Summer’s bounty is so vibrant and delicious on its own, it’s easy and enjoyable to forgo cooking by making the season’s produce the star of a dish. For a meal that’s as satisfying as one that you’ve spent all day cooking, focus on smart shopping and artful assembly. Here’s the formula to commit to memory: Select at least one variety of ripe raw fruit or vegetable, a prepared protein, a starch and seasonings, then combine them into a big salad, a generously topped toast, a hearty dip or an abundant snack tray.
By keeping just one or two ingredients from each of the categories below on hand, you have what you need to throw together a complete no-cook meal in minutes. You ultimately want to combine contrasting textures, such as soft tofu with thinly sliced snap peas, so be sure to choose a mix of crunchy, creamy and juicy basics. On top of standard pantry seasonings, also pick up preflavored options for an instant boost, such as herbed goat cheese.
Raw fruits and vegetables: Melons, berries, citrus and avocado; crunchy vegetables like cucumbers, snap peas and radishes; leafy greens like bok choy, kale and soft herbs; and other summer staples like corn, peppers and zucchini.
Prepared proteins: Cooked or cured meat like rotisserie 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 like yogurt, ricotta and crème fraîche or Parmesan, Manchego and Cheddar.
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 mixes (everything-bagel seasoning, za’atar); savory items like pickles, olives and capers; sauces like mustard, hot sauce, chile oil, fish sauce and mayonnaise.
Putting Them Together
Arrange your ingredients into one of the formats below, following the no-recipe recipes or creating your own. Cold food and raw produce require plenty of salt to bring out their flavor, so remember to taste and adjust seasonings before serving.
Big Salads: Include a variety of fats, starches and proteins for heft. The dressing can be as simple as oil and vinegar or as elaborate as creamy blue cheese.
Macerate shallots and nectarines in lemon juice, then toss with spinach, shredded chicken and pita chips. Eat with buttermilk-goat cheese dressing. (See recipe.)
Combine cooked lentils, smashed green raw beans, sliced apricots, fresh mint leaves and candied pecans with a blue cheese dressing. Top with crushed rosemary crackers.
Mix up thinly sliced raw shishito peppers and scallions with canned tuna and canned white beans. Dress with lemon juice and zest and toasted sesame oil. Top with nori rice crackers.
Topped Toasts: Pile toppings onto bread, using something creamy like ricotta or hummus to help loose ingredients stick to the toast. Or fold, roll or sandwich toppings in a tortilla, pita, lavash or flatbread.
Mix fresh corn kernels with chopped cantaloupe, cilantro, salami and almonds. Spoon onto split baguettes spread with ricotta . (See recipe.)
Layer avocado, sprouts, hummus, sliced feta and pickled jalapeños between 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: Make a protein-rich dip by using smashed beans, silken tofu, nut butter or smoked fish or meat.
Serve smoked salmon dip with cucumbers, tomatoes, bagel chips and pickled vegetables. (See recipe.)
Stir together fresh corn, ricotta and ’nduja. Use radishes and multigrain crackers to dip.
Make seven-layer dip using drained canned black beans, then serve with tortillas and spicy chips.
Snack Trays: Artfully arrange ingredients on a baking sheet or platter and, look, you made dinner.
Assemble a main-course antipasti platter with celery, avocado, cured meats, mozzarella, focaccia, pickled peppers and mustard.
Dress shaved raw beets with vinegar and serve alongside grapes, smoked salmon, pastrami, Cheddar, pretzel chips and sauerkraut.
Toss white beans with harissa and set out with tomatoes, watermelon, mint, almonds, goat cheese and olive bread.
Now that the question of dinner is answered, what will you do with your free time? Soak up the setting sun? Chase down the ice cream truck? Think about what you’re not cooking for dinner tomorrow?