As we head into the heat of summer, foodservice operators should be preparing to add lighter and cooling foods and meals to their menus. To keep customers feeling their best, it is important to balance heartier items like soups, stews, and heavy noodle dishes with cooler, more refreshing foods and cooking methods.
Planning your menu around hydrating foods and applying simple, lighter cooking methods will go a long way toward helping your customers beat the summer heat while boosting their health at the same time. Below, Custom Culinary™ presents our expert tips and insights to help your business thrive in warmer weather.
Cool Off with Ice-Cold Beverages
On a hot, sunny day, customers will be quickly drawn to your establishment by its ice-cold beverage offerings. A simple cup of coffee with ice can go a long way in kick-starting the morning, while homemade iced tea is rich in a class of antioxidants called flavonoids. A squirt of lemon juice in the tea helps preserve these antioxidants and makes for a perfect summer drink.
Freshly squeezed juice is characteristic of a well-rounded breakfast, and luckily most fruits available during the summer season work brilliantly as juice. Whether it is the citrus taste of oranges and limes or the sugary taste of pineapples, kiwi, and mangoes, there is nothing more refreshing than a chilled glass of freshly squeezed juice or a frozen tropical shake.
Incorporate Hydrating Foods and Refreshing Flavors
On the food side, the health benefits of replacing a normal meal with a salad are enormous. From various kinds of lettuce and leafy greens to sprouts, these fresh vegetables are rich in carotenoids, which the body converts into vitamin A. The best part about salads is that they can be mixed with almost anything – from fruits to meats, seafood, and other vegetables – to create countless delicious combinations. Try offering your salads as main meals to encourage customers to eat healthier and lighter.
Summer is also the season for all sorts of flavonoid-filled berries, which not only taste delicious but also help the body fight many serious illnesses. Try incorporating strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries into dishes like salads, desserts, and yogurts.
You might think of vegetables and fruits as the best source of hydrating fluids, but dairy products like yogurt (and even milk) are another great source of liquid. Yogurt is also an excellent source of protein, electrolytes, calcium, and vitamin D. Try mixing things up when featuring yogurt on your menu by topping with frozen fruit, pureeing with fruit and freezing into popsicles, or making frozen yogurt.
Certain flavors can enhance your seasonal summer menu, too. Mint is a powerful herb that can provide some refreshing coolness to combat the summer heat. In fact, when taken together with a cold beverage (like chilled cucumber-infused water), mint can help satisfy thirst much faster than room temperature water alone. Mint can also be chopped and tossed into a fruit salad or cold bean and beet salad.
Plan Summer-Specific Menus with Seasonal Ingredients
Summer is the time when local fruits are in season, and you can offer customers the freshest, tastiest pineapples, watermelons, cantaloupe, rose apples, dragon fruit, and kiwi of the year. Fruit is not only a healthy and nutritious food group (they're known to be high in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants), but many fruits are also very hydrating and contain high water content.
Mangoes are another perfectly refreshing summertime fruit that can help stave off heat exhaustion. High in vitamins A and C for a strong immune system, this healthy fruit can be worked into salads, desserts, and even mango ice cream made with almond milk for a vegan-friendly option. All of these fruits can be served on their own, or incorporated in salads, cold cut platters, desserts, sorbets, and cold soups.
Like fruit, many vegetables are also in season over the summer. Whether it's lettuce, tomatoes, or cucumbers, summer's vegetable harvest provides simple, inexpensive foods that are easy to incorporate into your diet, as many of these vegetables are great raw or lightly cooked.
You can also put vegetables like sliced eggplant, radishes, Chinese broccoli, and mushrooms right onto a hot grill and serve them up as a delicious, nutritious side. Or, try tossing them in a little olive oil and roasting to perfection. Of course, you can’t go wrong with summer picnic classics like the tomato, cucumber, and onion salad; caprese salad with sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil; or cold pasta salad with onions, black olives, peppers, and cucumbers.
Feature Water-Rich Vegetables
Cucumbers in particular are a great vegetable that contains a lot of water to help you stay cool. Keep cucumbers raw during the summer, because once cooked, they lose a lot of their moisture and water content. Cucumbers can be incorporated into the menu in a variety of ways during the summer. Try slicing them to make infused water, serving them raw with your favorite dip, making a creamy cucumber salad or mixing them into other salads, or even making a chilled cucumber soup.
Great for grilling as a side dish or mixed in with other vegetables and salad greens, there is nothing like the taste of fresh corn on the cob on a peaceful summer evening. This handy snack is not just delicious but also rich in starch.
It's no coincidence that spicy chicken wings are served with celery. This stalky vegetable is high in water content and can help cool down your mouth quickly. Serve sliced and cleaned celery stalks with sliced cucumbers and a creamy yogurt dip or variations of a celery salad or salsa with vegetable chips.
Mix Things Up with a Spicy Offering
Speaking of spicy chicken wings, while you might not think that eating spicy food would be ideal on a hot summer day, many scientists say that a little bit of spice may actually be the perfect solution. Studies have shown that when you eat hot or spicy food, although it will initially increase your body’s heat, gustatory sweating around the top of the head, ears, neck, and face will soon provide effective cooling.
Spicy foods that are perfect for a hot summer day include chips and salsa, spicy chilled gazpacho, spicy cucumber salad, and cold noodle salad.
Focus on Popular Summer Cooking Methods
When the weather is nice and the sun is out, customers will enjoy eating outside as well. Grilling is a method of cooking that uses open coal or wood flames to cook just about every type of dish or food imaginable. Chicken, burgers and steaks, seafood and shellfish, vegetables, potatoes, and even sweet desserts like fruit pies are all perfect for grilling.
If you can, focus on foods and meals that are served cold or don't require much cooking. Try sticking to food items and recipes that don't require the oven or only need a quick-cooking session on the stovetop. Chilled foods can include cold salads (tuna salad, chicken salad); cold vegetable salads (three-bean salad, beet salad); chilled soups; and yogurt/cottage cheese with berries.
Sandwiches, variations on scrambled eggs with toast, grilled chicken or steak over a salad, chilled soba noodle salad with raw assorted vegetables, deli meat platters with cold cuts and cheese, or poached eggs over a fresh spinach salad with bacon are other great options that require minimal cooking.
Finally, why not look to the hottest regions of the world for culinary inspiration? Spain has a rich tradition of chilled soups such as gazpacho, while the U.S. has an exciting summer BBQ culture.
An Exclusive Custom Culinary™ Recipe to “Beat the Heat”:
A refreshing dish perfect for a hot summer day, served cold and laden with vegetables like cucumber and onions that provide a cooling effect. Serve as a main meal or side dish.
Chef Jomi Gaston
Custom Culinary, Inc.