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Meatless Monday: Olympic Cool

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Record summer heat temperatures around the globe. Factor in Olympic fever, and it seems like there's no way to cool down. But there is. Naturally. To beat the heat, Ayurvedic medicine, that ancient Indian body-balancing system, advocates eating foods that are alkaline. They reduce inflammation in the body and act as your personal air conditioning unit. So what foods are alkaline? Most fruits and vegetables. A bonus -- much summer produce can take the heat as it grows, yet cool you down as you eat it. You don't have to remember (or pronounce) ayurveda, or even alkaline, just think mild, sweet-tart and bitter.

Mild-- Enjoy summer produce mild in flavor but high in water content, like zucchini and summer squash and celery. Melons like watermelon, cantaloupe and their kin, the cucumber, are also alkaline. This led my husband to make a cucumber martini. Nice try, but an icy martini or a cold beer isn't cooling. Or alkaline. Like meat, dairy, coffee and processed white sugar and flour, alcohol is acidic and inflammatory. Keep the cucumber, lose the booze, and keep hydrated. Drink water -- lots.

Sweet and tart -- Summer fruit like grapes, with their sweet flesh and tart skins, and local goodies including mangoes, antioxidant-rich berries and all manner of citrus have that juicy, sweet-tart zing going. Lemons and limes have that acidic sizzle on the tongue, yet create a more alkaline balance in your body. Think of lemonade on a brutally hot day. Summer fruits are fun and refreshing to eat even as they cleanse and cool the body.

Bitter-- The astringency in bitter greens -- that puckery sensation in the mouth -- acts as a natural cooling agent. Brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower and greens including dandelion and collards are also natural detoxers, decluttering your liver, lightening you up and cooling you down. While there's still the southern propensity to cook collards with a hunk of pig and simmer them till they're gray, in honor of our Olympic hosts, enjoy collards the Brazilian way, shredded and tossed with lemon. Known as couve a miniera, it's served throughout Brazil, with a variation or two, but always simple and vibrant.

We've yet to find the food -- or drug -- that guarantees Olympic victory, but we can connect you to the produce that'll help you beat the heat. How cool is that?


Couve a Miniera

Natural coolants collards and lemons come together in this vibrant salad/accompaniment you'll find throughout Brazil. I have a real fondness for this dish which is as simple to make as it is dazzling to eat. While many Brazilian recipes call for giving the greens a quick saute, these are shredded, raw and "cooked" only with the the acid from the lemon juice. Enjoy as a salad, sprinkle some into a tofu scramble, pair with beans, whole grains or grilled vegetables or as a filling for tortillas.

2 bunches collards greens
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 juicy lemons)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Wash the collards well. Blot dry. Slice out the thick central stems and discard (or reserve them to make broth later). Stack the collard leaves and roll them up widthwise, forming a tight collard cigar. Using your sharpest knife, slice across as thinly as possible, forming skinny ribbons -- collard tinsel -- or to use the correct culinary term, chiffonade. Alternately, using the shredding disc, shred the collards in a food processor. You'll have about 4 cups of greens. Congratulations, you've just done the toughest bit of the recipe.

Scoop the collards into a large bowl. Add the minced garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Toss to combine. Season with sea salt and pepper.

Enjoy. Couve a miniera keeps tightly covered and refrigerated for a day or two.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.