UPPER EAST SIDE — Turning on the stove to whip up a homemade meal can make your entire apartment feel like an oven. Even during a mild summer like this one, the last weeks of August can bring out the laziness in all of us.
Local experts told us they turn to these easy recipes when cooking an elaborate meal is out of the question.
Thai-Style Cucumber Salad
Prospect Heights resident Cara Eisenpress is the kitchen whiz behind the popular blog Big Girls Small Kitchen, which supplies sophisticated but accessible recipes for those cooking in cramped quarters. On hot summer days, she turns to this Thai-inspired salad that makes use of some of the season’s best produce — no cooking required.
1 large cucumber or 4 small ones
1 small tomato or a few cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon chili paste or about 2 small Thai chilies, sliced (adjust to your taste)
About 2 tablespoons sugar
About 3 tablespoons fish sauce
About 3 tablespoons lime juice or rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped
Small handful basil leaves, torn
Carefully cut the cucumber into slices about two inches long each. Dice the tomato or cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters. Set the vegetables aside.
Mince the garlic, then sprinkle some salt onto the garlic, mince again, and then press with the side of your knife to turn it into a paste. Place in a large bowl (large enough to hold all the julienned cucumber), and add the sliced chilies or chili paste, sugar, fish sauce and lime juice or vinegar. Add the cucumbers and toss to combine. Use the back of the spoon to crush the cucumber a bit, so the pieces will absorb more dressing. Add the peanuts and herbs and toss again. Taste for a balance of flavors, adding more sugar, fish sauce, chilies, salt or lime juice if you’d like.
Zucchini Ribbons with Almond Pesto
Deb Perelman cooks comfort foods taken up a notch on her popular blog, Smitten Kitchen. She has a dish that will satisfy and help you use up zucchinis.
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and cooled
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoons table salt
1/3 cup olive oil
About 4 medium-sized zucchinis
Prepare the pesto: Grind the almonds, parmesan, garlic and red pepper flakes in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Add the lemon juice, salt and olive oil and pulse the machine a few times, until combined. Pour the dressing into a large salad bowl.
Prepare the zucchini: Using a vegetable peeler and working from the top to bottom of each zucchini, slice the zucchini into ribbons (about 1/16-inch thick). Place the ribbons in the bowl with the pesto.
Assemble the salad: Toss the ribbons gently. Doing so with your hands might be best, so you don't break the zucchini slices as you try to coat them evenly with dressing. Serve at room temperature.
Too hot to even consider toasting almonds? Use them raw, and this will still be delicious.
Excerpted from "The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook" by Deb Perelman. Copyright © 2012 by Deb Perelman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Chocolate Mousse Pie
Earlier this year, Upper East Sider Mat Rosa, a software architect who studied culinary arts at Cornell, started his own series of cooking classes called Pot, Pan, Knife to help men learn to cook for their significant others. He and his wife plan to use the proceeds from the classes to help fund their upcoming adoption. Rosa recommends this creamy dessert that requires only a minute or two of microwaving. Plus, it’s dairy- and gluten-free.
18 ounces silken tofu
7 ounces dark chocolate (70% or higher)
1/2 package sugar-free dark chocolate Jell-O pudding mix
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup of light agave nectar
1 6-ounce box crunchy dark chocolate cookies
2 tablespoons margarine
Run the cookies in a food processor until coarsely crumbled. Melt the margarine and pour into a bowl with the cookie crumbs, then mix until the crumbs are well-covered and moist. In a 9-inch pie tin, evenly distribute the crumb mix and press lightly with fingers. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the tin. Then, use another tin to press the crumb mix until it is a smooth, even crust. Remove the plastic and set aside.
Melt the chocolate. Put tofu, chocolate, pudding mix, vanilla and agave in a food processor or blender and blend until well-blended — about three or four minutes.
Pour the mousse mix into the pie crust, spreading carefully to the edges. Refrigerate covered for at least one hour, preferably overnight. Cut thin slices and plate with strawberries or raspberries. We also sprinkled some edible gold on top, creating a fancier look. Bon Appétit!