These minimal-prep lunches and dinners are prefect for steamy days.

By Alex Van Buren
Updated May 01, 2018

Oy, it’s hot. Not only are you not going to cook today, you don’t even want to look at the stove. You’re not going to simmer, dice, broil, or sauté a darn thing. We feel you. For those days, there’s one solution: the no-cook, minimal-prep meal. Here’s how to keep your cool in the kitchen.

Charcuterie supper

Hey, if it works on a patio in Paris, it can work in a studio apartment. Open the windows and a bottle of wine, grab some grapes, figs, or whatever fruits are in season, and find the prettiest platter or cutting board you own. Slice some cured meat, such as Spanish chorizo, unravel a few slices of prosciutto di Parma, drop a fistful of olives on the board, and let a hunk of good cheese come to room temperature. Add cornichons, a little dish of mustard, another of butter, baguette, and a pretty knife. If you feel like washing greens, drying them, and dressing them in a splash of homemade vinegar-mustard-oil, great. If not, no problem. (Pickles are vegetables!) I’m quite liking the Italian rosatos on the market this year, particularly the spicier ones, which tend to be delicious with food.

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Niçoise variations

If you have oil-packed tuna in a can, turn it into any variation on a Niçoise salad. Traditionally, that salad contains potatoes, string beans, tomatoes, tuna, anchovies, capers, olives, olive oil, and vinegar. But yours can contain whatever odds and ends you have knocking about. Maybe you have canned small white beans in the pantry; drain them and add them to whatever greens you have, plus tuna, and maybe capers. Add a fistful of chopped fresh soft herbs, and make a lemony vinaigrette with mustard, olive oil, salt, pepper and Champagne vinegar. You can always fold in soft-cooked eggs, skip the beans, or chop up pickles for acidity. Keep it simple.

Caprese salad

Sliced mozz, good tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, out. That’s all there is to a caprese salad, which you could make more acidic with a splash of balsamic vinegar, more protein-packed by adding in other elements, or more complete by serving with sliced baguette. But at its most basic, it’s a four-ingredient stunner.

Prosciutto and butter on baguette

A wonderful thing you can do if you’re about to go on a hike or a picnic is make a butter-and-prosciutto sandwich, as the Europeans do. Chef Nancy Silverton has a precise recipe for this that includes a knockout scallion oil, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that imported prosciutto (unless it’s high-quality domestic) draped over a split baguette spread with butter is one of the nicest things you can do for yourself. Bonus: As is true of New Orleanian muffulettas, the travel time actually improves the sandwich itself. Unwrapping this bad boy on a mountaintop after a tough hike is the food equivalent of a day at the spa.

Bagel lox spread

Fresh bagels, untoasted and split, with piles of capers, sliced red onions, lox, smoked trout, whitefish spread, cream cheese and maybe a pile of olives or pickles on the side is such a lovely meal. It doesn’t need to be Sunday brunch to enjoy such a classic combination, and it’s always tasty.

Things on toast

Toasters don’t heat up an apartment very much, and you get to walk away from the heat source during the cookery. So consider ricotta and honey with black pepper; prosciutto and butter and pickles; a nice thick slab of cheddar and spicy chutney; sliced fennel salami and jarred roasted peppers. (My go-to is a bit of butter, then creamy peanut butter right on the warm toast, because that’s how I live.)

Spreads, cheese and crudité

A cheese platter is great but—on its own—may leave you feeling a little wonky, so why not bust out a few great dips and spreads? Make your own in advance or buy pre-made; when there’s great hummus, zhoug, and other dips on the market, why not? Set out little pots of them with fresh carrots, celery, snap peas, and peppers. You can do pita chips, sliced bread, or whatever starch appeals. And radishes—they’re in season!—with sea salt and butter are beloved for good reason.

Farmers’ market haul

A similar approach is walking to the farmers’ market, buying the fresh fruits, veggies and soft cheeses and a baguette, and finding someplace green to tuck into it all. Think: blueberries, strawberries, ricotta, bread, local honey, and snap peas. Just pack napkins in your bag, tear the bag as you go, and prepare to get a little messy.

Chicken liver mousse with baguette

Lots of gourmet grocery stores are offering decent pâtés and mousses, so if you like liver—including liverwurst—consider it as an alternative to pre-sliced lunch meats. It’s lovely with bread, spicy mustard, and cornichons. Finish with fresh fruit and call it a day.

Alex Van Buren—follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen—is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and content strategist who has written for The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, and Epicurious.