The bounty of summer is so vibrant and delicious in itself that it’s easy and enjoyable to forgo cooking and make seasonal produce the star of a dish. For a meal as satisfying as one you’ve spent all day cooking, focus on smart shopping and smart assembly. Here’s the formula to remember: select at least one variety of ripe raw fruits or vegetables, prepared protein, starch, and seasonings, then combine them into a large salad, a generously garnished toast, a hearty dip, or a platter of plentiful snacks.
Choose the ingredients
By keeping an ingredient or two from each of the categories below handy, you’ve got what you need to whip up a complete no-bake meal in minutes. You ultimately want to combine contrasting textures, such as soft tofu with thinly sliced snow peas, so be sure to choose a mix of crunchy, creamy, and juicy bases. Along with standard pantry seasonings, also choose pre-flavored options for an instant boost, like herb goat cheese.
Raw fruits and vegetables: Melons, berries, citrus and avocado; crunchy vegetables like cucumbers, snow peas and radishes; leafy greens like bok choy, kale and sweet herbs; and other summer staples like corn, peppers and zucchini.
Prepared proteins: Cooked or salted meat such as roast chicken, prosciutto and jerky; canned tuna or salmon; smoked salmon or trout; canned beans; Hummus; Tofu; nuts, seeds and butters; soft or hard dairy products such as yogurt, ricotta and crème fraîche or parmesan, manchego and cheddar cheese.
Starches: Bread, chips, crackers, rice cakes, pretzels, corn nuts and other snacks that make you smile.
Seasonings: Oil, vinegar, salt and pepper are essential, but consider ground spices and spice blends (all-seasoning for bagel, za’atar); salty items like pickles, olives and capers; sauces like mustard, hot sauce, chili oil, fish sauce and mayonnaise.
Put them together
Arrange your ingredients in one of the formats below, following the recipes without a recipe or creating your own. Cold foods and raw products require a lot of salt to bring out their flavor, so be sure to taste and adjust the seasonings before serving.
Large salads: Include a variety of fats, starches, and protein for the weight. The dressing can be as simple as oil and vinegar or as elaborate as creamy blue cheese.
Macerate the shallots and nectarines in lemon juice, then toss them with the spinach, grated chicken and pita chips. Eat with a buttermilk and goat cheese vinaigrette. (See recipe.)
Toss cooked lentils, mashed raw green beans, sliced apricots, fresh mint leaves and candied pecans with a blue cheese vinaigrette. Top with crushed rosemary crackers.
Toss thinly sliced raw shishito peppers and green onions with canned tuna and canned white beans. Garnish with lemon juice and zest and toasted sesame oil. Top with nori rice crackers.
Garnished toasts: Stack the toppings on the bread, using something creamy like ricotta or hummus to help the loose ingredients adhere to the toast. Or fold, roll, or roll sandwich fillings into a tortilla, pita, lavash, or flatbread.
Toss fresh corn kernels with chopped cantaloupe, cilantro, salami and almonds. Place on split baguettes spread with ricotta. (See recipe.)
Arrange the avocado, sprouts, hummus, feta slices and marinated jalapeños between the potato buns.
Spread mayonnaise on a pumpernickel bagel, then top with canned sardines, thinly sliced bok choy, grated Parmesan and toasted sesame seeds.
Hearty dips: Prepare a high protein dip using mashed beans, silken tofu, nut butter, or smoked fish or meat.
Serve the smoked salmon dip with cucumbers, tomatoes, bagel chips and pickled vegetables. (See recipe.)
Combine the fresh corn, ricotta and ‘nduja. Use radishes and multigrain crackers for dipping.
Make seven layer dip using drained canned black beans, then serve with tortillas and spicy chips.
Snack trays: Arrange the ingredients artfully on a baking sheet or platter and, look, you’ve made dinner.
Assemble an antipasto main dish with celery, avocado, cold cuts, mozzarella, focaccia, pickled peppers and mustard.
Dress the grated raw beets with vinegar and serve with raisins, smoked salmon, pastrami, cheddar cheese, pretzel chips and sauerkraut.
Toss white beans with harissa and garnish with tomatoes, watermelon, mint, almonds, goat cheese and olive bread.
Now that the dinner issue is resolved, what will you do with your free time? Enjoy the setting sun? Chase the ice cream truck? Think about what you’re not making for dinner tomorrow?