Summer’s leisurely pace and vibe is a time of “non-cooking.” We look for quick-cooking items that don’t create a hot kitchen, dishes that are more assembly than a recipe. There is a knack for eating well (while cooking little!) at those on-the-go picnic dinners in the summer: know what travels well. Know what can be served cold or at room temperature. Know which tasty seasonal combos belong together so you can whip up something delicious fast—after all, summer won’t be here forever!
Beyond these basic guidelines, let your imagination run away with the possibilities. Here are my twenty-five ideas to get your creative summer juices flowing:
1. Toss ripe sliced peaches (and optional chunks of tomato) with chopped mint or basil, balsamic vinaigrette, and feta or goat cheese.
2. Thinly slice cucumbers and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt for a quick pickled cucumber salad. Let sit for 15 to 30 minutes, then rinse and pat dry. Toss with scallions, chopped dill and parsley; dress with a splash of white vinegar, oil, a little sprinkling of sugar, and pepper to taste.
3. Julienne (or coarsely grate) jicama and a Granny Smith apple (you can add in some shredded radicchio, too). Dress with a mustardy-cider vinaigrette. Sprinkle with toasted chopped walnuts.
4. For a Moroccan-style side dish, steam sliced carrots, then toss with lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper.
5. A great use for leftover grilled/steamed corn on the cob: working over a large bowl, shave off the kernels, then add halved cherry tomatoes and chopped fresh basil. Toss with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Sandwiches & Toasts
6. My favorite “house” sandwich: whole grain bread, a smear of mayo (or pesto—yum!), sliced muenster cheese, thinly sliced tomato and thinly sliced avocado.
7. Fill wraps with thin slices of roasted or grilled red peppers, zucchini, portobello mushrooms, etc. Add baby spinach leaves and thin strips of mozzarella cheese (fresh mozzarella is really good, too).
8. Build up your tuna sandwich: use a club or Kaiser roll with thinly sliced hard-boiled egg, thinly sliced tomato, cucumber and plenty of fresh bean sprouts. (It’s even better with a little garlic aioli!)
9. Use up leftover cooked salmon in a fresh salmon salad: add fresh lemon juice, capers, chopped celery, mayo, salt and pepper and mix until all incorporated. Serve with mixed greens on a toasted baguette or roll.
10. Make a sweet bruschetta: top slices of toasted baguette with a layer of goat cheese (or drained ricotta), sliced fresh figs, a drizzle of honey and some toasted chopped pecans or hazelnuts for crunch.
Legumes & Grains
11. Sushi Salad: Steam 2¼ cups rinsed sushi rice. Combine: 4 tablespoons rice vinegar, 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon salt and mix into hot steamed sushi rice, tossing until absorbed and rice is glossy. Add in shredded carrots, snow peas, sliced scallions, shredded kani, diced mango, and torn pieces of nori (dried seaweed). Great at room temperature!
12. Warm Orzo Salad: Combine cooked orzo with diced roasted/grilled veggies. Toss with salt and pepper, olive oil and a splash of acid (balsamic vinegar or lemon juice). Top with some chopped herbs like parsley or basil, too. Add leftover cubed grilled chicken for a full meal.
13. Summer Quinoa: Cook quinoa and fluff with a fork; add chopped mango, diced cucumber and scallions. Dress with plenty of fresh lime juice, olive oil, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. (I like cayenne pepper, too!)
14. White Bean Salad: Toss white beans (rinsed and drained), very thinly shaved red onion, arugula, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Sprinkle with chopped dill or parsley—it’s even better with some shaved Parmesan!
15. Toss cooked, warm wheat berries with chopped grapes, hazelnuts, lemon juice (or white wine vinegar), olive oil, salt and pepper. Add thinly sliced red cabbage and toss again.
Meat & Poultry
16. Even at room temperature, everyone loves kebabs! Mix it up by skewering them with alternating peppers, onions, cherry tomatoes or fruits as well.
17. Grilled chicken is great by itself with honey mustard or ketchup, but make it a complete meal by adding it into a salad, sandwich or wrap.
18. Cube smoked turkey breast; add to a romaine salad with grape tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, olives, sliced hard-boiled egg, etc. Go creamy with the dressing.
