Summer Blues: Kitchen Edition

What to cook in the summer when it's too hot to cook


7/24/20234 min read

Toasted pita, grilled veggies with tahini, grilled chicken breast on blue plate
Toasted pita, grilled veggies with tahini, grilled chicken breast on blue plate

Summer is here and the farmer’s market is full of gorgeous produce — green and yellow beans, peppers of all colors, fuzzy peaches, ears of corn, and bunches of radishes and spring onions.

I want none of it.

I enjoy eating summer food but I want someone else to make it. I just don’t find the same satisfaction in making or eating summer food as I do in the cooler months. Summer food is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong. The vibrancy, the variety, and what we can do with all of the produce is never-ending. I enjoy seeing how inventive people are with the abundance.

My favorite summer foods are mostly low effort: steamed clams, grilled vegetables, grilled chicken thighs, corn on the cob. Everything else just doesn’t ring my bell. Hamburgers are usually dry, one hot dog is never enough but two is too much, ribs are amazing but I want someone else to do it. The creamy salads all have their place, but I prefer acidic sides to balance what are sometimes heavy, meaty main dishes.

I’m reminded of an article by The Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner. “Hot days are the enemy of good eating,” he writes, preferring pies over the season’s fresh salads. And I say thee, yea, Mr. Rayner. Because I thrive in temperatures around 55°F and my cooking preferences reflect that. I prefer meals where I shepherd the ingredients through a transformation — the meals where a pork shoulder becomes a hearty ragù, or a roasted chicken that lasts for a few days between re-imaginings of pot pie and soup.

I would really like a pork butt done pot roast style or macaroni and cheese, but it’s 90°F outside and my kitchen is west-facing with no blinds or shades.

My predicament in this case, is whether I want to be stuck in my kitchen preparing an actual meal in this heat. We find ourselves ordering out more frequently because we can’t be bothered. When it’s this hot and I’m this lazy, I don’t want to eat, and I don’t want to cook. So my mission is to stock up on some ingredients that can come together quickly, easily, and without too much time in the kitchen.

My go-to summer meats and marinades

I keep butterflied pork chops and chicken breasts in the freezer, and pull them out the night before I need them. I usually put some salt in at that point, just to get the process going, and then marinate in the morning when it’s thawed so it’s good to go at dinner time. It’s a good blank canvas for however you’re feeling.

My go-to marinade is lemon juice or red wine vinegar, herbs, and a bit of olive oil, but I also really enjoy soy sauce-based marinades. There’s always a jar of homemade Italian dressing in my fridge that I continuously replenish and I use that a lot. There’s also a jar of Chinese barbecue sauce I made for a change.

If you’re in a pinch, I recommend salt, pepper, an oil, and an acid just to tenderize the meat. It's really all you need for flavorful meat.

Then sauté or pan sear as you normally would. The thinner your meat is the faster it’ll cook so take care to not overcook it. You can generally pull meat about 5°F before it’s finished and it’ll come up to temp via carry over cooking.


My favorite vegetable in the summer is green beans. They’re versatile. I enjoy them raw and straight from the garden, I like them steamed, roasted, stir fried. In summer I prefer to blanch and dress them. I keep a Dijon-based dressing in the refrigerator for just this purpose. It also goes extremely well with roasted broccoli and kale (but who’s doing that in summer, I ask?) I sprinkle thinly sliced red onion, almonds, parmesan, and bacon on top. It’s an easy, tasty way to have a vegetable that doesn’t heat up the kitchen.

Sometimes I’ll marinate peppers, zucchini, and summer squash and throw them on my grill pan and top them with a garlicky tahini-based yogurt dressing.

Green bean salad with almonds and parmesan
Green bean salad with almonds and parmesan

My other favorite way to consume veggies is in salads, preferable in big irregular chunks and marinated for a while. A non-recipe recipe follows.

  • tomatoes, cut into chunks

  • cucumbers, smashed or cut into irregular chunks, seeds removed

  • any other vegetable you want (red peppers, spicy peppers, carrots, green beans)

  • red onion or shallot, thinly sliced (scallions if you want)

  • acid (I like to use red wine vinegar, sometimes I'll do 50-50 red wine and balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, distilled white vinegar, lemon juice)

  • salt and pepper

  • any kind of herb, preferable fresh. I have an abundance of basil, so I use that, sometimes it's dill, mint, cilantro, always parsley. If I use dry herbs then it's herbes de Provence.

  • grated garlic if I feel like it

  • red chili flake or gochujang

  • a binder such as olive oil, sesame oil, tahini, vegetable oil, shallot oil

  • cheese (feta or part work well here, but if I used Asian ingredients I'll skip it)


  1. Mix the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, acid, salt and pepper and any other vegetable and let all that hang out while you do other things with your life; probably around 15 minutes. When you come back there will be some juices at the bottom of the bowl — yum.

  2. Add the herbs, garlic, chili flake, your binder, and cheese and mix to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning. You should err on the side of almost too seasoned, because as it sits the flavors will mellow.

  3. Let the salad hang out while you cook the meat or any other tasks you have. Taste just before serving and adjust.

    P.S. If I have old bread or pita on hand I can turn the salad into a panzanella; that plus the chicken breast is the whole meal. You can also add it to a bowl of greens like one big salad dressing if you want.


Needless to say, I'm waiting for fall and a good braise.