Take that sandwich, for instance. It can be upgraded to something less predictable, like a fig and prosciutto number with goat cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, and a feathering of arugula leaves.
By their nature, no-cook meals are wonderfully simple, requiring few steps. One strategy for making them easier is the use of prepared ingredients. "Who wants to start roasting peppers and peeling artichokes when there are so many high-quality canned and jarred items you can buy at the store?" Landau says.
One of Landau's favorites is gigande beans, the meaty, creamy beans often used in Mediterranean cuisine. (Large lima beans can be substituted.) "All ycommou have to do is throw them in a colander and get rid of the liquid. Dress them with some olive oil and a touch of sherry, maybe add some chopped kalamata olives and some parsley and dill," Landau says. "Or if you wanted to go with Mexican flavors, you could add cilantro, jalapeño, scallions, and lemon juice. Let them sit for a half-hour or so and you have an incredibly satisfying meal - they're so substantial that it's like eating a cassoulet, but it doesn't slow you down and it also doesn't feel like Thanksgiving in your kitchen on a summer day."
Salads are an obvious choice for avoiding the major appliances, but they don't have to be flimsy. Landau suggests a Spanish-inspired platter of chickpeas, artichokes, piquillo peppers, and hearts of palm. Chopped manchego cheese, Marcona almonds - or, for meat-eaters, a bit of butifarra sausage or lomo - would give the meal more substance.
In Landau's Southwestern-inflected smoked tofu salad, avocados, olives, and tortilla chips embellish the meaty bean curd, while a spicy-sweet dressing pulls all the flavors together. Salad greens and vegetables can be varied, depending on what's available.
Raw cuisine, with its elaborate avoidance of heat, offers plenty of interesting solutions, even for the newest no-cook dabblers among us. Raw "pastas" made from vegetables are a light and cool alternative to boiling pots of water. In raw chef Matthew Kenney's forthcoming Everyday Raw Express, he uses a spiral peeler to turn zucchini into spaghettilike strands, then tosses them with toppings such as an uncooked corn and mint pesto or lemon juice, tahini, and olives.
Landau makes a similar dish by peeling zucchini and tossing it with a "pomodoro" made from salted tomatoes and their water, with a sprinkling of grated cauliflower for added heft.
When vegetables are fresh and thinly sliced, they often need no cooking. "If they're young enough, even artichokes can just be shaved - there's no hairy stuff in the middle," says Brian Ricci, chef at Kennett in Queen Village.
Marinating and pickling are no-heat techniques to render raw vegetables and fish a more interesting meal. A simple mixture of lemon juice or sherry vinegar and salt and pepper can tenderize crisp vegetables while infusing them with flavor - no electricity or gas needed.
The same techniques apply to fresh seafood, though as with all ingredients that are served raw, quality really matters. "Go to a good seafood purveyor - one that you trust - and pick out some salmon or striped bass or scallops," Ricci suggests. "Simply slice them, but make sure they're all the same size so they marinate evenly. Then toss with a bit of acid - lime juice is the best, plus a chiffonade of mint and cilantro. Add some red onion, watercress, or maybe some cucumber, and you've got a ceviche."
A major summer standby in my household is niçoise salad. While the traditional version calls for cooked potatoes and hard-boiled eggs, the recipe can be easily improvised for the hottest days. Line a plate with salad greens and pile on good tuna in olive oil, anchovies, sliced green beans, olives, red onion, tomatoes, and capers, then drizzle everything with a mustard vinaigrette. Sun-dried tomatoes, pepperoncini, marinated eggplant, and chickpeas all make happy additions. If the idea of salad doesn't appeal, the whole dish can also be stuffed into a hollowed-out loaf of bread for the French Riviera street snack pan bagnat.
Anticipating the brain melt that comes with high temperatures and staying prepared for hot summer nights helps. Frozen shrimp, crabmeat, smoked fish, store-bought rotisserie chicken, canned beans, and tortillas can all be kept at the ready for some mixing and matching with the season's best vegetables.
When all else fails, a good baguette, a jar of roasted peppers, and some cheese can be the makings of an indoor picnic.