19. Prepare classic deli sandwiches/hoagies (don’t forget the pickles).
20. Sear steak and let it rest a few minutes. Slice thinly; roll in soft flour tortilla with grilled/roasted sweet onions and peppers (can also be done as a steak sandwich on club roll).
Fruit & Desserts
21. Biscotti or mandel bread travels well and stays fresh for a week.
22. Toss berries, melon and stone fruits with a drizzle of honey, flaked coconut, a dash of cinnamon, and a sprinkling of chopped fresh mint.
23. Grill your dessert: grilled pineapple, peaches, and even firm plums are delicious.
24. Summer is berry season: macerate your strawberries or cherries in a little balsamic vinegar and sugar for 30 minutes until berries look slightly wilted and have released their juices. Serve over ice cream.
25. Chocolate-dipped strawberries, bananas or pretzels. Keep in a cooler if traveling!
Yields 4 servings
Quesadillas are a fun spin on your average grilled cheese and a great way of adding some extra vegetables into the meal. Serve with guacamole, salsa and sour cream on the side. Below are two variations for quesadillas, but feel free to just make plain cheese quesadillas if you have picky eaters at home.
2-4 teaspoons vegetable oil
8 (8-inch) flour tortillas
8 ounces Monterey Jack or sharp Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 2 cups)
For corn and mushroom quesadillas:
1 small can corn, drained
6 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
For black bean and
red pepper quesadillas:
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, diced
½ red bell pepper, seeded and diced
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ cup canned black beans,
rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1. Prepare filling of choice. For corn and mushroom filling, combine all ingredients together. For black bean and red pepper filling, heat oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and red pepper; season with salt and cumin. Sauté until peppers are tender, about 5-6 minutes. Add beans and cilantro and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes.
2. Heat 1-2 teaspoons of oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet until hot but not smoking, Place a tortilla in the bottom of the pan. Spread a layer of cheese over the tortilla; sprinkle about ¼ cup filling evenly over cheese. Cover with another tortilla.
3. Cook until underside is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using a wide spatula, carefully flip and cook until the other side is golden, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining tortillas, adding more oil as needed. Cut into wedges (like pizza) and serve with guacamole (recipe below), salsa and sour cream on the side.
2 medium ripe avocadoes
2 tablespoons fresh lemon/lime juice
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large plum tomato, diced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cumin
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cut the avocadoes in half, remove pits and spoon avocado out of its skin into a large shallow bowl. Add lemon and/or lime juice and mash to desired consistency with a fork (or potato masher). Stir in remaining ingredients. Season to taste; cover tightly and chill.
White Bean & Arugula Salad
Fresh herbs and lemon make this the perfect light summer meal with some good, crusty bread on the side. I love adding cooked salmon to this protein-rich salad if I have any on hand. If cooking the white beans, make a large batch early in the week and then it’s just assembly 1-2-3!
½ pound dried small white beans, such as cannellini or Great Northern (or a 15-ounce can cooked beans)
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
(juice of 1 lemon)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ red onion, thinly shaved or minced
10-12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
5 mild radishes, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 cups baby arugula
salt and pepper to taste
1. If using dried beans, rinse and pick over. Cover with cold water and soak for 8 hours, or overnight. Drain beans and place in a pot with garlic clove, bay leaf and enough water to cover by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium heat; reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. Drain them well and transfer to a large bowl (discarding the bay leaf and garlic clove).
2. If using canned beans, rinse and drain them and transfer to a large bowl.
3. In a small bowl, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk to combine.
4. Add one third of the vinaigrette to the beans and toss; let stand for 15 minutes.
5. Add red onion, tomatoes, radishes, herbs and arugula. Pour the remaining dressing over the salad and toss lightly to coat. Season to taste with more salt, pepper or lemon juice, if needed. Serve immediately.
Salmon Variation: Add 6 ounces flaked grilled/roasted salmon to the salad; toss to combine.
Naomi Ross is a cooking instructor and food writer based in Woodmere, New York. She teaches classes throughout the country and writes articles connecting good cooking and Jewish inspiration. She is excited to be writing her first cookbook, which will be released soon.