If you've ever felt like making a meal without turning on the stove or even firing up the grill, this one's for you.
With a little imagination, some basic provisions and a refrigerator, you can prepare a satisfying dinner for four that will make you the star of the patio on a hot summer night.
You'll want to shop beforehand for summer-fresh fruits and vegetables. Choose them by size and color -- small, smooth green beans; bright, unblemished tomatoes; plump, sweet-smelling berries. Buy only what you'll use in a day or two for the best flavor and nutrition.
Other ingredients can come from the cans and jars in your pantry. Add a crusty whole-grain roll and you've got a balanced repast.
When it comes to vegetables, you can eat raw, canned, or frozen veggies - just eat them! To ensure we benefit from all the healthy components vegetables offer, eating a variety is key.
Plant foods offer a wide range of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that strengthen the immune system. Some remove free radicals that damage DNA. Others help get rid of carcinogens. There’s no better time than summer to take advantage of seasonal abundance and go for the good stuff.
Most people don't eat the daily 2½ to 6½ cups (5 to 13 servings) of fruits and vegetables each day recommended in the USDA 2005 Dietary Guidelines. The number of cups recommended depends on how many calories you need each day. For example someone who needs 1,200 kcal a day will need 2½ cups; someone who needs 3,200 kcal per day will need 6½ cups of vegetables and fruits a day. To estimate what and how much you need to eat to balance your calorie intake and activity level, go to the USDA My Pyramid Plan website http://www.mypyramid.gov/index.html.
Delete the heat
Fresh, tender vegetables don't need cooking. Choose fresh-looking fruits and vegetables that aren't bruised, shriveled, moldy or slimy. Keep produce on top of your shopping cart and bag. You don't want your vegetables crushed or meat juices to contaminate the foods you won't be cooking.
Wash produce in cool tap water just before preparation. Don't use soap or bleach on produce, which can absorb it -- but wash your hands with soap and hot water before preparing food. Keep fruits and vegetables you'll eat raw away from uncooked meat or seafood to avoid contamination. Canned meat and fish have already been cooked.
Try new combinations of vegetables and marinate them. Skip the usual dressings in favor of seasoned vinegars or soy-based marinades. Find vegetables you haven't tried before. The produce manager can offer tips.
You may find inspiration in a can. Jars of roasted red peppers (in water, not oil), olives for flavor (and a little healthy fat), salsas, pickled beets and relishes are ready to eat. You can make a no-cooking bean dip by mashing and mixing a can of black beans with fat-free sour cream, a little cumin and a couple of tablespoons of salsa.
Add more colors to your meal. More hues and variety in your fruits and vegetables mean more textures, flavors and nutrients. Brighter and darker is better, so choose purple cabbage over green; red and orange bell peppers over green; blue or purple tortilla chips over yellow or white.
Gazpacho is a chilled, seasoned, chunky tomato soup of Spanish origin. You can make it by putting a can of spicy diced or stewed tomatoes in a blender. Whirl briefly with fresh garlic; dilute to preference with water or canned broth. Season to taste with vinegar, then refrigerate until serving.
If you have the I'm-eating-too-much-chicken blues, turn it around. Perk up your chicken salad with a bit of Roquefort, Gorgonzola or any of the blue cheeses.
Serve mineral water or flavored seltzer with raspberries. In hot weather you'll need more water. Try diet tonic water with a wedge of lime.