Turn Off the Stove

3 No-Cook Dinners for When You Want to Turn off the Stove

In her newest edition of "Dinner's Ready," columnist EmilyC shows us how to rev up on flavor but keep the temps down.

August 28, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham

It's the end of the long workday (or the start of an extra-long week) and we're hungry. Like, "can't-think-straight" hungry. Luckily, Food52 contributor EmilyC wants to do all the thinking for us. In Dinner's Ready, her monthly column on weeknight wonders, she shares three simple, flavor-packed recipes that are connected by a single idea or ingredient. Stick with Emily, and you'll have a good dinner on the table in no time. Today, three summery meals that let us rev up the flavor but keep the temps down.

Every summer, I reach a point when I practically banish my sheet pans and skillets from my kitchen. Not that I don't love them (trust me, they’ll be in heavy use this fall for dinners like this and this!), but many days it’s just too hot and sticky to turn on my oven, stand over the stove, or even fire up the grill come dinnertime.

For these sweltering days, and all the lazy days in between, I turn to no-cook dishes, one of my favorite ways to play it cool in my kitchen and still eat well.

This no-cook strategy is ridiculously easy and well-suited to late summer produce: the juiciest tomatoes, the snappiest cucumbers, the sweetest corn, the prettiest summer squash. Sure, there are endless ways to roast, grill, or sauté them, but a far simpler, equally worthy path is laying off the heat entirely and letting their flavors shine.

So how do we make these no-cook gems satisfying enough for the main plate? Mix and match fresh produce with hearty ingredients that bring lots of complementary flavors and textures (and require no cooking of their own)—things like crunchy nuts, creamy avocado, tangy cheese, chewy bread, cooling yogurt, and rich, cured meats. You’ll be left with refreshing dinners that’ll stick with you but won’t weigh you down, or require much in the way of prep or clean-up.

Below I’ve included three winning examples of no-cook dinners perfect for hot evenings, or whenever you need a break from cooking. Each one is easily adaptable and ready in under 20 minutes, which means more time for kicking back, relaxing, and embracing this final stretch of summer.

Spicy Watermelon with Tomatoes, Prosciutto & Salted-Lime Yogurt

There are so many things to like about this filling, no-cook salad. It’s full of late summer’s bounty, requires little more than assembling everything on a platter, and tastes amazingly complex given the simple list of ingredients. But my absolutely favorite part? The insanely good combo of chile sauce (such as Lao Gan Ma's chile crisp!) with sweet, juicy watermelon and cooling yogurt. Even if you’re not ordinarily a fan of spicy things, you owe it to yourself to give these salty-tangy-spicy-sweet flavors a whirl before summer ends.

Summer Squash Toasts With Smashed Feta

Make these toasts once, and never again wonder what to do with a bumper crop of summer squash. Here’s the gist: Smash and mix feta with tangy sour cream, and smear it generously on thick slabs of toasted bread. Top each toast with peppery arugula, then crown with thin ribbons of lemony summer squash and crushed pistachios. The crunchy toast with the creamy feta, leafy greens, and tender, silky squash is downright exhilarating, as is the effort-to-reward ratio.

Corn, Shrimp & Avocado Salad With Chipotle-Pepita Vinaigrette

This big, hearty salad proves that you can have deep, charred-like flavors without the grill. Blend canned chipotles in adobo sauce, which are full of smoky-spicy flavors, with pepitas, lime juice, olive oil, and sour cream. Then use your tangy vinaigrette to enliven a leafy romaine salad full of all the good stuff: freshly cut corn, creamy avocado, crumbled cotija, and sweet-briny shrimp. (Pro tip: Keep a bag of fully-cooked shrimp in your freezer at all times for speedy, satisfying meals like this!)

What's your favorite no-cook summer dinner? Let us know in the comments.

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Written by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.