Cooking in the summer provides a unique challenge.  In the winter, turning a cold kitchen in to a warm and cozy place is a benefit of cooking.  In the summer, turning that same kitchen into a sweltering inferno is not.   Planning ahead can eliminate the need for turning on the oven.  Here are several options to help ensure your kitchen remains cool in the hot summer months.

Gazpacho, a Portuguese and Spanish soup made from stale bread, garlic olive oil, salt, vinegar and vegetables doesn’t need any cooking and has undergone many variations since its inception. Modern gazpacho includes a tomato base and a wider range of vegetables.  It can quickly and easily be prepared with a food processor and stored beforehand in a refrigerator.

Ceviche is a Peruvian seafood salad marinated in citrus.  Traditionally made from raw fish and onions with lime or lemon juice, modern variations include using a tomato sauce of ketchup.  In its original form, it can be adapted to most tastes by using a wide variety of fish and cold vegetables.  You should check with your local fishmonger to make sure the quality of fish is good enough that it can be eaten raw.  The citrus juice in the recipes allows it to be served at room temperature while eliminating the risk of immediate bacterial growth.

Pickled cucumbers and beats can be prepared the night before.  Ways to prepare them range from simply placing julienne vegetables in vinegar to more complex and elaborate preparations that include chili oil and sugar.  This concept allows for a wide variety based on what you have available and what your taste preferences are.  And they don’t require you to heat up the oven.

Likewise, sandwiches are easy to prepare without heating the kitchen.  Using coldcuts and already cooked meats and vegetables, they can be quickly prepared to suit individual tastes and served with a wide variety of sides such as coleslaw or any of the ideas above.  In addition, setting out a simple tray of individual meats, vegetables, and cheeses that you have on hand will allow friends and family to prepare their own sandwich creations.

The traditional American answer to keeping the summer cool is to grill outside.  Virtually anything can be grilled outside, from corn to cucumbers to beef and vegetarian hotdogs.  This flexibility can be combined with any of the other ideas above to make a complete meal.  Plus grilling allows you to enjoy the fresh summer air without feeling like you should be doing some yardwork.

A crock-pot can cook meats without heating up the rest of the kitchen as much as a traditional stove.  Prepared the night before and left to cook on its own without much attention, the crock-pot not only keeps the kitchen cool, but allows the chef to work on other parts of meal preparation, or enjoying the summer weather.  You can cook complete meals in the crock-pot by throwing in a roast and vegetables.  Or you can cook meat, such as boneless pork ribs seasoned with barbecue sauce which can be used for chopped pork sandwiches.

Salads also offer a multitude of options for summer meals.  Using lettuce as a base, the options of what you can add to a salad are limitless, from common vegetables such as tomatoes, onions and carrots to fruit, nuts and diced meats and hardboiled eggs.  Salads are not only an effective way to prepare a summer meal without heating up the kitchen, but can also be used to help clean out leftovers.  When you don’t feel like cooking, take out leftovers from the refrigerator and allow each member of your family to create their own salad masterpiece.  Plus, salads offer the versatility of serving as a meal starter or a meal themselves.  You can make them as light or as hearty as you want.

Pasta salads are also great in the summer.  You will need to heat up the stove to cook the pasta.  But you can cook a big batch and then use it for several options.  Add Italian dressing, pepperoni, olives, and cheese cubes.  Or add mayo and ranch dressing long with peas and carrots.  Just about anything you like can be added to cold pasta to make a zippy salad.

Grilling is another great summer option.  Plus it allows you to spend more time outside on the patio rather then in the kitchen.  Marinade meat in your favorite seasoning then toss on the grill.  Or cut up meat and veggies into bite size pieces and thread on a skewer for kabobs.  For even more variety, add fruit such as pineapple or peaches.  You can even cook garlic bread and cheesy potatoes on the grill but wrapping them in foil.

For those with more exotic tastes, researching Asian or Mediterranean cuisine online, at the library, or at your local bookstore will provide a wide range of inspiration and ideas.  An exotic taste doesn’t mean that food has to be hard to prepare.  It can be as simple as using rice paper wrappers, traditionally used to serve hot food , to serve cold food.

Whether your tastes range from the traditional to the exotic, summer cooking doesn’t have to mean heating up the kitchen.  Use your imagination to find creative ways to keep summer cooking cool.  Planning ahead allows you multiple options will little heat.

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