Summertime Cooking Hacks: How to Make Meals Without Sweating Over Them

"The best season for food is the worst season for cooking." These words, spoken by food blogger Dave Klopfenstein of Dave's Kitchen, couldn't be more true.

As spring turns into summer, farmer's markets and grocery stores are loaded with fresh, juicy fruits and vegetables—but who wants to turn on the oven or stand over a stove to cook them? And as tasty as cold sandwiches and salads can be, you can only eat so many before your stomach demands something else for nourishment.

If it's so hot your dog wants to lie down in ice, then it's too hot for you to turn on the stove. Image via Squad Fifty-One

While grilling is the obvious option, sometimes you don't want to be outside standing over an open flame—and I'm sure some of you don't even have a grill. Fortunately, there are ways to create satisfying meals without turning your house into a sauna.

Use a Slow Cooker or a Rice Cooker

The New York Times food writer Mark Bittman recommends relying on your slow cooker during high temperatures. Not only does it use minimal energy, it's pretty much foolproof. Take a few moments in the morning to combine proteins, spices, legumes, and grains in any configuration you like, and you'll come home to a yummy warm meal that you can enjoy with a glass of five-minute sangria on the porch.

Chicken with sun-dried tomatoes, lemon, and shallots, straight from the crockpot. Image via Hollie's Hobbies

Rice cookers work on the same principle as slow cookers, so you can cook many kinds of meals in there, too, whether you want to make risotto or use it as a DIY sous-vide machine. You can also make pancakes, bread, and mashed potatoes in a rice cooker, not to mention oatmeal, mac and cheese, and chicken.

For more great rice-cooker recipes, check out Yumi's full illustration. Image by Yumi Sakugawa/WonderHowTo

Toaster Ovens Work for Small Meals

For single folks or two-person households, a toaster oven is a great substitute for anything you might cook in a regular-sized oven, as long as the portions are smaller. It almost goes without saying that you can roast vegetables, make pizza, and broil fish in a toaster oven.

You can even bake bread in a toaster oven. Image via My Homemade Life

The New York Times estimates that a top-of-the-line toaster oven like a DeLonghi can comfortably prepare a dinner for up to four people. In some of the newer models, you can even roast a whole chicken.

A yummy Irish lunch thanks to the mighty toaster oven. Image by sporkist/Flickr

Greatist has a good compilation of toaster oven recipes, including one for broiled grapefruit that I've tried and loved.

Image via greatist.com

Like rice cookers and slow cookers, toaster ovens' heat output and electricity usage is minimal, so you can have a hot meal without getting hot and sweaty yourself.

Make Use of Your Pilot Light

If you have a gas oven, you've probably noticed that your pilot light creates a lot of heat. I use that to my advantage in the summer months. Although I love cold-brewed tea and coffee, sometimes I want a hot beverage in the a.m., so I set a glass jar filled with filtered water and tea on the pilot light it so it can brew overnight. This trick works with coffee, too, but the results tend to be on the weaker side unless you really use a lot of grounds.

Those pilot lights under your gas stovetop give off a surprising amount of heat, so use them. Image via American Appliance

I also use the pilot light to reheat meals. When I'm getting ready in the morning, I'll put portions of soup, stew, or chili in a heat-proof container and let it sit on the pilot. By the time lunch rolls around—voilà—I have a hot meal waiting. (Caveat: I'm not sure how safe this is in terms of bacteria growth, but I have been doing this for years with no repercussions.)

This trick has even worked with leftover pizza when it's well wrapped in foil.

The Microwave Can Do a Lot More Than Reheat Leftovers

You can use your nuker for a lot more than making popcorn and warming up last night's dinner. Microwave poached eggs might be better than the stovetop version, while you can make actual meals like meatloaf, ratatouille, mac and cheese, and even brownies for dessert.

Microwave meatloaf. Mmm. For more recipes, check out Yumi's full illustration. Image by Yumi Sakugawa/WonderHowTo

Plus don't forget the microwave is indispensable when it comes to prepping food, especially if you want to shake-shuck corn, peel garlic easily, get more juice out of lemons, and preserve herbs.

Raw Food Meals

Summertime is the perfect opportunity to go raw since there's so much fresh food around. To be considered raw, food can't be heated above a certain temperature (different opinions abound, but the usually standard is about 104° to 118°F). This is to preserve natural enzymes within the food so it's healthier, according to raw food devotees, although many dispute that claim. Most raw foodists are vegan, but some consume raw dairy or meat, which we don't recommend.

WebMD points out that the staples of raw food recipes include nuts, seeds, sprouted grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and that to prep your food, you'll need some equipment. Most raw foodists I know have a food processor or a Vitamix that they use regularly. The hardcore ones have dehydrators to make raw crackers and breads.

Raw nachos from Karyn's Raw Restaurant. Image via Eat Pure

Making raw meals is a lot more creative than making basic salads, though. Raw chili is amazing, as are raw doughnut holes, and carrot fries.

You can also find some great raw recipes for beginners to help you ease into this new way of preparing meals.

Cook with Lemon Juice

When the heat's on, it's the perfect time to turn to a classic cold dish: ceviche. Hailing from Latin America, this meal requires that you marinate fresh seafood in citrus juices. The acid in lemon and lime juice will act the way heat does and cook the fish for you. Famed chef Rick Bayless has a great recipe.

Mouthwatering scallop ceviche with red onions and scallions. Image via Brioche and Bourbon

Don't Forget Your Blender

Smoothies are a standby and a great cold breakfast or snack. But come lunchtime and dinner, you'll probably be craving something savory. A regular stand or immersion blender will work to create a healthy, light bowl of soup.

There are two cold no-cook soup classics, cucumber dill and gazpacho, but there are also other exciting contenders like Southwestern corn and shrimp, avocado, radish, and basil; and spicy BLT soup (this recipe does require cooked bacon, but you can make that in your toaster oven or microwave).

Chilled cucumber soup—no stove or oven required. Image via Prevention Magazine

Make the Most of Canned & Frozen Foods

When it's truly too hot to even think about turning on the stove, don't forget that using canned beans, tuna, and chicken or cooked frozen shrimp can help you make sandwiches, hearty salads, and appetizers that will leave everyone feeling satisfied.

Be unorthodox and pair these alongside a raw food appetizer or use them as a garnish on a cold soup or salad to make a meal complete.

How do you cope when you need to cook during hot weather?

Cover images by semarr, EBKauai, Lars Plougmann, Noodles and Beef via Flickr

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