Come summertime, I try to stay away from a hot stove as much as possible. But this doesn’t mean I give up cooking altogether. For me, it’s all about preparing simple, fresh meals that require as little cooking as possible. So my summer menus often feature grilled steaks, chicken, or fish (grilling doesn’t really count—if you’re like me, you probably grill outside) and quick, vibrant side dishes that require no cooking and showcase the best vegetables and herbs the season has to offer.
The key to great-tasting no-cook sides is to buy fresh summer vegetables that are as good raw as they are cooked, such as tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, and cabbage (the only exception here is cucumbers, which I never cook). Then, all you have to do is toss them with a generous amount of fresh herbs and a light olive oil dressing made with citrus juice or vinegar to bring them alive. It’s that simple. Just make sure you dress these dishes close to serving time, or the vegetables will wilt or become watery.
It’s also important to find the best ways to cut and prep the vegetables and to figure out what flavor partners make each one shine. For example, I slice summer squash and daikon radish in thin ribbons for a crunchy texture and a beautiful appearance, and I toss them with a lemon dressing and lots of fresh oregano and basil. I marinate ripe tomatoes in a balsamic vinaigrette to bring out their sweet juiciness. And rather than make slaw with green cabbage only, I mix in other varieties like Savoy, red cabbage, and even radicchio—each lending a different texture, color, and flavor—and toss them with a dash of rice vinegar, soy sauce, and ginger for some Asian flair. For my cucumber and feta salad, I like to leave some of the peel on the cukes for color and cut them in big chunks so they don’t become mushy. And finally, you can’t go wrong with sweet carrots in summer. I love the crunchy texture of grated carrots, which I pair with lime and cilantro for an especially refreshing summer salad.