When temperatures are soaring, the thought of cooking can be overwhelming at best and repellant at worst; who wants to add tons of extra heat and energy to an already oven-like kitchen? Although takeout is convenient and restaurants are (mostly) air-conditioned, over time these options can become costly (and they can make it difficult to stay within your daily SmartPoints budget.) The following tips are super-simple, require only a small amount of planning and will help you (and your family) stay cool as a cucumber when the heat feels unbearable.
Prep everything you need for a filling salad, any time of day
For ultimate ease, you can purchase pre-cooked chicken breast and salmon fillets from a commercial salad bar or deli (or, if you prefer, you can cook your own using any of the cooking methods listed below.) Buy a tub of-prewashed greens or wash and dry your own using a salad spinner, storing the greens in a large resealable bag with a folded sheet of paper towel. Keep a stash of sliced cucumber, bell peppers, carrots, grated beets, and broccoli handy in individual containers (leave tomatoes whole until they’re ready to be used, they have a tendency to turn slimy.) Extras such as olives, feta cheese, sundried tomatoes, pickled onions, and toasted nuts and seeds add big flavour and will make the salad feel satisfying and special (just be sure to add feta cheese, nuts and seeds judiciously.)
Get inspired by soba noodles
Sturdy enough for noodle salads, soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour and have a pleasant, nutty flavour. You can make a big batch of soba noodle salad for the entire week, the only heat needed is to cook the actual soba noodles. Rinse the cooked soba noodles with cold water and let drain completely; transfer the drained noodles to a large salad bowl and gently toss with a generous teaspoon of roasted sesame oil. Add grated carrots, thinly sliced scallions, cucumber, sweet or spicy fresh peppers, plenty of cilantro and toasted sesame seeds. Toss the soba noodle salad with a dressing made from 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and toasted sesame oil, the juice of 1 fresh lime, and 1 teaspoon honey. Store soba noodle salad in the fridge for up to one week.
Make a cottage cheese bowl
Cottage cheese makes a surprisingly delicious base for this riff on a classic savoury grain bowl. Add plenty of chopped, crunchy vegetables (cucumbers and bell peppers are especially good), canned tuna and a scoop of cooked lentils or chickpeas. You can serve cottage cheese bowls on a bed of alfalfa sprouts, shredded cabbage mix, lettuce or microgreens. Toasted sesame seeds and sunflower seeds, strips of cut-up nori, crumbled hard-boiled eggs, and diced avocado are all fantastic toppers for cottage cheese bowls.
Hot weather cooking appliances (because sometimes a little heat is required)
Microwave: Microwaves have many uses beyond re-heating leftovers and frozen dinners; use your microwave to lightly steam vegetables, to cook potatoes and sweet potatoes completely or partially before grilling, to heat up tortillas and other flatbreads, or to warm up frozen fruit for yogourt parfaits and ice cream sundaes.
Toaster oven: Although toaster ovens do emit heat, they’re still a cooler option than standard-sized ovens (they can also pre-heat and cool down much faster.) Many modern toaster ovens have all the settings of a standard-sized oven and, in addition to toasting, are capable of roasting, baking and broiling. Use your toaster oven to roast chicken or turkey breasts, broil shrimp, and bake marinated tofu.
Rice cooker: Perfectly steamed rice is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the average rice cooker is capable of making. Many rice cookers can also be used to steam grains, make risotto, and even cook oatmeal (just make sure you double-check the manufacturer’s information before you get started.) If your rice cooker has a preset timer function you can add the ingredients to the base of the cooker before you go to work in the morning and have freshly steamed rice or grains when you get home from work.