Relaxed summertime supper

Three light and healthy courses to whet any flagging appetite.

melon 88 (photo credit: )
melon 88
(photo credit: )
For hot, steamy days when I don't feel like fussing, I often turn to Mediterranean classics, many of which developed over the centuries for this type of weather. By artful use of fresh herbs, cooks in our region came up with savory ways to revive flagging appetites. For today's meatless menu, the main course is a brown-rice variation of tabbouli, the Lebanese salad classically made with bulgur wheat, tomatoes, mint and plenty of parsley. This version will be especially appreciated by anyone who is sensitive to wheat. Accompany it with cooked corn and carrots dressed with cool, spiced yogurt. If you prefer a heartier menu, top the tabbouli with cubes of Bulgarian cheese or hard-boiled eggs, or, for a meat alternative, stir in strips of grilled chicken; you can pick some up at the supermarket if you don't happen to have any leftovers. In this case, serve the cooked vegetables with vinaigrette dressing, flavored with the same spices as in the recipe, instead of the yogurt. Finish the meal with a French-style cold melon soup, a refreshing dessert that is one of the simplest to make. You just puree the melon with citrus juices and sugar. For a more substantial dessert, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to each bowl of melon soup and serve it with thin, crisp cookies. These three dishes add up to a casual meal that is not only tasty, but healthy too. Nutritionists recommend we eat a variety of different kinds of produce, since each contributes different nutrients. This menu is low in fat but loaded with wholesome elements - seven kinds of fresh vegetables and fruit, healthful olive oil and a whole-grain entree. Serve it for a weekday supper or lunch, or for a weekend brunch. All three courses in this convenient-for-the-cook menu can be prepared completely in advance and served cold or at room temperature. There's not much cleaning up either. You can use the same saucepan to cook the carrots and corn, followed by the rice. For the tabbouli, you can chop the herbs in a food processor, then simply dry the work bowl and use the processor to puree the melon for the dessert. BROWN RICE TABBOULI For a festive presentation, serve this light variation of tabbouli on a bed of romaine lettuce and garnish it with cherry tomatoes. Sweet peppers are not traditional but they make a good addition. Use raw or roasted ones; you can buy them in a jar. If you prefer, omit the mint and use 1 to 2 tablespoons tarragon instead, for a French flavor. 11⁄4 cups brown rice, rinsed and drained 3 to 31⁄4 cups water salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 cups small parsley sprigs, rinsed, patted dry 1⁄4 cup fresh mint leaves 1 small red or yellow pepper, raw or roasted 4 or 5 small tomatoes, ripe but firm 2 cucumbers, peeled if desired 3 green onions, sliced thin 3 Tbsp. strained fresh lemon juice, or more to taste 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste Combine rice, water and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat 45 minutes or until rice is tender. Transfer rice to a large bowl to cool. Chop parsley and mint leaves in food processor. Dice pepper, tomatoes and cucumbers small. Add 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper to rice. Add diced vegetables and green onions and toss lightly. Lightly stir in parsley mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more lemon juice or oil if you like. Serve cool or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings. CARROTS AND CORN WITH SPICED YOGURT Serve the vegetables warm, cool or at room temperature, topped with the cold flavored yogurt. Instead of cumin, you can season the yogurt with chopped chives. If you prefer to cut the kernels from a fresh corncob, the dish will taste even better. Substitute leben or eshel for the yogurt if you prefer. 4 medium carrots, scraped, sliced 6 mm. thick 11⁄2 cups frozen corn kernels 1⁄2 cup celery slices (optional) 1 cup plain yogurt, of any degree of richness you like 1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin salt to taste cayenne pepper to taste Put carrots in a saucepan and add hot water to cover. Bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat 7 minutes. Add corn and celery, cover, and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, over medium heat 3 minutes more or until vegetables are just tender. Mix yogurt with cumin, salt and cayenne pepper. Drain vegetables. Serve them topped with spiced yogurt. Makes 4 servings. EASY MELON SOUP WITH HONEY If you're not using mint to flavor the brown rice tabbouli, you might like to garnish each serving of soup with a few fresh mint leaves, for a lively touch. Thin slices of candied ginger also make a delicious decoration. Instead of honey, you can sweeten the soup with calorie-free sweetener. 1.6 kg. ripe melons 2 Tbsp. strained fresh lemon juice, or more to taste 1⁄4 cup strained fresh orange juice 2 Tbsp. light honey or 3 Tbsp. sugar, or more to taste Halve melons, remove seeds and cut peel from flesh. If you like, prepare 12 to 20 melon balls and reserve for garnish. Cut rest of melon in chunks; you will need 41⁄2 to 5 cups. Put chunks in a blender or food processor. Add lemon juice, orange juice and honey and process until smooth. Add 1⁄4 cup water and process until blended. Taste, and add more honey or lemon juice if desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Stir before serving and top with the melon balls. Makes 4 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.