How to Beat the Heat in the Kitchen This Summer

You have to think beyond the stove.

summer salad

@purpleperny via Twenty20 

July was an exceedingly hot month here in Ontario, Canada, and even though we're enjoying a brief respite now at the start of August, the weather forecast says the temperature is set to climb again. When it's hot, I dread turning on the stove or oven because it heats up the entire room, but my eternally-hungry young family still needs to eat three times a day. So I've learned over the years to tweak my summer cooking habits to use as little of the stove as possible, and I find this makes a big difference. Here's what I do.

1. Use a Smaller Appliance.

Who needs a stove and oven when you've got a slow cooker, an Instant Pot, a toaster oven, a panini press, a waffle iron, an electric griddle, and more? You can do a lot with these small appliances (apparently you can even make cakes in an Instant Pot) and they can even be set up outside on a deck or covered porch.

2. Use Your Barbecue. 

Barbecues aren't just for grilling meat and plant-based proteins; you can use them as a heat source for frying foods (felafel?) in an oil-filled cast iron pan, for cooking pizza dough or naan bread right on the grill, for cooking diced vegetables wrapped in foil packets, for grilling pieces of halloumi cheese to top a grain bowl, for melting cheese onto a tray of nachos, or cooking whole cobs of corn (forget the enormous pot of boiling, steaming water). Check out 17 Recipes for an Unforgettable Vegan Barbecue.

3. Choose Quick-Cooking Proteins. 

This is where being vegetarian or vegan really shines. It takes next to no time to cook up some tofu, tempeh, eggs, or lentil meatballs, meaning your kitchen won't heat up as much. If you do eat meat, stick with marinated chicken skewers, fish filets, boneless pork chops, and thin steaks. 

4. Eat Sandwiches or Wraps.

By this, I mean good ones, the kind that make you feel as though you haven't given up on dinner, but rather nailed it like some kind of gourmet café. Toasted tomato sandwiches with mayo and fresh basil are a great favorite of my children. Grill an eggplant next time your BBQ is on and transform it into baba ghanouj, a fabulous sandwich spread, or turn chickpeas into garlicky hummus. 

5. Assemble Serious Salads.

This is the season when vegetables really shine, so hopefully you're eating a lot of them. Make lettuce-based salads and fill them out with chopped salted cucumbers, thinly sliced radishes, fresh herbs, heirloom tomatoes, and whatever else you have. Top with chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, and cheese to add flavour, texture, and protein, and you'll have a full meal in itself.

6. Have a Table Picnic.

I also think of it as a charcuterie-style meal, when a wide variety of cold or room-temperature ingredients are laid out on the dinner table for everyone to eat as they please. These usually include pickles or pickled vegetables, olives, sliced fresh baguettes, crackers, Boursin or another spreadable cheese, hard cheese, hummus, carrot sticks, tomatoes, salami or plant-based alternatives, and some potato chips as a treat.

7. Buy the Main Dish, Make the Rest.

Because we're a family of five, it's not at all economical to eat out, so we save that for special occasions. Instead, I will sometimes order a couple main dishes and then round out the meal with extras, such as that serious salad I mentioned above or a pot of steamed rice. The main could be a few servings of chickpea vindaloo, butter paneer, peanut stew, or battered-and-fried local whitefish.

8. Make Tasty, Interesting Sauces.

If you make some delicious sauces, these can guide your meal choices. Spicy peanut sauce, chimichurri or charmoula, pesto, homemade Caesar salad dressing, etc. are fabulous additions to a range of dishes, such as grilled vegetables, grain bowls, pasta, rice paper wraps, and more. I know that having these sauces in my fridge makes me eat more vegetables throughout the workweek. Check out Melissa's thorough list of condiments to enhance your pantry.

9. Go Flat. 

I mentioned quick-cooking proteins earlier, but don't forget about quick-cooking flat breads. I like to make savory crepes, which cook in a matter of seconds, as well as pancakes and waffles. Sometimes I buy a powdered mix for dosas (an Indian lentil crepe, traditionally filled with curried potato) that my kids like. 

10. Discover No-Bake Desserts.

There are many great no-bake dessert options out there. One of my favorite cookie recipes is almond butter-coconut macaroons that only need to be refrigerated. This is the time to explore making ice cream from scratch, to cook quick stovetop puddings and layer with sliced fruit and whipped cream, to try a berry cobbler on the barbecue or a no-bake cheesecake. 

Last but not least, when you do have to turn on the stove, make the biggest batches of food you can, and store them until you're ready to eat.