Wouldn't you know it, our air conditioner broke down right before the recent heat wave here in Michigan. And when it's in the 90's in Michigan, it's humid as well. The thought of operating even the range under such conditions--use of the oven was right out--was repulsive.
We'd already done our cheese/fruit/bread/olives/wine dinner; we'd grilled and had a tossed salad and bread to go with the seared animal flesh; we considered pasta salad, but the thought of all that steam being created in an already hot, humid environment defeated that idea.
It's a good thing there are other ways to avoid the stove and still have an excellent meal.
One menu that works well is a Middle Eastern one that includes tabouli (also known as tabouleh or tabbouleh), a cucumber-yogurt salad, and black olives; pita wedges and hummus would make this a more substantial meal and add protein. Tabouli is made with bulgur wheat, a grain that has been parboiled, dried, and (usually) de-branned. The parboiling means that soaking, not cooking, will soften the grain and make it edible. You can find bulgur wheat at many supermarkets these days, certainly at Whole Foods and health food stores.
American versions of tabouli often reverse the ration of grain to finely chopped parsley, particularly the tabouli mix that comes in a box at the supermarket. Middle Eastern tabouli has as much or more parsley as it does bulgur. It may or may not also contain mint and other herbs and spices.
I make a very basic tabouli using parsley, bulgur, scallions, tomatoes, lemon juice, and olive oil. I sometimes add cucumber and/or black olives (the deli kind), but since I was serving those on the side, I left them out this time. The final product may be eaten using the inner leaves of Romaine lettuce as scoops, but we usually just use forks. The recipe is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's in World of the East Vegetarian Cooking.
3/4 cup bulgur
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced fairly small
4 T. finely minced scallions
2 cups very finely chopped parsley
3 T. lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
2 T. olive oil
Soak the bulgur in 4 cups of water for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the other ingredients. When the bulgur is done soaking, line a sieve or colander with a clean, lint-free kitchen towel and pour the bulgur and soaking liquid into it. Draw the towel together so it closes around the bulgur and squeeze as much water out of the bulgur as possible. Empty the bulgur into a bowl.
Add the chopped ingredients, the lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and/or lemon juice if necessary. The salad should be pleasingly tart.
Yogurt and cucumber salad
I've seen versions of this in both Middle Eastern and Indian cookbooks. This salad is very refreshing on a hot day. Traditional versions use twice as much yogurt as I do, so feel free to up the amount of yogurt if the idea appeals to you. You can use cucumber alone, or finely chop other vegetables and add them to the salad. I had a lot of radishes and scallions on hand, so I minced them and tossed them in.
If the cucumber is very seedy, cut it in half and use a spoon to scoop out most of the seeds before dicing it.
My favorite yogurt at the moment is Stoneyfield Farms whole-milk yogurt, but any plain yogurt, including no-fat, works fine.
1 large cucumber, small dice
1 cup plain yogurt
2 to 4 scallions, minced
2 or 3 radishes, minced
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
2 to 3 T. minced fresh mint
Combine all the ingredients and serve.