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Beat the heat: Five summer meals that won’t make you break a sweat

by Kelly Brant | July 27, 2022 at 2:07 a.m.
Chicken, Stone-Fruit, Avocado Salad With Poppy Seed Dressing (Arkansasa Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

There's a garden nursery I drive past a few times a week with a sign out front that says something along the lines of it's never too hot to plant.

I beg to differ.

Right now it's too hot to do anything that doesn't involve air conditioning and cold beverages.

But one can't survive on cold beverages alone (unless said beverage is actually a protein-rich smoothie).

We've got to eat.

But the last thing I want to do right now is stand over a hot stove, or worse, an outdoor grill.

My dinner goals lately have consisted of finding something filling to eat that won't heat up the kitchen or require too much effort: salads, sandwiches, grazing boards, cold dips and crudite, takeout and leftovers. Once or thrice, dinner may have been a bowl of cold cereal with sliced fruit or even a handful of crackers and a bowl of ice cream. (Don't judge.)

Those are all OK when we have a few days or maybe a week of extreme heat, but I fear we're in it for the long haul this year.

The following recipes will (hopefully) get you out of your it's-too-hot-to-cook dinner rut and provide some inspiration for the rest of the summer and early fall.

Some will require a little advance preparation or using prepared foods from the grocery store — rotisserie chicken, granola and cooked/canned beans.

Homemade granola will keep in an airtight container for at least a week, probably much longer, if the weather isn't too humid. Cooked chicken will keep for three to four days. Home-cooked and (opened) canned beans will keep for three to five days.

I used canned beans in all of the following recipes, but if you prefer to cook your own from dry, a pressure cooker will keep your kitchen cooler and cook the beans quickly. You'll need 1 ½ cups of cooked beans per 15.5-ounce can called for in the recipe.


This recipe takes a bit of work — slicing, dicing, shredding, shaking — but pays off in flavor. I find most bottled poppy seed dressings to be much too sweet, so I often make my own. Feel free to use your favorite here or another dressing entirely.

Chicken, Stone-Fruit, Avocado Salad With Poppy Seed Dressing

  • Salad:
  • 8 cups baby spinach
  • 2 ripe peaches, nectarines or plums, halved, pitted and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups cubed or shredded cooked chicken
  • ¼ to ½ small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup not-too-sweet granola, purchased or homemade (recipe follows)
  • Poppy seed dressing:
  • ½ tablespoon minced red onion or shallot
  • ½ tablespoon poppy seeds
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ½ cup neutral or mild oil (I like sunflower)
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • Generous pinch salt

In a large bowl, combine spinach, fruit, chicken, red onion and feta.

In a small lidded jar, combine the minced onion, poppy seeds, vinegar, honey, oil, mustard and a pinch of salt. Shake vigorously until combined.

Drizzle about ½ cup of the dressing over the salad and gently toss to coat. Top with avocado and granola. Serve immediately with additional dressing as desired. (You'll likely have some dressing left over. It'll keep for about a week in the refrigerator.)

Makes about 4 servings.

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Homemade granola will require turning on the oven, but if you make a big batch early in the week, say, late at night or early in the morning when it won't heat up the house too much, you'll have something crunchy to munch on all week long.


  • 3 cups rolled oats (I like a combination of quick-cooking and old-fashioned)
  • 2/3 cup seeds such as sunflower and/or pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup nuts such as almonds or pecans
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted seeds/nuts)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, cardamom, cumin or coriander, optional
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper, optional
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • ½ cup dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries or freeze-dried berries

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine oats, seeds, nuts, salt and cinnamon.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil and honey. Add the oil mixture to the oat mixture, stirring until completely combined. Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, add dried fruit and allow to cool completely before breaking into clumps.

Makes about 4 cups.

  photo  Watermelon, Cucumber and Mint Salad (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  This combination of watermelon, cucumber, tart lime, spicy hoisin, cilantro, mint and peanuts is magic in your mouth. If you don't like cilantro, substitute basil. Hoisin sauce flavor varies considerably by brand, so start with the lesser amount and add more if needed. Look for it on the international aisle or with the Asian ingredients at well-stocked supermarkets.

Watermelon, Cucumber and Mint Salad

  • 1 to 1 ½ English cucumbers, halved lengthwise and sliced (about 2 ½ to 3 cups)
  • 3 to 4 cups cubed watermelon
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce, or to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts

Combine cucumbers and watermelon in medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 15 minutes and up to 4 hours. Drain; discard liquid.

Whisk lime juice and hoisin sauce in small bowl to blend. Taste and add more lime juice or hoisin sauce as needed. Pour dressing over cucumber-watermelon mixture and toss gently.

Transfer mixture to a platter or wide, shallow bowl. Sprinkle salad with cilantro, mint and then peanuts. Serve immediately.

Makes about 4 servings.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

  photo  Bean Salad With Lemon-Parsley Hummus (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  The bean salad and hummus here are fantastic together, but can be served separately if desired. Both will keep, stored separately in the refrigerator, for a few days.

Bean Salad With Lemon-Parsley Hummus

  • For the salad:
  • 2 (15.5-ounce) cans kidney beans, rinsed and well drained (3 cups cooked)
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and well drained (1 ½ cups cooked)
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced (about ½ cup)
  • ½ English cucumber, diced, or 1 medium slicer cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • ½ to ¾ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill OR mint OR a combination
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¾ teaspoon fine salt
  • Small pinch red pepper flakes
  • For the hummus:
  • 2 to 5 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt, divided use, plus more to taste
  • 4 to 8 tablespoons tahini (if you prefer Israeli-style hummus, use the full amount; for Greek-style use less)
  • 4 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed, divided use
  • 1 ½ (15.5-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and well drained (2 ¼ cups cooked)
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • Pinch or two ground black pepper
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
  • Sumac, for garnish (optional)
  • Red pepper flakes, for garnish (optional)
  • Pita or other flatbread, for serving

To make the bean salad: In a serving bowl, combine the kidney beans, chickpeas, onion, celery, cucumber, parsley and dill (and/or mint).

