In the deepest part of our hearts, we all believe one thing: You don't really have to cook in warm weather. (You can blow it off entirely, in fact, if you cover your tracks well.)
That's because the vegetables are blooming and the ambition is wilting just in time to call in sick and head to the beach with a bag of apricots. But after we've had our fill of unadulterated spring produce, our stomachs might finally start grumbling for cooked food.
Luckily, there's a fresh batch of cookbooks this season that are going to let us outsource the thinking and planning parts, so we can pull together easy summer dinners that hardly feel like cooking at all.
1. Pack a picnic with Platters and Boards.
Warm weather encourages assembling over cooking, so why not pile all your favorite meats and cheeses on a board and call it dinner? Platters and Boards: Beautiful, Casual Spreads for Every Occasion by Shelly Westerhausen and Wyatt Worcel is a bright and fun book with dozens of recipes and ideas for arranging unique spreads like a Breakfast in Bed Board and a Hot Chocolate Tray.
Laziness is encouraged here, but if you're feeling even mildly energetic, try the Garlic Confit on page 175. You can completely neglect it as it simmers, then freeze it in cubes so it's always on hand for garlicking up your next picnic.
2. Rock the post-farmers market dinner with Saladish.
As farmers markets pick up steam, we face that age-old problem: What can I do with this veg that won't bore me to death? Answer: Saladish. Saladish, by Ilene Rosen, is described as "a crunchier, grainier, herbier, heartier, tastier way with vegetables," and it delivers on those improvements. The recipes are carefully balanced to hit different textures — toothsome, fluffy, crunchy, crispy, hefty — even as they reach for notes of rich, sharp, sweet, salty.
It's like someone else has puzzled your vegetables together for you, leaving you with delightfully easy recipes like New Potatoes with Soft Green Herbs and Every-Leafy-Green-You-Can-Find Salad.
3. Eat dessert for dinner with Sweet Laurel.
My favorite warm-weather dinner? Ice cream. I'm told this isn't what adults do, but here's something adults do do: make fancy cakes for parties which are (shh!) healthy. Prepare to be enormously beloved when you walk into that summer party with a gorgeous dessert from Sweet Laurel: Recipes for Whole Food, Grain-Free Desserts by Laurel Gallucci and Claire Thomas.
The book is beautiful, and the recipes are simple — you'll be surprised that grain-free, refined-sugar-free baking can be as simple as almond flour, maple syrup, and the right recipe. Even better, 10 out of 10 adults agree that the dairy-free Two Ingredient Ice Cream on page 226 counts as a real dinner.
4. Cook under the stars with The Campout Cookbook.
If you're outdoors with anyone who likes to eat, you'll quickly run into two problems: 1. You're trying to keep it simple, 2. You can't stand the thought of crap food. So I was giddy to find The Campout Cookbook: Inspired Recipes for Cooking Around the Fire and Under the Stars by Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson.
It's a book for survivalists with standards, and standards means wood-fired Leek, Lemon Shiitake, and Thyme Skillet Pizzas and a kickin' Tinfoil Shrimp Boil that will make the low-standard riffraff next door weep. The quaint watercolors, smart writing, and clever hacks make this the most packable book for the glamping of your dreams.
(Also try Feast by Firelight: Simple Recipes for Camping, Cabins, and the Great Outdoors by Emma Frisch, which is brimming with gorgeous photos and recipes.)
5. Plan a vineyard dinner with The Cook's Atelier.
If a big vacation isn't possible this year, you'll want a big, immersive cookbook to tuck into instead. (Or try one of these six cookbook vacations.) This season you'll find one ticket to Beaune, France through The Cook's Atelier: Recipes, Techniques, and Stories from Our French Cooking School by Marjorie Taylor and Kendall Smith Franchini. Each of the 400+ pages is breathlessly beautiful, and the Baby Leek Galettes with Goat Cheese and Wild Garlic are begging to be served at a rustic table tucked between the vines.
The best thing about the French, though, is that simple is their brand, and if you stick close, it can be yours, too. Try the Sweet Pea Soup with Crispy Bacon and Herbed Cream served cold with a glass of Champagne — ça suffit, I promise.
6. Fire up the grill with A Burger to Believe In.
Chris Konner, of San Francisco cult-favorite KronnerBurger, injects excitement back into the tired burger genre by being 1. Irreverent, funny, and just the right amount of bossy, and 2. Making you feel like you're road-tripping through the high peaks of burger Americana in a Ford Pinto.
The preamble includes "A Brief but Thrilling Note on How to Use This Book" which lays out your options, from the Extremely Lazy (look at photos; order in) to the Fervent Acolyte (raise the beef; grow the toppings; build the grill; pontificate). For the freshest, easiest spring dinner, try the Cauliflower and Fava Salad and the Grilled Chicken Wings.
7. Drink Your dinner with Lemonade with Zest.
Remember when I said that if you cover your tracks well you can blow off cooking entirely? Devious mind, meet your alibi. Lemonade with Zest: 40 Thirst-Quenching Recipes by April White is bright and bubbly and easy to love. The Raspberry Spritz on page 24 has enough fruit to classify it as fruit salad, and with a splash of gin and the leftovers from a charcuterie platter, there isn't a soul who wouldn't deep in their hearts envy you this dinner.
What's your favorite warm-weather meal: grilling, picnicking, camping, or something else?