Sometimes the last thing you need after a busy weekday is a bonding session with your kitchen oven or stove. This is especially true during the summer. So keep things cool with these simple dinner ideas, many of which can be made in advance. Best of all? There's no cooking involved.
Smoked chicken and cantaloupe salad: Arugula, shredded smoked or rotisserie chicken (use leftovers, or go for one of the pre-cooked chickens at the grocery store on your way home) and cubes of cantaloupe are tossed with a quick vinaigrette, making for a dish full of color, texture and great flavor — all in 20 minutes.
Spicy cucumber gazpacho: This cool, vibrant green gazpacho from Esperanza An Auberge Resort at Cabo San Lucas packs flavor with refreshing cucumber, creamy yogurt, fresh lime juice, mint and cilantro, along with a nice jolt of heat from Thai chile and jalapeno.
Crab salad with cucumber: Fresh chunks of crabmeat are tossed with a bright lemon vinaigrette, then layered with very thinly sliced cucumber on a plate. It's a beautiful presentation that's perfect for company, but also simple enough to serve as a weeknight family meal.
California chicken salad: This chopped chicken salad also makes great use of leftover or store-bought rotisserie chicken, combining the chopped meat with celery, black olives and apples. Sour cream and mayonnaise give the dressing extra richness, whisked with fresh lemon juice for extra tang. Fix the salad in minutes, then chill until ready to serve.
Thomas Keller's gazpacho: This gazpacho from Thomas Keller, featured as part of a Master Class on soups, is a perfect way to beat the heat. And it's also substantial enough to be a meal on its own. The recipe calls for chilling it overnight before blending and serving; this helps the flavors to develop and marry, though I've made the morning of, and also shortly before serving (chill over an ice bath, and leave a little thyme in while blending) and found the flavors still incredibly bright and refreshing.
Chickpea salad with chorizo: Whether you call them garbanzo beans or chickpeas, if you're a fan, you won't get a much better chance to enjoy them than this refreshingly bright salad, one of our Top 10 Recipes from 2011. Marinate chickpeas in a blend of lemon juice, olive oil and salt, then toss them with some Spanish chorizo, tomatoes and a little garlic, green onion, parsley and bell pepper. Marinate the beans first thing in the morning, then assemble the salad in the last few minutes before you sit down to eat.
Urth Cafe's gazpacho: Fresh tomato, cucumber, onion and bell pepper form the base of this soup, brightened with a touch of red wine vinegar and lemon juice and spiced with cayenne pepper and hot sauce. Fix it ahead of time if you'd like, then simply chill before serving.
Chilled avocado and watercress soup with shrimp: Creamy avocado and fresh, slightly peppery wartercress, mix together in this soup topped with shrimp. That's it.
Cherry and apricot fruit salad: Showcase some of summer's best fruits with this colorful cherry, apricot and honeydew salad. Marinate the fruit with Muscat wine, sugar, lemon and lime juices, and fresh basil, then cover and chill until ready to serve. You can find the recipe below.
CHERRY AND APRICOT FRUIT SALAD
Total time: 15 minutes, plus marinating time | Serves 6
Note: From former test kitchen director Donna Deane. You can substitute a sweet white wine such as Sauternes, Barsac, Monbazillac, Muscat de Rivesaltes or Muscat de St.-Jean-de-Minervois for the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise.
1 pound cherries, stemmed, pitted and halved
1/2 pound apricots, halved, pitted and cut into wedges
2 cups diced honeydew (cut into 1-inch pieces)
1/2 cup Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced basil
In a large bowl, combine the cherries, apricots and honeydew. Stir in the Muscat, then sprinkle in the sugar and add the lime juice and lemon juice. Stir to combine. Cover and let stand 30 minutes before serving so the flavors blend. Stir in the basil just before serving.
Each serving: 116 calories; 2 grams protein; 24 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 13 mg. sodium