In a small bowl or lidded jar, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper flakes, whisking or shaking until emulsified. Pour dressing over the bean and vegetable mixture and toss thoroughly. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

To make the hummus: In a food processor, combine the garlic, 1/3 cup lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon salt; pulse until pureed; let sit 10 minutes to allow garlic to mellow.

Strain garlic mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl, pressing on solids to release as much liquid as possible. Return liquid to the food processor; discard solids. Add the tahini and pulse to combine. With motor running, add ice water by the tablespoonful and process (it may seize up at first) until mixture is very smooth, pale and thick; scrape the sides of the food processor as needed. Add the chickpeas, parsley, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and the pepper and process until completely smooth and creamy, at least 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the food processor as needed. If the hummus is too thick, add additional water, one tablespoonful at a time, until desired texture is reached. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and/or lemon juice.

Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with the olive oil and dust with sumac and more red pepper flakes, if desired.

Serve with bean salad and pita.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Recipe adapted from "Ethnic Cuisine: How to Create the Authentic Flavors of Over 30 International Cuisines" by Elisabeth Rozin and

  photo  Corn and Bean Salad With Cumin-Lime Vinaigrette (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  To turn this side salad into the main dish, add some cheese, shredded rotisserie chicken or a few cooked shrimp.

Corn and Bean Salad With Cumin-Lime Vinaigrette

  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can beans such as black beans, kidney beans or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons minced yellow onion
  • ¾ to 1 cup cooked corn kernels (from 1 ear fresh corn; frozen or canned is OK, too)
  • 1 jalapeno or Fresno chile, seeded and minced, or to taste
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon ancho or other chile powder
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 small head romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
  • A few handfuls tortilla chips, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves and tender stems

Combine beans, onion, corn and chile in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, oil, vinegar, chili powder and cumin. Season with salt and pepper and whisk again. Toss vinaigrette with black bean mixture. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. Just before serving, combine the bean-corn mixture with the romaine, corn chips and cilantro and toss gently to combine.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Recipe from Serious Eats

  photo  Summer Rolls (Democrat-Gazette file photo)  We like to serve these summer rolls family style, letting each diner assemble their own, so everyone gets the exact ratio of filling ingredients they like. However, if desired, the rolls can be made ahead. Cover the assembled rolls with plastic wrap or a damp towel and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 6 hours.

Summer Rolls

  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon minced lemon grass
  • Ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 24 small cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 ounces dried rice vermicelli OR cellophane noodles
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Rice paper wrappers (see notes)
  • 1 small head soft lettuce such as butter, bibb or Boston, leaves separated
  • 2 to 3 cups shredded or julienned fruits and vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, bean sprouts, cabbage, red bell pepper, mango, avocado
  • Fresh mint, cilantro and/or chives
  • Desired dipping sauce (recipe follows)

In bowl, combine fish sauce, lemon grass, black pepper, sugar and shrimp. Set aside while you prepare the noodles.

Place the rice vermicelli in a large bowl of hot water and let steep for 2 to 3 minutes or until softened. (Or prepare according to package directions.) Drain well, squeezing out as much water as possible. Set aside.

Cut each shrimp down the middle of its back so that you have two identical halves of shrimp.

Fill a wide shallow bowl or other dish with water and place it in the center of the table where everyone can reach it easily.

Arrange the shrimp, vermicelli noodles, lettuce leaves, carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts, cabbage, bell pepper, mango and avocado slices on a platter next to the bowl of water.

To assemble: Dip one rice paper round in the water for 2 seconds, or just until slightly softened. Place on clean, dry surface. Blot dry with a paper towel. The wrapper will still be a little stiff. Lay a lettuce leaf near the bottom third of the round. Top with 4 shrimp halves, a small pile of vermicelli noodles and remaining filling as desired, ending with a bit of mint, cilantro and/or chives. Try to keep the ingredients compact and piled on top of the lettuce. Starting with the side closest to you, roll the wrapper tightly around filling. The wrapper is self-sealing. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

Serve with dipping sauce.

Makes about 12 rolls.

Notes: Rice vermicelli and rice paper wrappers are available at Asian markets and some well-stocked supermarkets. If you can't find rice paper wrappers, just use large lettuce leaves to wrap your rolls.

Recipe adapted from

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This easy dipping sauce can be made with any nut butter you like — peanut, cashew, almond or even sunflower.

Dipping Sauce

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons any nut butter (smooth or crunchy)
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce (see notes)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons white vinegar OR lime juice
  • 5 tablespoons any milk or water
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon crushed chile flakes, sambal oelek or other chile paste, adjust amount to taste (optional)

Loosely whisk together all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on 100% power for 30 seconds. Mix again until smooth. Set aside to cool. Adjust sourness with vinegar, saltiness with salt and spiciness to taste. Thickness can be adjusted with milk or water once cooled.

Makes a generous ½ cup.

Notes: Hoisin sauce and sambal oelek are available on the international aisle or with the Asian ingredients at well-stocked supermarkets.

Recipe adapted from

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