"Everything is so good this time of year that it doesn't take much effort," Ricci says. "Even for dessert, all you have to do is cut up a watermelon or a fresh peach and you're good to go."
Prosciutto and Fig Sandwich
Makes 1 serving
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 thin slices ciabatta bread
4 paper-thin slices prosciutto
1 1/2 tablespoons goat cheese
1 ripe fresh fig or 1 tablespoon fig marmalade
Several fresh arugula leaves
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Drizzle oil on both bread slices.
2. Place prosciutto on 1 slice. Top with goat cheese, fig slices, and arugula leaves. Season with pepper. Close sandwich and serve.
- From The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches by Susan Russo
Per serving: 212 calories, 11 grams protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, 23 milligrams cholesterol, 636 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Zucchini With Sweet Corn/Mint Pesto
Makes 4-6 servings
4 large zucchini
5 cups corn kernels, divided use
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup mint, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
1. Peel zucchini and run through a spiral slicer. (Alternatively, you can use a peeler to make "fettuccine"-style noodles, or julienne by hand.) This should yield about 8 cups.
2. Process all other ingredients except olive oil and 1 cup corn in a food processor until well combined and chunky. With machine running, add olive oil. Stir in remaining cup of corn. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
3. Toss pesto with zucchini noodles and serve immediately.
- Adapted from Everyday Raw Express by Matthew Kenney
Per serving (based on 6): 335 calories, 7 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 24 grams fat, no cholesterol, 424 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.
Avocado, White Bean, and Smoked Tofu Salad With Agave Mustard Vinaigrette
Makes 4 to 6 servings
For the salad:
6 cups lettuce
Any combination of vegetables
16 ounces canned white beans, drained and rinsed
2 (8-ounce) packages smoked tofu, drained and cut into planks or cubes
1 avocado, cut into planks or cubes
1 cup black olives (optional)
Tortilla chips (optional)
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons agave nectar
2 teaspoons good-quality Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Cajun spice blend, store-bought or homemade
Salt to taste
1 small garlic clove
2 teaspoons chopped onion
½ cup olive or canola oil
Cajun spice blend (see note)
1. In a large bowl or plate, arrange lettuce and vegetables and top with beans and tofu. Add avocado and olives, if using.
2. In a blender, combine agave nectar, mustard, spices, garlic, and onion and blend. While blender runs, drizzle in oil until mixture is creamy.
3. Just before serving, spoon vinaigrette over salad. Serve with tortilla chips.
- Recipe courtesy of Rich Landau, chef/owner of Vedge
Note: To prepare Cajun spice blend, combine 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 tablespoon granulated onion, 1 tablespoon granulated garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 2 teaspoons thyme, 2 teaspoons oregano, ¼ teaspoon cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, and ¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Per serving (based on 6): 559 calories, 26 grams protein, 54 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 30 grams fat, no cholesterol, 348 milligrams sodium, 16 grams dietary fiber.
Adapted Niçoise Salad
Makes 4 to 6 servings
3 cups haricots verts or green beans, sliced thinly lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil
11/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 cups salad greens
2 cans tuna in oil, drained
1 can anchovies, rinsed and drained
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup Nicoise olives
1 cup roasted red peppers or pepperoncini, drained (optional)
1 tablespoon capers
For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons finely minced shallot
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons olive oil
Pepper, to taste
1. Prepare green beans: Toss with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Let sit, covered, for at least 30 minutes. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, make vinaigrette: Combine shallot, vinegar, and salt in a small bowl, let sit for at least 10 minutes. Whisk in mustard, then whisk in oil in a slow, steady stream. Taste and season with pepper and more salt, if needed.
3. Line a large platter with salad greens. Arrange green beans, tuna, anchovies, tomatoes, onion, olives, and peppers, if using, in small piles on top of the greens. Sprinkle with capers, a tiny pinch of salt, and some pepper. Drizzle dressing over platter and serve.
- From Elisa Ludwig
Per serving (based on 6): 326 calories, 13 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 28 grams fat, 21 milligrams cholesterol, 1,267 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.