No-Cook Meals for the Hottest Days of the Year
Why heat up the kitchen when you've got 19 cold, no-cook recipes to choose from?
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My family owns a little house in the Catskills. When we bought the place, the owner assured us he’d never needed an air conditioner in the 20 years he’d lived there. Cool mountain breezes and ceiling fans would keep us comfortable, he promised. And for the most part, that’s been the case. But every summer we get a solid two weeks of brutal, withering heat — thanks, climate change! Never mind two weeks, right now the National Weather Service’s predictions show the entire country has three months of above-average temperatures ahead. Even if our mountain house had air conditioning, cooking with heat wouldn’t hold much appeal.
So for my no-cook, no-bake meals, I don't even grill. Standing outside in 100-degree heat, in front of a metal case that’s literally holding fire, is not where I want to be.
Which means we’ll be eating plenty of salads, of course. But no-cook dinners go way beyond a bowl of greens or grains mixed with vegetables, delicious as they are. For ideas, I look to foods that are traditionally eaten cold or room temperature. Often — but not always — they originate in countries with a sultry climate. Often — but not always—they feature cucumbers and avocados, for some reason.
The goal is always the same: Feed my family without going anywhere near a source of heat. This allows me to spend time in the kitchen, my happy place, without breaking a sweat. Did I mention that these no-cook meals tend to come together quickly, too? In the majority of cases, once things are chopped, blended, or assembled, dinner’s ready.
My cold dinners tend to fall into categories.
Jump ahead to:
A refreshing bowl of cold soup
I know, soup hardly seems like the thing you’d want to eat when the temperature’s approaching triple digits. But cold soups are not only common, they’re easy — no standing over a hot stove, simmering. Most of the time, you’re just pureeing. And if these strike you as more appetizer or side dish than main dish, just offer generous portions, and set out some bread sticks, sliced cheese, and maybe some cold cuts or a bowl of salted nuts.
I make it a point every summer to feast on gazpacho, and this recipe includes everything I love: super-ripe, in-season tomatoes (I get mine at the farmers’ market); some tomato juice for body; and just the right balance of texture (slightly chunky) and zesty, sweet, and savory flavors.
Just look at that lovely color, the palest green. The soup gets its creaminess from avocados, of course, but also coconut milk (or yogurt, if you like). Cucumbers add a little textural contrast, while lemon juice, Tabasco, and herbs brighten the flavor. I love the toasted pumpkin seeds on top, too.
Korean cucumber soup is tangy thanks to soy sauce and rice vinegar, with slippery, chewy seaweed playing off the crisp cucumber. For the cuisine’s traditional balance of flavor, the recipe also includes a bit of sugar for sweetness and plenty of Korean red pepper for heat.
Asia isn’t the only place to find cold cucumber soup, of course. This version hails from Bulgaria, and it relies on garlic, olive oil, and dill for flavor, with yogurt and crushed walnuts for body. You don’t even need to puree this one — just finely chop the cucumber and garlic and stir in the other ingredients.
Summer rolls, wraps, and sandwiches
Of course, Asian summer rolls are on my list of no-cook hot weather meals. But softened rice paper isn’t the only way to encase a light, flavorful filling. Check out these creative uses for veggies, tortillas, and good ol' bread.
Traditional summer rolls usually have a cooked element tucked inside, like chicken or shrimp. This all-vegetable recipe creates a stunning presentation, while the dipping sauce made from almond butter, miso paste, and herbs gives it enough heft to count as dinner.
Raw food chefs definitely know how to make a satisfying no-cook meal. These tacos use red cabbage to enclose the filling, a combo of walnuts, mango, bell pepper, green onion, and plenty of spices. The chipotle cashew cream is really the icing on the, um, taco.
No, it's not cheating in terms of the no-cook meal concept to pick up a rotisserie chicken. Turning the shredded meat into a chicken salad with a quick homemade Caesar dressing sounds like a hot weather slam-dunk to me.
Smashed chickpeas, avocados, and Southwestern seasoning make a vegan chickpea salad filling with some real kick. Lettuce cups (aka leaves) from a head of Boston or Bibb are sturdy enough to hold everything, but tender enough to bite through cleanly. And diced jalapeño offers an easily-adjusted amount of oomph.
Want a filling, sophisticated, on-the-go summer dinner that’s ready in a flash? Step right up. Crunchy kale, easy canned salmon, and prepared Caesar dressing get tossed together, then wrapped in flour tortillas — with a recipe this simple, you’ll be eating in minutes.
