Your Go-To Dinner Ideas For When It’s Too Hot To Cook

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Your Go-To Dinner Ideas For When It’s Too Hot To Cook

Growing up in the South, I’ve always thought that air conditioning was just a given. Of course every building is going to be cooled to exactly 72 degrees Fahrenheit even in the middle of July. So imagine my surprise moving to Boston only to discover that many New England apartments do not, in fact, have central air conditioning. My first apartment was in Allston, far away from the cooling breeze of the ocean, with west-facing windows that burned with a blazing heat in the afternoon sun, baking my tiny studio apartment until my sad excuse for a kitchen became unusable from the intense heat. The idea of boiling a pot of water for pasta, let alone turning on the oven for dinner, became unthinkable.

Since that time in my life, I’ve cobbled together many dinners from my fridge and pantry, unwilling to bear even the microwave on the hottest days of the year. What I’ve learned is that a meal that requires absolutely no cooking is a beautiful thing—whether your apartment is as stuffy and uncomfortable as mine was that first summer in Boston or not. Use these easy dinner ideas to get you thinking about heatless dinners you can make in your own kitchen.

1. Chicken or Tuna Salad Sandwiches

A favorite of summer snackers everywhere, chicken and tuna salad sandwiches are simple, easy and can be made with basically any vegetables and condiments you have on hand. Mayo-based salads may be classic, but I’m a fan of olive-oil and veggie-based mixtures that offer a lighter, more refreshing take on the usually creamy dish. Omit the bread and enjoy with fresh cut vegetables for a lighter meal.

2. Tinned Fish with Pickled Vegetables

When you’re craving a dinner that feels fun and a little bit fancy but don’t even want to think about turning on your stove, grab some tinned fish from your pantry and make yourself a spread. Bread and crackers can provide a nice base for your tinned seafood, and pickled vegetables make for a flavorful accompaniment. Add spreads, dips and other condiments for maximal flavor.

3. Caesar Salad with Canned Chickpeas

There’s no salad I enjoy in the summer more than Caesar salad, but sometimes, I don’t have the strength to cook shrimp or a chicken breast to eat it with. For a plant-based alternative, add a can of chickpeas to your salad; they’re particularly delicious if you marinate them simply in some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper before serving. 

4. Italian Subs

Sub sandwiches have always been a go-to meal for me in the summer, and a classic Italian sub is an easy option if you want to avoid toasting the bread or melting cheese. I think this cured meat-based sandwich is best served cold so as to preserve the freshness of the vegetables, which should be piled on for best results. Serve with some potato chips, and you have a hearty, heat-free meal you can enjoy all season long.

5. Ceviche

Providing that you have access to fresh fish, ceviche is the perfect summer meal. It famously requires no cooking, with the acidity from lime juice effectively “cooking” the raw fish. White fish is commonly used to make ceviche, but you can also use shrimp instead. Different types of ceviche utilize different fresh vegetables, but feel free to experiment with what you happen to have in the fridge.

6. Bean Salads with Chips

It’s always a good idea to have canned beans on hand, regardless of what the temperature is outside. In the summer, though, canned beans are particularly handy, as they provide a quick protein source that requires exactly no cooking. As long as you have a can of beans, some olive oil and a few fresh veggies on hand, you can make an incredibly flavorful bean salad. Just don’t go too light on the salt and spices—they make all the difference.

7. Smoothies

Sometimes, the idea of eating anything when it’s super hot out is a deeply unpleasant prospect. When that’s how you feel, a smoothie should be your go-to option. Use frozen fruit to make an icy treat, and add dairy for extra creaminess and heartiness.

8. Savory Cottage Cheese with Veggies

If the only kitchen task you can imagine doing is cutting up some vegetables, this is the ideal light meal for you. Just throw your veggies into a big bowl of cottage cheese, add in some salt and other spices and you have a filling, healthy meal that will also help cool you down. If you prefer a dinner on the sweeter end of the spectrum, omit the salt and spices and enjoy your cottage cheese with fruit instead.

9. Fruit and Cheese Plate

If you ask me, fruit and cheese isn’t just a meal—it’s one of the best and easiest meals you could enjoy during the summer (or, really, at any time of the year). Keep several types of cheese on hand, and add some vegetables to the mix if you’re craving a savory component.

10. Raw Oysters with Beer

Raw oysters and beer is the ultimate girl dinner. It may not be the most balanced meal you’ve ever enjoyed, but there’s something immensely satisfying about slurping down oysters and cheap beer on the hottest night of the year.

Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.

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