A cool, refreshing spread of chilled dishes can really hit the spot on a hot day.
Whether you’re planning your first garden party of the season on a thrillingly warm April afternoon, or stumped for options when faced with the unexpected return of sweltering weather in October (like those of us in Southern California experienced last fall), we’ve put together a round-up of some of our favorite cool foods for hot weather that we know you will enjoy.
So read on, get cooking, and prepare to chill out, foodie style.
When your t-shirt’s sticking to your back after mowing the lawn or you’ve had a long day at work and the A/C’s on the fritz, nothing beats a nice, refreshing chilled or frozen cocktail to cool down.
Warm weather beverages can also take more substantial (and non-alcoholic) form as satisfying shakes, smoothies, and juices.
1. Lychee Rose Mojitos
If you’re not already familiar with lychee, it’s a member of the soapberry family, a tropical fruit with a floral aroma and sweet flavor.
Though it’s not often found fresh in the US (definitely grab some if you can find it, and blend it into a puree to add to this drink!) canned varieties are common, as well as bottled juices.
With the lime, mint, and white rum that classic mojitos are known for, plus the sweet flavors of lychee juice and rose water, this is a refreshing cocktail that’s super simple to prepare.
To make your presentation as beautiful as Nisha’s, top each glass with a sprinkle of dried edible roses.
You’ll find this recipe on Love Laugh Mirch.
2. Layered Margarita Popsicles
This recipe from Becky Hardin is both a dessert and a drink, and it can be made with or without the alcohol.
Whether you go with the boozy option or the teetotaling mocktail version, this fun, triple-layered popsicle is fruity, refreshing, and delicious.
With layers of strawberry, peach, and lime that are made with fresh fruit and juices, this treat is packed with flavor, sans the artificial colorings and additives that you’ll find in a lot of frozen desserts.
Get the recipe from The Cookie Rookie here.
Or, if tequila isn’t your thing, maybe you’d prefer these rum punch freeze pops.
3. Indonesian Avocado Milkshakes
If you’re already a green smoothie fan, then you’re going to love these avocado milkshakes.
But even if you’re cautious about consuming anything green via a straw, this recipe is worth the leap into unexplored territory.
Here’s the deal – though whole milk is an important component of this recipe, there’s no ice cream in these milkshakes. The rich, silky avocado provides all of the creaminess you’ll need to be sipping in style.
Olivia Mesquita says she grew up drinking these in Brazil, where they were simply referred to as avocado smoothies (and she wonders why the Indonesian version takes precedence over Brazilian attribution). Known in Indonesian as jus alpukat or “avocado juice,” another popular way of serving this drink is with a few shots of espresso stirred in and some sweetened condensed milk, in the style of a Vietnamese iced coffee.
With a touch of zesty fresh lime and a drizzle of chocolate (if you like), this creamy concoction is packed with flavor. Throw your expectations about avocado’s place in the savory realm to the wind, and get out the blender to make a few glasses of this sweet, cooling treat.
Salads and Slaws
When the temperature rises, it can be hard to get excited about a heavy meal, or the prospect of hours spent in the kitchen working over the hot stove.
Instead, make these dishes in the cool of the evening and chill them overnight to enjoy for days to come. Some serve as meals on their own, while others are best served as accompaniments to your favorite chilled proteins.
4. Mediterranean Farro Salad with Summer Veggies and Herbs
As a nutrition scientist with a background in public health, P. K. Newby teaches her students and the public about issues related to food in today’s world, including diet and obesity.
Full disclosure: she was my professor of health and nutrition at Boston University, where I studied for my master’s degree in gastronomy. And P. K. is a fierce, no-nonsense instructor who knows her stuff! She also has a passion for food that really shows in her writing, and it was so difficult for me to choose which recipe to include in this round-up (so I chose two!).
This farro salad takes an often neglected whole grain and pairs it with fresh vegetables and herbs, chopped nuts, and a citrus dressing. But what I really love is the way P. K.’s simple recipe encourages experimentation, and using what you have on hand.
You’ll love the flexibility of being able to throw a quick salad together with whatever’s in the fridge, guided by this recipe from Cooking & Eating the PK Way. And if you’re still hungry for more, keep reading. You’ll find another offering from Professor Newby in the sandwiches section.
