What should I make for dinner on a hot summer night? That's a serious question when you don't have air conditioning. Read all my summer cooking tips.
I am continually inspired by the bounty that is fresh, seasonal, local produce. Each season presents a dazzling array of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and herbs: from the emerald-green kale of Winter to the jewels of summer: peaches, watermelon, cherries, and tomatoes. While a beautiful display of produce is the cornerstone of my cooking, there is one thing missing on that list that I often overlook, and even take for granted: supportive, pantry staples.
I grew up in the 90s when everything was boxed this or canned that, so when I started cooking for myself, I pushed to create complete meals utilizing fresh, better for you, ingredients. Pantry cooking in my early 20s was seldom. Albeit still is, I've recently revisited the importance of pantry cooking.
In a previous Coffee Chats Newsletter, I mentioned that my apartment does not have air conditioning. We often think of pantry cooking as something done in the winter months when fresh produce isn't as readily available, and while this is true, it is still fundamental when hot weather cooking is not an option.
I mean, let's face it, cooked ingredients are easier to use than raw ones, so how do we work around this? Here are a few of my summer cooking tips to help make hot weather cooking more effortless.
Summer cooking tips
Batch cook fresh foods to eat all week.
As mentioned above, fresh produce is the foundation of my cooking, but that is not easy if it's sweltering out. The answer? Batch cooking. It makes meals simpler, quicker, and you can still enjoy your fresh ingredients without turning on your oven every night.
But don't get it twisted, you don't have to spend an entire day cooking (unless you want to).
Cook more than you need.
My favorite sheet pan chicken recipe is this one. Pictured above.
You can shred the leftovers to use for the next few days. And if you're going to turn on the oven, be sure it's doing double duty by cooking more than one thing!
Plan your meals.
So you don't feel like you're eating the same thing every day, it's necessary to plan out your meals, or at the very least, an idea: tacos, sandwiches, or salads to name a few.
Pro tip: Plan to cook early in the morning or late at night when the outside temps are cooler.
If you can't grill outside, use small pots or other appliances whenever possible.
If you can't avoid turning on the stove, smaller pots take less time to cool, which means residual heat won't stick around as long. Additionally, make use of other appliances: instant pot, microwave, slow-cooker, or an electric kettle.
I've recently purchased this black stainless instant pot because of this issue-- I was sweaty, flustered, and accidentally set my oven on fire, oops!
Check out these instant pots.
Stick to quick-cook/no-cook ingredients.
- Quick-cooking pasta or grains. Angel hair and fresh pasta cook in less than 5 minutes, and I personally purchase couscous frequently. Avoid the stove by using an electric kettle to boil water.
- Canned proteins. Canned beans and seafood are simple, no-cook items you can add to any meal.
- Shrimp. Not a pantry ingredient, but shrimp also cook up instantly.
Experiment with the art of salad making or keep your recipes simple.
- KISS. When you have to work in a hot kitchen, keep your recipes minimum: fewer ingredients, reduced steps, equals minimal time spent.
- Salads are indeed an art form. You can take boring lettuce and create endless combinations that are truly magical.
- Remember the fresh produce you batch cooked? Serve it up over a bed of mixed greens as a salad or stirred into a can of crushed tomatoes for a 15-minute Shakshuka. I do this most often with asparagus and potatoes.
Keep fresh herbs on hand.
- You can taste the difference. This one is super important to me. If nothing else, I always try to have a plethora of fresh herbs because, in my opinion, it can set the dish apart by making the dish taste brighter.
- I also like to keep a container of arugula in my fridge for the same reason. I can add a handful to pasta, pizza, or grains for an instantaneous green boost.
Summer cooking tips: the modern pantry must-haves.
Keep your pantry well-stocked.
With the right ingredients on hand, pantry items support a minimal cooking lifestyle, when you can't bear to turn on the oven.
- Quick-cooking pasta or grains.
- Canned proteins. My current favorite is canned trout and chickpeas.
- Nutritional yeast gives foods a boost of B vitamins with a cheesy-like flavor. This one is my current favorite.
- Canned tomatoes.
- Ketchup (for quick homemade BBQ sauces, like this one.)
- Bread, breadcrumbs, or croutons. Personally, I will turn on the oven for five minutes to make my own croutons/breadcrumbs with any leftover sourdough bread. They're just better, in my opinion. Most often, I will use the croutons in salads, then crush the leftovers to fry with eggs or help thicken tomato-based sauces.
- Tortillas. One of my favorite blank canvas food items. I can use up anything rotting in my fridge by making quesadillas, and it only takes a few minutes to cook.
- Garlic-stuffed olives. This one is pretty essential for me. They make a great snack on there own, or I can use them to make an olive tapenade as a spread or for a cheaters puttanesca.
- Apple cider vinegar. Perfect for shrubs, pickled veggies, salad dressings, or washing produce.
- Sweetener. Local honey, pure maple syrup, or Just Date Syrup
- Nuts. I like to keep a variety of roasted nuts for snacking and making different kinds of pesto. Also, raw cashews for making quick creamy tomato sauces.
What are some of your summer cooking tips? Let me know in the comments below!