Healthy Summer Recipes

The last day of school used to mark (second to my birthday, of course) my favorite day of the year. It always fell on a humid mid-June afternoon. On this day, with the shrill ring of the final dismissal bell, my daily regime of studies would dissolve like a Popsicle on hot pavement. The expanse of summer vacation stretched itself out in front of me. She beckoned to me with promises of suntans, starry nights, bare feet, lazy mornings, and, if I was lucky, summer loves.

As an adult, estranged from the rhythms of a school calendar, responsibilities last year-round. Now my own five senses, rather than a school bell, cue me to retire the winter boots and break out the flip-flops. While summer still arrives and departs at the same times each year, I don’t have the ample spaciousness to participate in Nature’s celebration as I did when I was younger. This is a shame; for the arrival of adulthood should not equate the end of fun. Only in summer does Nature herself play and enjoy her bounty after a year of honest work. In the blooming wildflowers, flowing streams, late sunsets, and buzzing insects, nature celebrates. And, even as adults, so should we.

Summer officially arrives each year on June 22 with the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. In cultures and countries around the world, traditions abound for honoring this season. The ancient Chinese celebrated the earth, the feminine, and the yin forces at summer’s arrival. Ancient Pagans honored Midsummer with bonfires; Swedes decorated a Midsummer tree for villagers to dance around in a magical ritual intended to bring rain for the crops. Caribbean pirates believed a ship could sail off the world and into the sun on that day each year; and Native Americans have created countless stone structures linked to equinoxes and solstices, the most famous being Wyoming’s Bighorn Medicine Wheel.

We can appreciate summer’s abundance as our ancestors did. To ensure that you take time to enjoy summer’s delicacies, schedule it as you do other things in your life. Enjoy walks in the morning air, yoga outdoors, lunches in the park, moments to watch the sun rise or set, bike rides through the country, candle-lit dinners on the deck, or an afternoon spent swimming and sunning at the beach or pool. Even indulging in snapshots of summer can do it: sip a fresh juice from the juice bar, sunbathe on the roof during your lunch break or wear a bright flower in your hair to work.

If you are finding it difficult to orchestrate a celebration on your own, follow the ensuing prescription for the perfect summer picnic:

Make a date with yourself to meander through your local farmer’s market to gather fresh ingredients on the day before the picnic or that morning, if you can.

Invite some friends or a special someone to the park, patio, beach, rooftop, or a nearby meadow for a meal in the open-air. Lay out a favorite piece of cloth or blanket and fill it with the colorful display of your freshly prepared meal. Pick fresh flowers flowers and/or herbs or collect some from the market as your centerpiece. Listen to the sounds around you. Celebrate summer’s fresh flavors, abundant sunshine and warm air. Take off your shoes, take your time and enjoy!

Chilled Carrot Soup with Garden Herbs
Steamed Green Beans with Tahini-Lemon Sauce
Quinoa Tabouli
Berry and Pear Delight
Sparkling Water with fresh lemon wedges

Chilled Carrot Soup with Garden Herbs

This lovely summer soup has a rich, smooth texture even though it contains no cream. For a picnic, bring the cold soup in a thermos and the chives in a plastic bag, and then serve in sturdy ceramic bowls.

6 tablespoons olive oil
5 large carrots, thinly sliced
2 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon sucanat
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup orange juice
Chopped fresh chives

Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrots and onions and sauté 4 minutes. Add thyme, sucanat and nutmeg; sauté until vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes. Add broth. Cover pot; simmer until carrots are very soft, about 25 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to a food processor. Add 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Puree vegetables until smooth. Return puree to pot. Stir in orange juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.) Sprinkle with chives.
Serves 6.

Steamed Green Beans with Tahini-Lemon Sauce

2 cups green beans

Steam green beans until they are bright green and still slightly firm. Serve drizzled with Tahini-Lemon Sauce.

Tahini-Lemon Sauce

¼-1/2 cup tahini
½ cup water or vegetable broth
1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
½ cup lemon juice
Sea salt or soy sauce to taste

Combine all ingredients and beat well with a whisk or in a blender. It becomes thicker when whipped more. Yields 3-4 cups.

Quinoa Tabouli

2 cups quinoa, rinsed well and soaked
4 cups water
Two pinches of sea salt
1 cup peas
2 tomatoes, diced
2 cucumbers, diced
10 black olives cut in rings (optional)
Chives, minced
Parsley, minced
1 teaspoon each thyme and marjoram
6 tablespoons lemon juice
Soy sauce to taste

Combine quinoa, water, and salt in a pot, cover, bring to boil and simmer 20 minutes. Steam peas for one minute and place them in a ceramic bowl and mix with rest of ingredients. Add quinoa and gently toss all the ingredients together. Garnish with parsley sprigs. Serves 6.

Berry and Pear Delight

1 pint fresh strawberries, blueberries, and/or raspberries
1 pint pears, halved and cooked (these can be briefly steamed or baked until tender)
2 cups apple juice
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 bar agar-agar
Fresh mint

Rinse agar-agar in cold water. Squeeze out excess water and tear into small pieces. Simmer juice 15 minutes and skim off foam. Arrange pear halves on the bottom of a glass dish or mold. Cover with fresh berries and pour agar-agar over fruit and let set until firm. Garnish each serving with a fresh mint leaf. Serves 6.