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Easy ways to freshen up warm-weather cuisine

Published: Thursday, June 6, 2013 11:27 a.m. CDT

When the weather is warm, many people are inspired to expand their culinary horizons and look for foods that are light, fresh and satisfying.

Although warm-weather cooking may call to mind backyard barbecues, there is much more to seasonal dining than charbroiled frankfurters and beef patties. Taking a fresh approach to cooking can yield a number of new and innovative meals.

Cool down

When the temperature is high, few people want to fill their stomachs with heavy, hot foods. Instead of cooking up a batch of stew, reinvent recipes for a warm-weather spin.

For example, experiment with chilled soups. Borscht is a beet-based soup of Eastern European origin that is very often served cold. Other vegetables or fruits can be pureed and served as a cold summer soup.

Gazpacho, a Spanish tomato-based soup, is the most widely known cold soup. However, cucumber- and avocado-based soups and creamed vegetable soups also can be enjoyed chilled.

Embrace salads

While salads may be relegated to side dishes for most of the year, they tend to take center stage when the weather is warm.

The addition of fresh berries, grapes or raisins can lend a different flavor to salads. Think about topping salads with grilled fish or chicken to add more substance to salads serving as entire meals.

Rather than using heavy dressings that may end up covering the delicate flavors of lettuce leaves and other greens, use vinaigrettes made from citrus fruits to add both sweetness and tartness to dishes.

Savory sandwiches

Who says sandwiches are only for lunch? When the weather is warm and families are busy hurrying here and there, sandwiches make for fast and portable meals.

Grilled vegetables paired with grilled mushrooms can make hearty, satisfying sandwiches that are relatively low in calories. Previously grilled chicken can be shredded and turned into chicken salad when mixed with Greek yogurt and apple cider vinegar.

Even standard cold cuts can be given a new twist when turned into cold-style reubens by being topped with cole-slaw or chilled sauerkraut on gourmet slices of herbed bread.

Pastas and casseroles

Much as warm-weather soups can be served cool, so can pastas and casseroles. Pasta is a versatile food that can be paired with traditional salad ingredients or mixed with vegetables or dressings to make a variety of different dishes.

Baked casseroles can be served at room temperature for pot-luck meals in the yard or brought along when visiting friends and family. Chunks of mushrooms, summer squash, eggplant and garlic can be sauteed and baked together to make a hearty and flavorful vegetable casserole.

Seafood

Lobster, shrimp and clams can be harvested from the coast and then cooked on the grill or over an open fire. For those who want chilled seafood, opt for shrimp cocktail or head out for a sushi and sashimi meal at a local restaurant.

Warm-weather dining means exploring different flavor options to find lighter fare

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