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Summer meals get international flair

by: Christopher Onstott, Berries and flowers make Jehnee Rains’ Pavlova scream summer (file photo).

Today is Independence Day, but after more than 200 years of autonomy from England our feeling of triumph has waned. Sure, it was cool at the time, but celebrating our sovereignty now feels a little foolish - like if Björn Borg was still celebrating winning Wimbledon.

Instead, the Fourth of July has become a celebration of summer and an excuse to eat, drink and light sparklers. It's also the ultimate barbecue holiday.

This summer, instead of the ubiquitous potato salad and pie to go with whatever's on the grill, why not add something new to your menu? Two talented local chefs have provided interesting summer recipes that will elevate your barbecue feast above the mundane.

Pok Pok's owner and chef, Andy Ricker, has revealed the recipe for his superpopular Thai green papaya salad, the perfect summer salad. And Jehnee Rains, pastry chef at Balvo, shares a mouthwatering recipe for Pavlova with strawberries in red wine and rose geranium syrup, an elegant and impressive ending to any meal.

Som tam malakaw (Thai green papaya salad)

Recipe from Andy Ricker of Pok Pok

In northeastern and northern Thailand, this salad is often eaten with the hands using a small ball of sticky rice to form an edible spoon to scoop it up. A recipe for sticky rice follows.

Serves two

• 2 packed cups shredded green papaya (use a mandoline or buy it already shredded in the produce section at many Asian markets)

• 6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved

• 1/4 cup long beans, cut into 2-inch lengths (may substitute green beans or haricots verts)

• 2 small cloves garlic

• 2 Thai chilies, stems removed

• 2 tablespoons palm sugar, softened

• 2 ounces fresh lime juice

• 1 ounce fish sauce

• 2 teaspoons small dried shrimp

• 2 tablespoons chopped roasted unsalted peanuts

For this recipe to really come out right, you will need a large mortar made of either clay or wood and a wooden pestle, available at most Asian markets (the granite ones won't work).

First crush the garlic, chilies and palm sugar in the mortar. Add the long beans and crush lightly, just breaking them up a little. Next add the lime juice and fish sauce and the papaya. Pound everything together lightly, using the pestle and a large metal kitchen spoon to combine the ingredients. The object is to get the flavors melded without turning everything into a pulp.

Add the tomatoes and squash them just enough to force out the juice but leave the halves intact. Next add the dried shrimp and peanuts, mix gently with the spoon and scoop out onto a plate. The salad should be sour, sweet, hot and salty and crunchy in texture. You can adjust the seasoning by increasing or reducing the amount of chilies, sugar, lime juice or fish sauce to your taste.

Serve with steamed sticky rice (Thai glutinous rice) and barbecued chicken, meat or fish.

All ingredients listed above are readily available at local Asian markets. Palm sugar usually is sold in small half-round pucks packed in plastic. To soften it, put a puck or two in a microwave-safe bowl, moisten with a splash of water, cover with plastic wrap and microwave on low for about one minute before mashing it with the back of a spoon or your pestle.

Khao niaw (steamed Thai sticky rice)

For this recipe to turn out best, you will need to buy a Thai sticky-rice cooker, which consists of an hourglass-shaped aluminum pot and a conical reed steaming basket, both available at local Asian markets and not very expensive.

Soak 4 cups of Thai glutinous rice in room- temperature water for a few hours or overnight. Wash rice in cold water once or twice, then strain in a colander or sieve. Boil about 2 1/2 to 3 inches of water in the pot, put the rice in the basket and cover with a damp kitchen towel; then set the pointy end of the basket into the mouth of the pot.

Set a timer for 20 to 25 minutes and let the rice steam. When it is done, turn the rice out into a heavy casserole or bowl and cover with plastic wrap until it cools a bit. Then serve with the salad. You also can buy a sticky-rice serving basket, available at local Asian markets.

Pavlova with strawberries in red wine and rose geranium syrup (recipe from Jehnee Rains of Balvo)

Pavlova is a fluffy meringue dessert, crispy on the outside, marshmallowy on the inside, named for the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. In New Zealand and Australia, where Pavlova is a traditional dessert, it plays a sweet and crispy contrast to bright fruit flavors like passion fruit, strawberry and kiwi.

We can make it our own Northwest dessert by infusing the berries with a fruity red wine and herbs from the garden. Rose geranium brightens the deep fruity, winy compote with a fragrant lemon-rosiness. Rose geranium is not likely to be found in the grocery store, but it is common in our nurseries, and easy to grow.

This recipe will make enough meringue for nine individual portions, which is more than you will need, but to whip egg whites sufficiently, it's easiest to begin with at least this amount.

Makes six, with three extra meringues

• 2 cups red wine

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled

• 3-4 unsprayed medium rose geranium leaves, 1 1/2 to 2 inches long, flowers are fine, too

• 1/2 cup egg whites (about 4), room temperature

• 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

• 1 cup sugar

• 1 tablespoon cornstarch

• 1/4 teaspoon cider or champagne vinegar

• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Start by preparing the syrup:

Combine the wine and 1/2 cup sugar in a small, nonreactive, stainless-steel pot and bring to a boil. Cut up two of the strawberries (reserving the rest) and add to the pot. Continue boiling gently until the liquid is reduced to 3/4 cup, about 30 minutes. While you wait, you can prepare the meringues.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until you have foamy peaks. On medium speed, begin adding 1 cup sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time, then increase speed to high and whip to firm peaks for 3 minutes. Mix in cornstarch. Add vinegar and vanilla extract; beat again until stiff.

Spoon out 9 half-domes of meringue onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the meringues lift off the parchment.

Once the meringues are in the oven, you can finish the syrup.

With your hands, crush the geranium leaves and add to the hot wine mixture in the pot.

Cover and steep for 10 minutes; taste and steep longer if necessary. Strain out the leaves and strawberries. Chill.

Ten minutes before serving, quarter the remaining strawberries and cover with the wine syrup to submerge.

Place one meringue on each plate. Use the back of a spoon to gently press down the center of each meringue. Spoon the berries into the cavity, and spoon the syrup around the meringue on the plate. A scoop of strawberry sorbet and/or whipped cream would gild the lily.

Note: On wet days, meringues absorb moisture from the air, so save this dessert for a sunny day.