5. Garlic Dill Potato Salad
Sure, potato salad is a picnic standby, and the addition of dill has become somewhat commonplace. But all you need to do is add the word “garlic” to that, and I’m sold!
Are you with me?
As a kid, after my mom made a batch of potato salad and let it chill for a few hours, I used to love sneaking a few tangy, starchy, ice-cold cubes of potato at a time from the covered dish in the fridge, hours before the guests had arrived and the backyard barbecue had started.
Of course, the version that I enjoyed was based on the recipe found on the side of the mayonnaise jar, the same way my grandmother and probably her mother before her had also made it. True comfort food, but very simple.
On the other hand, this recipe from Wendi Spraker at Loves and Dishes takes this humble side dish to new heights, with minced fresh garlic, whole grain mustard, dill, green onion, shallot, and chives. Oh, and if you want, Wendi suggests that you can even add a dash of black truffle oil to really bring out that earthiness.
6. Grilled Veggie Salad
If you’ve already gone to the trouble of firing up the grill, why not throw some extra veggies on there while the coals are still hot? This is a great way to maximize that use of the fuel you’re already burning while planning meals in advance for the week ahead.
Plus, at least if you’re cooking outside, maybe you can catch a cool breeze…
7. Sesame Carrot and Cucumber Slaw
If you love the crunch of fresh veggies then you’re in luck, because that’s what this slaw from Meghan at Fox and Briar is all about.
Not only does it require zero cooking to make, it’s also vegan and gluten free. This Asian-inspired slaw is flavored with fresh garlic and ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. And you can spiralize those cucumbers, if you’d like.
So simple, and it would be delicious atop a bed of chilled leftover quinoa or rice, if you’d like to make this side into a full lunch or dinner.
When it comes to rounding out a meal, most diners are after a little protein.
Though our favorite warm-weather option is probably hummus with a side of fresh vegetables for dipping, the meat-eaters among us tend to hope for something a little different.
Fortunately, many types of meat are delicious when they’re served cold, and sliced for topping salads and sandwiches.
8. Cold Chicken Strips
Sonia (a.k.a. The Healthy Foodie) recommends that we skip the cold cuts, and go for home-grilled chicken instead.
But how to avoid the usual ho-hum feelings along the lines of, “What? Boring chicken again?”
Take your chicken from plain to insane (alright, maybe I went a little too far with that one…) by adding a simple marinade, or maybe spice things up by using a few different marinades to impress your guests with a selection of multiple flavor combinations to choose from.
Sonia offers an Asian-style option, marinated in ginger, garlic, soy, rice vinegar, lemon, mirin, and honey. Sliced and ready to go, chicken will keep in the fridge for a few days, for topping salads and sandwiches.
9. Gourmet Hummus
The traditional variety that’s flavored with garlic and tahini is always a classic, but we think it would be boring to stick with the same old standby every time you pull out the food processor.
Sarah Hagstrom also offers variations made with jalapenos, sun-dried tomatoes, kale and basil, and even a dessert-style chocolate version that’s perfect for dipping slices of apple and fresh strawberries.
Simple Sandwiches and Wraps
A great way to use up leftovers, sandwiches can also be the star of the show when they’re made with fresh, crunchy, tasty, and nutrient-packed ingredients.
Try combining some of the above on your favorite bread or wrap (slaw and sliced chicken, anyone?) or peruse the options below for inspiration.
10. Heirloom Tomato Sandwiches with Garlic-Caper Aioli
You’ve heard me wax poetic about the tomato sandwich before, and I think this version is a perfect example. Though it does ditch the Hellmann’s, I’ll make an exception for P. K.’s homemade garlic caper aioli.
Serve sliced heirloom tomatoes on some lightly toasted whole grain bread, top it all off with a handful of peppery arugula, and you’ve got the perfect combination of flavors and textures with no hot stove cooking required.
11. Spiralized Beet Noodle Wrap
Serving spiralized vegetables is an easy way to prepare raw or lightly cooked ingredients featuring the best produce. But did you know there’s more to using your spiralizer than zucchini noodles with pesto night after night?
If you’ve been reading closely, of course you did. You can make excellent spliralized cucumbers to throw into your slaw!
Start expanding your repertoire even more and continue to get some use out of that veggie slicing gadget with this hummus and beet noodle wrap from Sarah Hagstrom.
