Not to point out the obvious, but it’s seriously hot outside. With the temperature continuing to rise and the humidity becoming almost unbearable, it’s fair to say that summer has arrived in spectacular fashion. The last thing anyone wants to do, then, is spend more time than necessary sweating in front of a hot oven. In fact, let’s go one further and say it would make sense to not even switch on that oven at all.
Now that’s not to suggest you subsist on takeaways and sandwiches for the next few months - far from it. We’re just putting it out there that it’s perfectly possible – preferable, even – to prepare healthy, wholesome meals that are substantial enough for dinner, but will still leave you feeling refreshed and energised without doing any cooking at all.
The no-stress ideas that follow work well for families and larger groups, but are also perfect for solo eating, yielding delicious leftovers for the next day. Say hello to your summertime meal solutions.
Gazpacho for (hot) days
A chilled soup made from ingredients that are at their peak takes some beating when it comes to summer eating. Put chopped cucumber, red and green peppers, tomatoes, garlic, red onions and stale crusty white bread in blender, add a dash of red or white vinegar and a generous glug of olive oil, and blend well. Season with salt and black pepper. Transfer to the fridge to chill. To serve, top with goat’s cheese drizzled with honey and plenty of black pepper, and offer fresh bread on the side.
The jacket potato alternative
Think of halved, hollowed-out avocados as no-cook, low-carb replacements for baked potatoes, and you’ll suddenly find yourself with quick and easy dinner options aplenty. Much of the success of this meal idea depends on the avocado, so make sure you pick a ripe one.
Once peeled, drizzle with lemon juice to prevent the flesh from browning. Next remove the stone and add your filling. We’re partial to a prawn-cocktail-style topping, which can be made with pre-cooked prawns, thick Greek yoghurt (rather than mayonnaise) tomato ketchup, more lemon juice and plenty of Tabasco. Some other equally options are: tuna and sweetcorn; smoked salmon and cream cheese; tomato salsa, sour cream and chopped chives; and blue cheese, sliced pear and walnuts.
Greek salad hummus
Drain a can of chickpeas. Toss roughly chopped tomatoes, black olives, cucumber, shredded mint, thinly sliced red onion and chunks of feta cheese with vinegar, olive oil and dried oregano. Add the drained chickpeas, mix well and set aside to marinate (out of the fridge) for 30 minutes.
Cover the base of a large serving plate or platter with hummus. Pile the Greek salad into the middle and serve with soft Arabic bread for scooping everything up.
Spiced couscous and chicken salad
Instant couscous doesn’t require the heat of the hob to cook – boiling water works perfectly well. For the tastiest end result, add flavour from the outset: put the couscous in a bowl, add a little butter, a drizzle of olive oil, sprinkling of ground cumin and coriander, and a handful of raisins, dates or dried apricots. Pour over just-boiled water and cover tightly with cling film. Set aside for five minutes or so, to allow the couscous to cook and the dried fruit to plump up.
Meanwhile, shred a rotisserie chicken into pieces (or you can keep it meat-free if you prefer), slice a few olives and pick the leaves from three to five sprigs of mint. Run through the couscous with a fork, then stir in the chicken (if using), olives and mint.
Bresaola, white bean and peach pizza
Bresaola is brilliant for adding a salty, flavoursome meat element to no-cook meals. To make your pizza bases, warm naan breads or thick flatbreads in the toaster.
Drain a can of cooked haricot beans and tip into a bowl. Add a tablespoon of chopped rosemary, a finely chopped garlic clove, drizzle of olive oil and some lemon juice. You could also stir in a little labneh, mascarpone or ricotta at this point. Season and mash together.
Thinly slice a peach, drizzle with a little honey and dust with black pepper. Spread the mash over the warm naan or flatbreads, then add slices of bresaola and the thinly slices peaches.
Quick creamy smoked mackerel pate on toast
Remove the skin from a couple of smoked mackerel fillets, then flake the flesh into pieces, discarding any bones as you go. Put in a bowl and add three tablespoons of cream cheese, the juice and zest of a lemon and a tablespoon of mild horseradish sauce. Beat together to combine. Season with black pepper, taste and add more cream cheese/lemon/horseradish if needed.
Spread the pate over thick slices of toasted baguette and top with green leaves (rocket, baby spinach or watercress) that have been dressed with lemon juice.
Raw courgette pasta with avocado pesto
To make your no-cook, low-carb “pasta”, trim two large courgettes and turn into noodles with a spiraliser. Alternatively, use a vegetable peeler to pare the courgette into strips that can then be thinly sliced to resemble spaghetti strands. Or grate the courgette into short, pasta-like pieces with a cheese grater. Either way, once you’ve made your pasta, transfer to a sieve, sprinkle lightly with salt and leave to drain while you prepare the pesto.
To make the pesto (which is also brilliant served as a dip or spread over tortilla wraps or rolls in place of mayonnaise), put a peeled, destoned and chopped avocado in a blender with a handful of finely grated Parmesan (optional), the juice of half a lemon, a few basil leaves and half a clove of minced garlic. Blitz well to make a smooth sauce – you might need to add a little olive oil or a splash of water to get the right consistency.
Stir the pesto through the courgette pasta and finish with a scattering of flaked almonds, if you like.
Summer nachos with mango salsa and green-tofu sauce
Break crispy tortilla shells into pieces or tip a large bag of baked tortilla chips onto a tray, plate or platter. Remove the husks from two ears of sweetcorn and slice off the kernels. Peel and dice a mango. Put the sweetcorn and mango in bowl, add the leaves from half a bunch of chopped coriander, a thinly sliced red onion and a finely chopped green pepper. Drizzle with olive oil, add the juice and zest of a lime and mix well.
Next, chop 100 grams silken tofu into pieces and put in a blender with a deseeded and finely chopped green chilli, the juice and zest of half a lime and half a bunch chopped coriander. Blend until smooth, adding a little cold water to achieve a dressing-like consistency.
Pile the sweetcorn and mango salsa onto the tortilla chips, then drizzle half the tofu sauce over the top. Serve the remaining sauce on the side for dipping.