I tend to be a bit delusional when it comes to summer. All winter long, I think, “This would be so much easier if it were summer. I can’t wait until it’s warm.”
And then summer comes and I remember that extreme heat makes every chore more arduous, and I end up counting the minutes until I’m in an air-conditioned room as soon as I step outside. In other words, I’m a whiny baby all year long.
So it’s hard to save money in sweltering months because my instinct is to keep the stove off and eat out instead. To resist the urge, I have some go-to, easy favorites that are cool, tasty, and more about compiling than actually cooking. Since they’re cold, they’re also great to make on Sunday and bring to work during the week.
I’ve been making a cold green bean salad for years for everything from dinner parties to a quick picnic side.
You simply blanch fresh green beans, wait for them to chill (I sometimes marinate them in balsamic vinegar overnight in the fridge for extra flavor) and add fresh tomatoes and cucumbers (red peppers and onions are also a great addition). Season and dress with extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar; top with a layer of mozzarella when you’re ready to serve. Make sure to have some Italian bread on hand to sop up the leftover dressing. For a variation, try green beans, walnuts, tomatoes, and blue cheese.
Tuna is another perfect cold ingredient. Try mixing tuna, chopped kalamata olives, a chopped artichoke heart, fresh oregano, a squeeze of lemon, and mayo or olive oil. Fill a pita with lettuce and the tuna mix and you’ve got a Mediterranean treat for a summer day. (Please note: you’ll just have to use your imagination for the Mediterranean scenery.)
With the hodgepodge you have left in your fridge or pantry, you can put together an easy antipasto salad. Grab your leftover artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, fresh oregano, and mozzarella and add to cold, cooked pasta with roasted red peppers (fresh are also great for extra crunch), pepperoni, provolone cheese, and peas. There isn’t much you can’t put in this salad—you could add marinated veggies, cooked chicken, or fresh herbs. I usually mix with olive oil and vinegar, but a bottle of Italian dressing is definitely the fastest way to go—just pour on and mix things up.
If you’re not a salad-and-sandwich type, using a Crockpot is a great way to avoid the heat of the oven and the actual physical activity of cooking—just toss together some ingredients and give them a few hours of alone time. Some of my Crockpot favorites include chicken with yellow rice and peas, beef or chicken stew with hearty veggies, and turkey chili. Or, to add to the “compiling over cooking” theme, cook proteins in the toaster oven and eat with low maintenance sides—some seasoned chicken with microwave-steamed asparagus and FreshDirect roasted potatoes, for example.
Stay cool out there. And by all means, never let heat get in the way of good food.