How do you survive a soul-roasting summer? Avoid your oven and make cold herbaceous salads.
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My family likes to say there are two winters in Texas. There’s actual winter, a relatively pleasant season when the air is chilled and the bugs are dormant, and then there’s summer, when melting mortals are forced to wait out the long, glaring afternoons in dark, air-conditioned interiors as northerners might wait out a blizzard. You’d think that a family that lived in the deserts of Saudi Arabia would be accustomed to baking for five months every year, but no—no we are not. We are wimps, as my mother would say, and there comes a point when even the most heat-hardened among us wilts under the blasting summer sun. Yet I take comfort in the fact that most Texans I know aren’t any more acclimated to living in an oven than we are.
But there are lessons to be learned here, and Texans excel at making the most of what summer has to offer—loose clothing, cold drinks, early morning and late evening walks, and frequent dunks in the nearest body of water.
I figured out pretty quickly that my previous Bay Area uniform of tight black jeans and tees would have to give way, lest I boil in my own juices like a sausage dropped on hot asphalt. Since moving here, I’ve invested in cheap, floppy overalls, lightweight long-sleeved shirts for mowing, and I stole my mother’s old straw hat for dog walks. I can’t wrap my tastebuds around Texas sweet tea (WHY SO DAMN SWEET?!), but I make and thirstily glug huge batches of herbal tea, most recently favoring a combination of Versana’s affordable respiratory blend and bags of chamomile-anise. The best dog walks happen before 9 am or well after dinner, and the ones in between are a swift-slow shuffle between pools of shade and blistering stretches of exposed, crispy grass. Occasionally we fill up the 3-foot-deep plastic stock tank my parents bought during last year’s summer desperation and bob around in it until the water reaches boiled egg temperatures, and then we pretend it’s a hot tub.
I am adapting, but every summer comes as a new hot shock, and sometimes I have to re-learn the previous summer’s lessons. A few nights ago, against my better judgment, I cranked up my oven to 450°F for a dinner of homemade French fries and roasted chicken thighs marinated in Jufran banana sauce (A spicy-sweet, ketchup-adjacent Filipino condiment I can’t get enough of, and won’t in future, now that our only local Asian Market has heartbreakingly closed), Thai sweet chili sauce, chopped garlic, and soy sauce. It was mouth-wateringly tasty, but it took longer to cook those damned fries than I anticipated, and by the time we sat down to dinner we were sticky with sweat and our AC was running, running, running to keep the temperature below 80°F.
NEVER. AGAIN. I hereby vow not to use my oven until October, and by October, I mean Halloween. Oven fries are out, as are baked desserts, biscuits, and roasts. I want chilled blanched shrimp with remoulade, cheese platters with toasted store-bought bread (hats off to you sourdough freaks who are still baking mid-summer), massive bowls of ice cream, and cold salads like this creamy green bean affair I conjured last month. I have added this dish and many like it to my summer survival menu—refreshing, low key, and NOT HOT.
In May, when the thermometer still hadn’t breached the 100 mark, I was harvesting the very last of my garden dill and folding generous heaps of the chopped fronds into this salad—absolutely fantastic. Now that June is gasping its last and my dill has gone to seed, I’ve moved on to using fresh garden basil and it’s just as good.
I discovered that the Honduran and Salvadoran cremas at my local market are both richer and runnier than the usual sour cream I buy, and they pair perfectly with the bright green flavor of these beans and a spritz of lemon juice. The beans will boil to tenderness in 10 minutes or less, and the rest of the prep is quick and heat-free, so you can stick the salad in the fridge and relax with a tall, iced tea until dinnertime.
Onwards, my fellow summer warriors, and may cold salads like this one ease you through the worst of the heat and release you from the tyranny of sweaty kitchen labor!
This green bean salad is creamy, herbaceous, and best served cold or room temperature—the perfect summer side dish. It comes together quickly, holds up well if you make it ahead of time, and keeps in the fridge for days. Feel free to use gringo sour cream if you can’t get hold of the richer Honduran or Salvadoran stuff, and experiment with whatever fresh or dried herbs you have on hand (za’atar would work beautifully here). Eat it as a salad and accompany it with cheeses and chilled shrimp, or spoon some onto a flatbread with sliced tomatoes, onions, and pickles for a light, refreshing wrap.
1 lb green beans (I like the thin French haricots verts), stems trimmed
5 T Salvadoran or Honduran crema (or whatever sour cream you can find)
juice of half a lemon (1-2 T, taste as you go)
Heaps (3-5 T) of chopped fresh herbs (dill or basil), or dried herbs like oregano or za’atar
Salt and maybe pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the green beans, and cook until very tender, 8-10 minutes.
- While the beans cook, fill a large bowl with water and ice to shock the green beans and stop them from cooking when you drain them.
- Drain the beans and toss them in the ice bath for 5 minutes or so.
- Drain the beans again and lay them out on a sheet pan lined with paper towels or a kitchen towel to absorb any excess water. This will help the dressing cling better. Give them an additional pat with the towels if they still look wet after 5 or 10 minutes.
- Throw the beans in a large bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients (crema, lemon juice, herbs, salt, and pepper), tossing to combine and adjusting the dressing to taste.
- Serve immediately or allow to chill in the fridge for an hour and serve cold. This salad keeps well in the fridge for several days.
- Try swapping out the green beans for cooked broccolini, potatoes, or raw sliced cucumbers and radishes.
- Would this be tasty with the addition of ripe sliced tomatoes? Yes, yes it would!