What elevates the good-old tuna salad recipe to dinner status? How about opting for Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise; adding in diced apples and pecans along with celery; and including fresh dill for good measure? I'd totally go with that.
Here's another easy recipe: Turn the Caprese salad — the classic summer salad featuring fresh mozzarella, basil, and ripe tomatoes — into a hand-held dinner by tucking the works into crusty ciabatta bread. To include a little green salad, try tucking in some arugula.
Recipes featuring raw fish
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like meals centered on raw fish are everywhere these days. Here in NYC, there’s a poke bowl shop every other block — sometimes tucked in next to a sushi joint, around the corner from a stand selling ceviche. The beauty of raw fish in summer, of course, is that you don’t need heat. Note that for all these recipes, perfectly fresh fish is a must. Look for “sushi grade” whenever possible.
Ceviche, as you’re more likely to see it spelled here, originated in Peru. Bite-size chunks of fish (corvina, halibut, escolar, hamachi, or mahi-mahi) marinate briefly in lime juice along with red onion, cilantro, and chile pepper. The acidity “cooks” the fish, and you end up with a perfectly hot-and-cool dish.
I always thought carpaccio meant thinly sliced raw beef, but you can make it with fish, too. This version, from the chef of a world-famous NYC seafood restaurant, looks elegant enough for company — but the recipe itself is simple enough for a novice cook. The fish is dressed with a little extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice, and the watercress gets a simple balsamic vinaigrette.
When it’s super-hot, I don’t even want to turn on a rice cooker. So a not-quite-authentic sushi bowl based on “rice” made from daikon radishes wins me over immediately. That rice gets topped with spiralized vegetables (cucumber and carrot, but zucchini would be good too), scallions, and gorgeous fish, and the bowls get drizzled with a dressing made with ginger, miso, soy sauce, and some decidedly non-Asian ingredients.
Poke is a little bit like fusion ceviche: The dish originated in Hawaii, and instead of marinating chunks of fish in citrus juice, it uses soy sauce and sesame oil. The fish doesn’t so much “cook” as soak up the flavors. This version couldn’t be simpler, and if you add some vegetables (I’m thinking avocado and cucumber) you’ve got yourself a meal.
Snack boards for dinner
I saved this category for last because it’s the perfect way to launch you into your own creative, no-cook summer meals. Each of these calls for nothing more than gathering and assembling — maybe a little slicing — and yet they’re all so different. Take a look in your pantry when you’re done perusing the recipes. I’ll bet you have everything you need to make a meal that feels like a party.
Charcuterie is a French word that refers to any kind of cold cooked meat like ham, sausage, or pâté. And a charcuterie board is exactly what it sounds like — an array of different meats along with savory vegetable mixtures, olives, nuts, fruits (apples, pears, grapes, or whatever you have), crackers, and breads. The idea is to make something so beautiful, you almost don’t want to dig in. Almost. This one includes lots of advice for balancing flavors and textures, as well as a super-simple (okay, not-French) hummus dip made with a roasted sweet potato — the "fall" component. To keep with the no-cook summer theme, you could just use regular hummus.
Take your board away from France and towards the Middle East, and you’ve got a mezze platter. Pile it up with homemade or store-bought goodies like hummus and tabbouleh, then add marinated artichoke hearts, fresh vegetables, olives, and feta. Don’t forget to stack squares of thin, pliable lavash flatbread for dipping and rolling.
If a charcuterie board collided with a mezze platter, you’d wind up with this Greek-ish antipasto platter. The Mediterranean spread features goat cheese-stuffed cherry peppers; Italian deli meats like soppressata and prosciutto; marinated feta and marinated olives; hummus; summery fruits and vegetables like apricots, strawberries, radishes, and herbs; and plenty of pita (or pita chips, if you prefer your dipper crunchy).
If the word “crudité” makes you picture one of those sad, compartmentalized trays from the grocery store — you know, the one with a stack each of baby carrots, celery sticks, and broccoli florets encircling a tub of ranch dressing — this will be a real eye-opener. A homemade crudité platter features tons of fresh vegetables, of course, as well as salty/briny/sweet/creamy additions like Tart Cherry Thyme Butter and Herb-y White Bean Dip. This is exactly the kind of no-cook supper that soothes my overheated heart.
More ideas to help you chill out
When the weather hits "broil," we've got lots of ways on Yummly to help you keep your cool. Consider summer classics like bean salad, cucumber salad, or tomato salad. Or how about slurping smoothies or a refreshing Watermelon Mockjito? Still exploring? One of the following should hit the spot.