I realise talking about the heat wave is so ‘four days ago’ but when the heat was on, all anybody could talk about was the weather, how hot it was, how hot it was going to get and, most importantly, what the overnight low was going to be. When the heat is unrelenting even during the night, it makes it difficult to recover to face the extreme heat the next day. You feel like you are walking around with a permanent grimace, because the furnace-like heat is always so in your face. I was in Melbourne for the start of the heat wave and then flew out just before the cool change and into Wagga for another couple of days of over-40°C temperatures. When I flew out of Wagga a few days later, the heatwave had broken but it was still 33°C – still pretty hot – but then I flew into the warm, sticky, humid embrace of Sydney which was a relief after the searing dry heat of the west.
During all this heat, the Australian Open soldiered on with some tennis players collapsing on court and hallucinating, and everyone divided into two camps: those determined to have the play go on, no matter how hot it got, and those who couldn’t believe they were expected to play in these inhumane conditions. In this kind of collective heat derangement, strange rumors erupted, such as one Tweet I read just before I was about to fly out of Melbourne – that all flights had been cancelled out of Tullamarine because the tarmac had melted. When I finally got to the airport, my plane was delayed for what was a fairly polite 10 minutes because the plane we were meant to catch was ‘unserviceable’. What they meant by ‘unserviceable’, nobody really dared to ask. It was nearly 7pm when we finally walked out onto the tarmac to catch our plane and the heat was still like walking into the vent of a clothes dryer.
I have friends who, despite their lack of air conditioning, remain very stoic about the extreme heat, believing it something that that should be suffered through so you can really appreciate the cool change when it does come through. For those in the northern hemisphere who don’t know what we’re wailing about, here are a few quick conversions for our recent heatwave which was five consecutive days of over 40°C, or 104°F. Poor Adelaide had one day of being the hottest inhabited city on the planet when the temperature hit a peak of 46°C, or 114.8°F. Hot!
In the midst of this heat vortex, if you don’t have the luxury of air conditioning, cooking anything is out of the question. In fact, you need meals you can kind of of just assemble, and watermelon – cold watermelon straight from the fridge is the food of the gods. Delicious as watermelon is, you need something else on the side to sustain you and this labneh dip, with its crunchy topping of toasted pistachios, parsley, lemon and sumac, makes your watermelon meal a bit more substantial. Throw in some olives and flat bread (with special prayer of thanks to the bakers who continue to bake during the heat) and you can call it dinner, lunch or breakfast.
Labneh is yoghurt that’s been drained of its whey until it has the consistency of whipped cream cheese. I always tend to buy my labneh ready made because its so easily available where I live but if you want to make your own, Simple Provisions has very clear instructions here. When I first made this dip, I served it with these vegetarian vineleaves and it was an incredible combination but, of course, when you’re in the middle of a heatwave, you’re not going to be messing about making vineleaves (except perhaps to open a tin of them). Feta cheese is also good with watermelon, so if you can’t be bothered making the dip, watermelon salad served with chunks of feta cheese is also a pretty awesome combination.
Labneh dip with pistachios, parsley, lemon and sumac
Adapted from Simple Provisions
- 1 tub of labneh 400–500 grams
- 1 clove of garlic crushed in salt
- 1 teaspoon of honey (optional)
- 1½ tablespoons of pistachios toasted in a pan and roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon of finely chopped parsley
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon sumac
- Good olive oil to drizzle over the top
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Stir crushed garlic and honey through labneh and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Pour labneh into a bowl and spinkle over lemon zest, pistachios, parsley and sumac. Then drizzle olive oil over the top.
- Serve with flat bread and olives or part of mezze spread.
Adapted from Food Stories
- A chunk of watermelon (1½ kilos)
- ½ red onion (chopped finely)
- 1 tablespoon finely shredded mint
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 150 grams of feta cheese (optional)
- Lime juice and olive oil to taste
- Chop watermelon into small chunks and mix with red onion and mint. If you are using feta, mix cubes or crumble cheese through watermelon salad.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Sprinkle lime juice and olive oil over the top and mix to dress.