Without a doubt, humanity advanced leaps and bounds once it became clear that cooking over fire equaled better food. But sometimes, it’s just too hot or the day’s too long to even consider turning on an oven or stove. Luckily, plenty of recipes require no heat (or very, very little) and are just as flavorful and satisfying as their cooked counterparts. Here are 19 spectacular meals for those days during a heat wave — or when cooking just isn’t on the menu.
Salads are truly the ultimate no-cook dish. This recipe from Ali Slagle is a bacchanal of textures, combining crunchy cucumbers and scallions (fresh out of an ice bath) with creamy cubes of avocado dressed in lemon juice and seasoned with salt. Add as many or as few red-pepper flakes as you’d like, and consider your lunch or dinner ready.
Say it with us: dip for dinner. A dip shares well, can take on any number of crackers and crudités, and, most important, it usually requires no heat. This recipe from Naz Deravian encourages you to use dried herbs, which anchor the brightness and zip of celery, lemon juice and tart Greek yogurt. Serve with your favorite vehicles for dip delivery and rest well knowing that the kitchen won’t be a total disaster when you’re done.
Is your summer garden overflowing with squash? Put it to use in this budget-friendly recipe from Ali Slagle, which involves softening raw zucchini in salt and lime juice and allowing toasted chickpeas and peanuts seasoned with sumac to bring crunch and heft. If you don’t want to turn on your stove, feel free to use toasted peanuts or your favorite chickpea snacks from the grocery store — just skip the added salt.
This recipe from Eric Kim is more than just a boon for beginner cooks. It’s also just the ticket for those days when you want something straightforward but delicious. Mash together canned tuna, mayonnaise, sesame oil and soy sauce, then season it to taste with furikake and sesame seeds, or scallions and a little wasabi. Spoon over last night’s leftover rice or take some to-go from a local restaurant.
Mango always shines in an unfussy setting, like this green papaya salad-inspired recipe from Kay Chun. Umami-rich fish sauce and sharp minced shallots give the salad a kick — perfect complements to mellow avocado and mango. The only hard and fast rule here: Make sure your mangoes are at peak ripeness.
The beauty of this five-star salad, based on a recipe from the chef Antoine Westermann, is that it transforms the simple into the simply divine. Strip bare a rotisserie chicken (a half-chicken should do), and prepare the rich, tangy shallot dressing with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. You can either make your own croutons or use some from the store, but either way then it’s just a matter of marrying the two over your favorite greens and finishing with curls of Parmesan.
Every kitchen should be stocked with at least a few cans of chickpeas. Not only are chickpeas filling, but they can go straight into whatever dish you’re preparing without any cooking. This new recipe from Kay Chun calls for mashing and mixing them with a tangy lemon-tahini dressing, with scallions and celery for crunch. Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano adds a touch of umami. It’s up to you whether you eat it straight out of the bowl or pile the salad between a couple of slices of multigrain bread.
Full disclosure: This recipe from Gabrielle Hamilton involves a tiny bit of cooking, but it’s the simplest kind — browning butter in a saucepan for about five minutes and toasting bread. Once that’s done, it’s a matter of mixing the results with some mayonnaise and then preparing your crab salad. Olive oil, crème fraîche, chives and lemon juice all lend zip. Voilà! Dinner in 30 minutes.
Recipe: Crab Toast
This spin on the standard caprese salad from Colu Henry involves adding cannellini beans to give the Italian favorite some heft. And the whole thing comes together in about 10 minutes. Though it works well as a side dish, Colu says you can easily make it a no-cook entree by doubling the ingredients.
Recipe: White Bean Caprese Salad
Fun fact: You don’t have to boil or sauté your hardy greens to make them tender. Simply marinate them in acidic tomato juice (along with capers, shallots and white vinegar) as Kay Chun does in this recipe for greens and beans on toast. Canned or leftover lentils ground all those bright flavors and deliver a meal you’ll come back to again and again.
This gazpacho from Julia Moskin has more than 7,400 five-star reviews and for good reason: It’s inspired by the rich, not-at-all-watery gazpachos of Seville, Spain, and makes use of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers — both stars of summer produce. Peppers, onion and sherry vinegar deliver some much-needed bite. And, with half a cup of olive oil to smooth things out, you’re more likely to gulp this strained gazpacho from a cup than to ingest it by the spoonful.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having something you would serve at a Super Bowl party for dinner, whether it’s spinach dip, queso or this cowboy caviar from Margaux Laskey. With just a bit of forethought — the caviar must be chilled for at least two hours — you can whip together this mixture of corn, black beans, black-eyed peas, onions and peppers covered with a full-bodied garlic- and vinegar-based dressing. And yes, it covers just about all the food groups, especially if you substitute lime juice for the red wine vinegar.
Recipe: Cowboy Caviar
It is a testament to the versatility of the cucumber that it comes up so often in the no-cooking discourse. After all, it is the very embodiment of freshness and ease: Just look at this recipe from Sue Li, which involves dressing salted Persian cucumbers with a medley of pantry staples — peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, garlic — and throwing in salted, roasted peanuts for crunch. As for the finishing chile oil, you can always use your favorite store-bought version, but it’s just as fun (and easy) to whip some up yourself.
In a 1981 piece, the Times Food editor Craig Claiborne writes that “it only recently occurred to me that salads, sandwiches and sauces are actually intertwined and related in a most intricate and entertaining manner.” Ever since, readers have been entertained (and enthralled) by his resulting five-star tuna salad sandwich recipe, featuring mayo-slathered tuna mixed with celery, red onion and red bell pepper and sharpened with capers and lemon juice. Feel free to riff on this classic as you see fit, opting for oil-packed tuna over water-packed or swapping the sweet bell pepper with one of its spicier cousins.
With nearly 2,000 five-star reviews, this cucumber soup from Melissa Clark doesn’t shy away from strong flavors, including acidic buttermilk, sharp sherry vinegar, jalapeños and anchovies. Creamy avocado toast topped with feta and lemon juice acts as a perfect foil to the soup, while making sure no one walks away from this meal feeling hungry.
Nothing beats the satisfying snap of biting into a well-made summer roll. Add lobster (or shrimp or crab), and that enjoyment doubles. This recipe from David Tanis, inspired by Vietnamese summer rolls, involves mixing lobster with the sharp flavors of lime, basil and ginger alongside creamy avocado. It may take a few tries to get the rolling just right, but it will all be worth it once you’re dipping these rolls in an umami-forward dipping sauce with fish sauce and brown sugar.
Recipe: Lobster Summer Rolls
When in doubt, channel the spirit of the French. This five-star recipe from the chef Steven Satterfield for a French picnic favorite requires little more than a fresh baguette with a sturdy crust, a lot of butter, and peppery arugula and radishes to cut through it all. Top with whatever fresh garden herbs you’ve got around, along with your favorite flaky sea salt, and the rest is l’histoire.
Whether they’re straight from the garden or the local grocery store, there’s no going wrong with summer tomatoes. This tomato salad from Alexa Weibel, inspired by Thai papaya salad, uses just a few key ingredients — fish sauce, serrano chiles, lime juice and ginger — to pack an unforgettable punch. Best of all, it comes together in just 15 minutes.
Is there anything more beautiful than ending a no-cook meal with a no-cook dessert? This super-simple recipe from David Tanis requires little more than an hour’s head start (so the fruit can macerate) and the dry red wine you keep around for making a rich beef stew. Nothing could be easier.
Recipe: Strawberries in Red Wine