Quick Recipes for Refreshing Light Meals on Hot, Hot Houston Days

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The weather's growing warmer, and as anyone who's ever lived through a Houston summer knows, things are just going to get hotter for the next several months. When the thermometers are redlining, eating a heavy, hot meal isn't appealing to a lot of folks, and many of us start to crave lighter foods to satisfy our hunger. Fortunately, there are a lot of easy-to-prepare meals that won't leave a person feeling hot or overstuffed on a sweltering summer day. Let's look at a few of those.

3. Tuna or Chicken Salad

There's nothing exotic about chicken or tuna salad, whether served on a sandwich or otherwise, but the reason they're both so popular is simple — they're just plain good, and there are a bunch of variations that keep them from getting boring. I used to manage the meat and deli department of a health food store in Austin, and developed a good recipe for both. Here are the basics — adventurous folks can tweak these, adding ingredients they like, and will find that either makes a good base to work from.

Tuna Salad:

4-6 oz cans of white meat tuna, packed in water

Mayonnaise — somewhere between 2/3 cup and 1 cup, depending on preference

I small jar of sweet pickle relish

1 green onion chopped fine

Dried cranberries

Garlic powder

A pinch of dried mustard

Celery — minced

Sliced almonds

Sea salt and black pepper

Mix the tuna, dried mustard, garlic powder and mayo until a desirable consistency is attained. Some people prefer a creamier tuna salad, and some like less mayo. Adjust the amount of mayonnaise to make it more or less smooth and creamy. Mix in the almonds (about half a cup, unless more or less are desired), the relish, onion, celery and cranberries. Add salt and pepper to personal taste, and refrigerate immediately. This should make around 8 servings.

Chicken Salad:

The meat from one whole roasted chicken (or about the same amount of cooked chicken meat)

Mayonnaise — again, depending on how creamy one prefers it, somewhere around a cup or more

1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Almond slices

Celery — finely chopped

Garlic powder


Green onion — finely chopped

Sea salt and black pepper

Following the same basic process as in the tuna salad recipe, shred the chicken and then combine all the ingredients until reaching the desired consistency. Some people also liked it when we added sweet relish to this one, so add that if you prefer a sweeter chicken salad. Refrigerate immediately. This should make 6-10 servings, depending on size.

2. Guacamole

While it's great as a dip for chips, guacamole is a simple recipe that can be a great addition to a salad or other light meal where a lot of flavor is desired, without making a person feel like he needs to take a nap afterward. There are countless variations of guacamole, but here's the one I usually make. Depending on who will be eating it, I will add or subtract the optional ingredients on this list. Just whatever you do, don't add peas to guacamole, unless you live in New York and want to start another culture war.

4 avocados

2 medium diced tomatoes, chopped

3 limes, juiced

1 medium onion, chopped

1 - 2 garlic cloves, minced

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

A pinch of cumin

Optional ingredients:

Cayenne pepper

1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, finely chopped

Cilantro ( I hate the stuff, but a lot of people love it.)

In a bowl, take the peeled, seeded avocados and mash them, before adding the other ingredients, and mixing. Serve immediately. I've never portioned this one, but it makes a nice batch for several people.

1. Potato Salad

There are a million kinds of potato salad recipes, but this is a simple and basic one I helped develop at the health food store deli. It combines mustard and mayonnaise with other ingredients to make a zesty, well-balanced salad. We never worked out the exact number of servings, but it makes a large bowl.

4 lbs. peeled boiled red potatoes with the skins removed

Around 2 cups mayonnaise

Yellow mustard ( Approximately 1/8-1/4 cup)

Sour cream ( About 8 oz.)

Garlic powder

1/2 cup chopped green onions

3 hard-boiled eggs shelled and chopped (optional)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

1 small jar sweet pickle relish

Chopped celery

Mix the mayo, mustard and sour cream until the best basic taste is achieved. Add in the pickle relish, celery, onion and seasonings. Cut the boiled potatoes into small cubes around 1/2 inch, and then work them into the sauce, until thoroughly mixed. Refrigerate immediately. This one is even better after the first day.

The nice thing about these recipes is that with the exception of guacamole, which is best when made fresh every time, a person can make batches that will last a few meals, or an entire week, for about the same amount of effort. These are also great because they really invite people to modify the recipes as much or as little as they please. But with spring here and another Houston summer on the horizon, every cook should have a tuna and chicken salad recipe, one for a favorite potato salad, and a go-to guacamole. They're all simple to prepare, and make for refreshing alternatives to a heavy, hot meal on even hotter days.

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