California hosts the hottest place in the nation on a regular basis. Death Valley is so named for a reason—at a high of 126 degrees today. Temperatures frequently reach extremes that most of the rest of the United States has never dreamed of. The capital city lies at the northern end of the Sacramento Valley, and while it isn’t as hot as Death Valley or Palm Springs (at 120 degrees today), it’s nasty at 105 degrees and getting hotter in the next few days.
I grew up in the northeast—northern New York where I remember the year it was 52 below zero, and then there were summers in Philadelphia and Cambridge where the humidity might be 85 percent and the temperature 80. A high of 80 in Cambridge is completely different from 105 degrees in Sacramento.
Before I moved to Sacramento from the San Francisco Bay Area, I remember hearing people say, “It’s a dry heat,” repeatedly and thinking it was a tiresome explanation for what seemed an excuse for what must have been intolerable. Now I know, of course, exactly what they meant. And, in fact, I, too, say, “It’s a dry heat.”
This is the kind of day when cooking seems foolhardy, so I suggest the plebian, if healthy, salad of choice for my family—tuna bean salad. My father doesn’t like beans, so when I was a child in New England and upstate New York, we would have beans on Tuesday evenings when he had a meeting that included dinner. I'm glad to say I didn’t inherit his dislike, nor have his grandchildren—my sons. It's a meal we enjoy often on a hot summer's eve.
Tuna Bean Salad
3 cans of white beans (or other beans of your choice), drained and rinsed
2 cans tuna packed in water and drained
1 red pepper (or yellow or green if you prefer), diced
½ red onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 young carrots, diced
1 t red pepper flakes (if you like it spicy)
Mix together all ingredients but the last two and toss with salad dressing.
Juice of two lemons
2 T of red wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
1 t of Dijon mustard
1 T honey
½ cup of olive oil
Put all ingredients in a bowl together except honey and olive oil. Whisk briefly, then add the oil in a drizzle while whisking until emulsified. Add the honey.
Serve on a bed of lettuce and top with several shaved pieces of parmesan cheese. Grind black pepper over each plate before serving.