A cool change: heatwave cooking

February 17, 2011

Well, the first real heatwave of the summer hit us with full force on the first weekend in February. I have never felt so hot in my life as I was that Saturday, when the temperature where we were, at beautiful Killcare just north of Sydney, reached 42 degrees Celsius (that’s over 107 F) for most of the day. According to the weather boffins, it was the sixth successive day that the Sydney area had reached sweltering 30-plus temperatures, representing the hottest week in 150 years. Pheeeew….

Sharing a beach house with some friends would appear to be the best thing to do on such a weekend, but that Saturday even the sea breezes worked like an oven’s fan. We swam, once or twice, but the sand was so hot the only way to deal with it was to run, full-pelt, with shoes on, to the water’s edge or risk significant burns to the feet. Then it was a matter of staying in the water for as long as possible, then doing the bolt back across the sand to the car. Our strategy for the rest of the day was to lie around in our bathers, periodically standing under a cold shower and not drying off until the heat forced us back into the shower.

At one stage we were forced to dress and visit the very sweet Hardys Bay RSL club for their air-conditioning, and though the aircon was struggling mightily, it helped for a couple of hours – despite even the club’s fridges breaking down because of the heat, they made do with buckets of ice for drinks.  When we eventually made for home at around 6.30pm the car’s thermometer reported the air temp as a deliciously cool 37 degrees C!

Needless to say, not a lot of cooking took place that day. Luckily, very early that morning before things went crazyhot I had made a pea, cucumber, leek and mint soup, and left it chilling all day. We ate it late that night with cold cooked prawns plonked on top. I think it was possibly the only thing we could have eaten that day with any pleasure.

Not long afterwards, all four of us dragged mattresses and cushions outside to the wooden deck of our little house, doused ourselves from head to toe in mosquito repellent, set up two electric fans and pointed them at ourselves, and tried to sleep. Quite an adventure, and we provided much amusement for passing neighbours the next morning with our little war hospital on the front deck.

Then later that day, a cool change came gusting gloriously in, and we were saved.

What did you eat, if you were in similarly overheated dire straits that weekend? Or if you’re elsewhere in freezing climes, what have you cooked to fight the cold? Love to hear your extreme temp cooking stories.

Meanwhile, here’s the soup – try it next time it’s stinking hot.

Chilled leek, pea & cucumber soup with prawns

A cooling summer lunch or light supper. Unlike many cucumber soups, this one contains no cream but is quite filling. Serves 4


Olive oil

2 leeks, finely chopped

8 Lebanese cucumbers, peeled, seeded & chopped

½ bunch dill, chopped

1 litre chicken stock

½ can cannellini beans, drained & rinsed

1 cup frozen green peas

1 tablespoon chopped mint

12 cooked prawns, peeled (tails left on if desired)

Pepper & salt


  1. Fry leeks gently in olive oil till softened.
  2. Add cucumber & dill and cook for a few minutes.
  3. Add chicken stock, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until vegetables are very soft.
  4. Remove from heat, add frozen peas – they will quickly soften & help cool the soup.
  5. Add cannellini beans.
  6. Puree soup with a stick blender or in food processor until smooth or desired consistency – can be rustically thick.
  7. Check seasoning – depending on the saltiness of the stock, salt may not be required.
  8. Cool and then chill in refrigerator for several hours. Can be served at room temperature, but is best served quite cold.
  9. To serve, ladle soup into bowls, top with three prawns per bowl and scatter chopped mint over the dish.

To make this for Vegos, obviously, just skip the prawns and use veg instead of chicken stock. Very refreshing.



  1. Meh – at least mr woluf isn’t trying to blow your house down and rain on your
    Queensland beautiful, one day.

    Excellent recipe – though my leeks are yet to mature, i have about 100 leb cues on the vine as we speak. Off to pick.

  2. Oh, stop it with your weather upmanship and your vegetable bounty bragging, missy. Our veg yield is very pathetic this year. But I guess better than many Queenslanders’ gardens are doing, poor wet pets.

    Enjoy your cukes!

  3. Yes, well. I arrived in Sydney for my dad’s 70th birthday party the Monday after it all…was Very Glad that I’d missed it. Sounds as though you did well to stay sane!

    Two years ago, when it was a luvverly 47C here in Melbs, and the electricity was cut off for 2 days, I sat around and cried for a while, and worried about all the birds and possums dropping dead in my back yard from it all, then decided to pull me socks up and go out for dinner. Never been happier to sit a cold, empty restaurant in my entire life.

    BUT, around that time (i.e. before the fridge lost power) we ate a lot of very cold ajo blanco, you know, that almondy, grapey, garlicky Spanish soup. That topped with prawns would have been lovely. Your soup is gorgeous. Dill and mint: YUM.

  4. One summer during graduate school, I sublet a studio apartment on the top floor of a building. During the hottest part of summer, it was like living in a furnace. I ended up eating mostly salad and fruit, and churned a lot of homemade ice-cream!

  5. We were away on the long weekend too, at a beach house and our experience pretty much matches yours. There was a lot of flopping about, sitting very still and going to the water / dousing ourselves in water.

    But my go-to food on the really hot days are rice paper rolls. I chop up a whole lot of salad and maybe some smoked tofu, make a dipping sauce and then plonk the lot on the table, with a bowl of water so we can sit there and roll our own.

  6. Gazpacho, man. Also cut nori sheets in half, roll into a cone and stuff full of crunchy green things with a drizzle of Japanese sesame sauce on top.

  7. […] but I’m wondering what on earth to cook for dinner. Last time it got nearly this hot I made this, but I think I have a batch of Karen Martini’s amazing Syrian chicken in the freezer, so I […]

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