Maybe hot and heavy meals are a turnoff, but it’s hard to say no to dessert when a delicious frozen concoction is on offer.
It looks like our sweet tooth got the best of us again, since admittedly, a few items already mentioned cross over into dessert territory. But with so many great options to choose from, can you really blame us?
12. Mint Chocolate Cheesecake Popsicles
Maybe mint and cheese wouldn’t be your first choice of flavors to combine, but throw some chocolate in the middle and you’re on your way to warm-weather dessert bliss.
These mint chocolate cheesecake popsicles from Jessica Pinney combine cream cheese and whipped dairy-free topping with chocolate, vanilla, and mint for a freeze pop base that’s somehow light and airy, and rich at the same time.
Just stir together your base ingredients, fill up your popsicle molds, freeze for a few hours, and dessert is ready. To up the chocolate factor even more, dipping these babies in chocolate once they’re frozen and rolling them around in even more chopped mint chocolate is encouraged.
You’ll find the recipe here, on Cooking with Janica.
13. Soufflé Glacé à L’orange (Deep-Frozen Orange Soufflé)
A light, citrusy, and refreshing dessert, this one requires a bit more time at the stove to prepare than the other recipes on this list. But the results are well worth it.
Shari Scheske combines orange juice with gelatin and egg yolks, adds whipped cream, and then folds this mixture into an Italian meringue base before freezing.
Like an orange-flavored mousse or semifreddo, it’s delicate and sweet, just fancy enough to impress your guests no matter the occasion. Plus, it can be made well ahead of time and pulled out of the freezer whenever you’re ready.
As is pictured here, to boost the fun factor (and for fewer dishes to wash up afterwards) try halving and carefully scooping out the rinds of a few oranges, and serve this frozen treat inside natural bowls.
14. Frozen Strawberry Fluff
I am a huge fan of homemade pie, but it’s not always my first choice if the temperature is rising and the humidity is high.
There is, however, a solution for that. Another light, airy, sweet, and truly delightful option, this is a strawberry mousse cake with a graham cracker crust, the polar opposite of a buttery, gooey, juicy, fruit-filled version (but still just as delectable).
Entirely no-bake with a gluten-free option as well, you won’t be able to get enough of this fresh berry freezer pie.
15. Red Wine Ice Cream Sundaes
Another amazing dessert from Jessica Pinney, this one takes us back toward cocktail territory, with the addition of red wine.
If you haven’t tried red wine ice cream yet, it’s a must, flavored with wine, brown sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. After you’ve let the base do its thing in your ice cream maker and firmed it up in the freezer for a few hours, scoop your creation into parfait glasses or dessert dishes. Jessica tops hers with vanilla whipped cream, spiced red wine syrup, and lavender marcona almonds.
Yes, you can actually make this yourself at home! Get the recipe from Cooking With Janica here.
Eat Good Food and Chill
Looks like we’ve reached the end of our round-up! Hopefully you’ve been inspired by these cool options.
Remember to wait to use your large appliances and refrain from turning on the stove until the cooler evening hours, to conserve energy and avoid heating your house more than you have to. And plan ahead – making multiple dishes at once when the oven or stove is already on is the best way to minimize your time spent in the kitchen.
Whip up a pitcher of cooling cocktails, a freezer full of tasty desserts, a few bowls of salad and slaw, and a tray of sliced meats, and you’re in business! Good luck with the hot days ahead. At least they’ll be delicious!
What’s your favorite thing to eat when you’re trying to beat the heat? Let us know in the comments!
Photo Credits: All photography in this article is owned and copyrighted by their respective owners as identified. Used with permission by Ask the Experts, LLC. All rights reserved by all parties. Additional link contributions by Nan Schiller and Lori Jo Hendrix.
About Allison Sidhu
Allison M. Sidhu is a foodie from Philly who is based in Los Angeles, where she loves exploring the local restaurant scene with her husband. She holds a master's degree in gastronomy from Boston University. When she’s not in the kitchen whipping up something tasty (or listening to the latest food podcasts while she does the dishes!) you’ll probably find Allison tapping away at her keyboard, curled up with a good book (or ready to dominate with controller in hand in front of the latest video game) on the couch, or devouring a food-filled magazine at the beach.