While I love summer — and all of the delicious squash, stone fruit, watermelon and other produce the season brings — I loathe the way my modest apartment kitchen turns into a makeshift sauna during these months, making me want to spend as little time as possible within its four walls.
Heading outside and firing up the grill is one way to escape the kitchen, but that requires you to stand in front of a live fire, which doesn’t really help with the heat.
For those looking to stay cool during the hottest time of the year, here are seven tips on how to feed yourself and your family without breaking (too much of) a sweat.
Outsource part of the meal.While there is a time and place to bake bread from scratch or make your own gnocchi, summer doesn’t have to be it. Go the Sandra Lee, semi-homemade route and let someone else do at least some of the cooking for you. Pick up a rotisserie chicken or a bucket of fried chicken to go with a simple side dish for a complete meal, or grab something already in your freezer when you don’t feel like braving the outdoors. And on nights when you really want to take it easy, there’s always takeout or delivery.
Make low- and no-cook dishes.Limiting the use of your stove is one easy way to keep your kitchen cool. Gazpacho is likely one of the first dishes to come to mind — it’s a great option, but I can only do so much cold soup. You can also make no-cook meals out of ceviche, hearty salads and dips such as le grand aioli or hummus. If you’re willing to heat water, you can branch out to dishes featuring rice noodles (which only need a soak in warm water to soften) or instant couscous (which comes to life after being covered with boiling water, allowed to soften for a few minutes and then fluffed with a fork).
Every seasoned cook knows the concept of mise en place, which means gathering everything you need for a recipe at the beginning. However, knowing and doing are not always one in the same, as I tend to prep and cook simultaneously when working on a recipe. The benefit of having all of the ingredients measured, diced and sliced as needed before any of the actual cooking starts is that it allows you to spend less time with the stove on, heating your kitchen while you pause the recipe to search for a can of coconut milk or peel and dice a potato.
Embrace the toaster oven (and other small appliances).I tend to avoid turning on my oven during the summer so I don’t melt like the Wicked Witch or get an astronomical electricity bill for running the air conditioner constantly to cool off my apartment. However, you can get the same (or at least very similar) results using countertop appliances, including toaster ovens, microwaves and, of course, multicookers (a.k.a. Instant Pots). As an added bonus, these appliances use less energy than your regular oven, making them more eco-friendly.
Shift your schedule.Occasionally, timing is everything. Try shifting your cooking duties to early in the morning or late at night when it’s cooler outside, then just reheat your food or have it straight from the fridge when mealtime comes. (Related: Keeping the kitchen curtains closed helps to block some of the sun and its heat.)
Make extra … When you do decide to cook, make enough to eat for at least one or two more meals.Doubling the yield of a recipe doesn’t necessarily require doubling the effort, meaning that each portion takes less energy overall for larger batches. And if you’re worried about eating the same leftovers over and over, stash some of them in the freezer to eat a couple weeks later, and the dish will feel like new again.
… but don’t be extra.Summer is meant for relaxation, so take heed of the U.S. Navy design principle KISS, which stands for “keep it simple, stupid,” because sometimes simple is best. Especially during this time of year when the produce is as beautiful as it is, you don’t need to do much to make it shine. Just pick out a ripe heirloom tomato and you’re well on your way to a glorious tomato sandwich. And should you not have access to much fresh produce, there’s always pantry recipes to turn to that can come together in 20 minutes, such as jackfruit tacos or spicy peanut noodles.