What’s for Dinner on Hot Summer Nights?

Put Some “Summer Style” into Your Meals

When the weather turns hot, deciding what’s for dinner can leave you feeling completely cold and clueless.  All our usual standbys seem to lose their appeal in the heat.

The problem may lie less with the weather and more with our mealtime “wardrobe.”  Nobody dons turtlenecks and wool pants to face the heat of summer.  We switch wardrobes for the season!  Likewise, we need to put a little “summer style” into the mealtime lineup when hot weather rolls in.


While meats go hand in glove with a grill, don't forget about vegetables. I think of the grill as my "summer oven." Whether it's sweet potatoes, zucchinni or asparagus, whatever I might roast in the winter, I grill in the summer, getting the same, tender browned vegetables with a sweetly concentrated flavor.

Beyond Grilling Grilling is the most obvious option, so common in fact, that in some households the stovetop is basically mothballed for the summer.  If you’re ready to expand your summer style beyond the grill, however, there are plenty of other options.  Think *light, *cool and *fresh.

  • Light Instead of those roasts that are so comforting in December, take advantage of the wonderful fresh fish shipped down from Alaska in the summer, like salmon, halibut and cod.  Serve with a fruit salsa or fresh herb pesto.  Maybe even go meatless some nights and combine a couple vegetable dishes and a grain.
  • Light Instead of heavy stews and casseroles, get imaginative with salads.  A bed of lettuce can be the backdrop for a wide range of “accessories,” from proteins like fish, chicken and steak to beans of every color, nuts of every stripe, cheeses of every flavor, fresh herbs and of course, practically any vegetable, either raw, pan-fried or grilled.  Then play with one of the many uniquely-flavored dressings on the market if you don’t want to make your own.
  • Cool When it comes to grain dishes, serve them salad-style rather than as hot skillets.  Cook grains in the morning, cool in the frig all day, then use as a salad base.  Cooled buckwheat, for instance, tastes sweet and nutty.  Combine it with sliced sugar snap peas, sauteed onions and mushrooms, toasted walnuts and roasted red peppers.  Add a simple dressing of olive oil, fresh herbs and lemon juice and you’ve got a refreshing one-dish meal.
Fruit is another stellar salad addition, especially fresh, but dried will work until flavorful fresh fruits come to market.

Fruit is another stellar salad addition, especially fresh, but dried will work until flavorful fresh fruits come to market.

  • Cool Summer is an ideal opportunity to be lazy.  Blame the heat if “all” you get on the table is a sandwich or wrap.  But don’t be fooled; bread and tortillas can easily pack a completely filling, balanced and tasty meal.  Consider even a simple turkey wrap made with a whole grain tortilla, bursting with shredded carrots, red pepper strips, cucumber slices and lettuce.  With or without cheese, it looks like a full meal to me!  Make it even more special with pesto mayonnaise.
  • Cool Or you could skip the bread and tortillas and simply serve up some “cold cuts,” but not the kind with unpronounceable preservatives and colorings in them.  Many stores now carry deli meats that (imagine this) contain just meat flavored only by salt, spices and plant-derived compounds.  (e.g., Applegate Farms Herbed Turkey Breast).  Serve slices rolled with lettuce and tomato inside.  Or serve tofu slices Japanese style, with green onions, soy sauce and sesame seeds.  Or canned canned tuna fillets with light rye crisps and mustard.  Or cold chicken strips dipped in prepared peanut sauce.
  • Fresh Closely related to the idea of cold cuts, finger foods take advantage of the amazing array of fresh fruits and vegetables available in the hot months.  Imagine lounging on the patio in the shade, nibbling on a plate of simply sliced vine-ripened tomatoes, crisp Asian cucumbers, juicy watermelon, and chili-lime corn on the cob?  That’s one of our favorite summertime meals.  For a little more substance, pair it with cheese and crackers, hummus and pitas, nuts or French bread.
  • Fresh Pasta is perfect for summertime, especially in salads.  Hot pasta can be fine, too, just sans the heavy cream and thick tomato sauces.  Instead, combine with fresh vegetables lightly cooked and tie together with light broth-based sauces featuring fresh herbs and olive oil.  Top with a little fresh Parmesan, feta or chevre.  Check out Lynn’s Super Fast Spinach Pasta Dish in the Vegetable A Month Club for a good example–and starting point.  That dish can be creatively modified to showcase practically any of summer’s luscious vegetables.  P.S. Don’t forget to use whole grain pasta.

One final tip:  Don’t wait until 5:00 when you’re driving home in a hot car to decide on dinner.  All these great ideas will vanish like a heat mirage as you just struggle to get home intact.  Take the time now, with everything fresh in your mind, to plan several meals drawing on these ideas.

Mary Collette Rogers, meal planning master, is the author of Take Control of Your Kitchen, the guide to managing our cooking time like a pro.  Find out more about the “Plan Ahead Habit,” the most important piece of a smooth-running dinner operation.


One Response

  1. Going meatless is certainly a great way to lighten up summer meals. I intern with Meatless Monday,a non-profit that works with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to encourage cutting meat consumption to reduce the risk of preventable diseases while lowering environmental impact.
    The website has nutritious and delicious recipes (see this season appropriate Summer Tomato Sandwich: http://www.meatlessmonday.com/summer-tomato-sandwich/ )
    as well as cooking tips and news articles. For more on the campaign check out the Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpnKeYmR1NM.
    Thanks! Ashwini


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