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Hot times, summer in the city

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Sudden rainstorms aside, this summer has been hot-hot-hot in Istanbul (and apparently in many other places around the world, insert global warming barb). Consequently, I haven’t felt much like cooking/eating hot food, which has the potential to seriously cramp my culinary style. Not to worry though, as I’ve been able to assemble a delicious set of dishes for when it’s too hot to think.

I find when it’s too darn hot out that it’s easiest to just think ahead, prepare a bunch of meze, and have them plus beverages at hand in the fridge. First up: my mainstay, hummus.

Hummus
Drain most of the liquid from a can of chickpeas. Put chickpeas in blender. Add tahini, lemon juice, olive oil (optional: garlic, sumac, roasted red pepper cut into littler bits). Blend. Add more liquid ingredients when it comes out chunky/creates giant air pockets around the blade. Blend again, til smooth. Scoop the hummus into a sealable container and refrigerate — hummus tastes better after it’s been allowed to sit and combine for a few hours. Sprinkle with sumac when serving if you’re like me and pro-sumac.

Piyaz
Nothing hits the spot for lunch in my unairconditioned apartment like a cold bean salad. I take a pretty laissez-faire approach to my piyaz, adding whatever I have on hand to the mix.
Drain a can of white beans (or barbunya, or any bean really. Also you could use dry beans, but then you’ll have to heat them, and that’s something I’m trying to avoid when I make this). Put the beans in a bowl. Add a slivered onion (any onion, but red onions are prettier) and a diced red pepper or two. Add sumac. Drizzle red wine vinegar (or…grape vinegar, when in Turkey) and a little olive oil over everything, and toss the ingredients together. Throw in a carrot, cut up, if you’ve got one. Maybe even a potato, go crazy. Add a hard-boiled egg, cut up, and tomatoes and enjoy. Other things you could add: tahini, parsley, spinach, lemon juice, hot red pepper, cayenne pepper.

Eksili Patlican
This is my it’s-hot-out-but-for-some-reason-I-need-to come-up-with-something-impressive dish. Make it ahead of time, let it sit in the fridge overnight/for a few hours. I use the recipe published by the fabulous folks over at Turkey’s for Life, and highly recommend it.
I make it really spicy — spicy food and peppermint both help your body feel cooler midsummer, although I wouldn’t recommend trying them together in the same dish.

For beverages, I usually go with carbonated water with lemon juice or my summer standby, mojitos. When I’m feeling more ambitious, though, I go for a drink I learned to make in West Africa: bissap.

Bissap is a cold hibiscus drink that’s actually quite easy to make fresh and tastes delicious either by itself, concentrated with carbonated water, or with rum (or with rum and carbonated water!). In Istanbul, I buy my dried hibiscus flowers in the Spice Bazaar district, from some of the spice guys on Birthday Street, a little ways in from Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi.
Add hibiscus to a medium-large pot. I do this all by eyeballing amounts, but I’d say you should go for about the amount of hibiscus it’d take to fill a 1-liter bottle. Add water.
If you’re making concentrate, or like very strong fruit/floral beverages, add 2 liters or so of water. If you’re making the juice itself, add 39-4 liters of water. If making juice, add sugar to taste, up to 2 cups (I think this makes it a little Kool-Ade-y, but you should add some sweetener if you’re not a fan of very sour drinks) — if you’re going for concentrate, you can make it without sugar and add sweetener while mixing your drinks later (or mix it with Sprite! Or somesuch).
Put the pot on the stove, bring the bissap to a slow boil, and let it simmer for somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool a bit. Strain the flower bits out of the bissap and refrigerate the bissap. Serve with fresh mint leaves in a glass.

I also have been making good use of my Ikea popsicle molds this summer. The New York Times had a recent article on summer popsicle ideas, and I’m trying their avocado recipe right now, but I also have enjoyed bissap popsicles and instant chocolate pudding popsicles.

Stay cool!

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