations, was the watermelon ginger beer. If you opt for the truly homemade version in Nicole’s book that includes making your own ginger starter as I did, you’re in for a 20-day-plus journey. Thankfully, Nicole makes it easy to make a phenomenally fresh watermelon ginger beer using store-bought ginger beer base. Make sure to get a red-flesh watermelon for the best version of the drink.
2 tablespoons fresh fennel fronds (optional)
6 cups cubed watermelon
2 cups ginger beer
1. Divide the fennel fronds (if using) between two ice cube trays and freeze until solid, 4 to 8 hours.
2. Meanwhile, place the watermelon in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Scrape the sides of the blender or food processer using a rubber spatula and blend again.
3. Place a metal sieve over a large bowl and strain the pureed watermelon through the sieve (they should yield about 2 cups of juicw). Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve; it will keep in the fridge for about 3 days.
4.To serve, fill four highball or rocks glasses with the fennel ice cubesAdd 1/2 cup of the watermelon juice to each glass and top off with the ginger beer.
— Recipe reprinted with permission from Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations by Nicole A. Taylor