Usually the common reasons for not wanting to cook are: "I don't have the time." "It's too hard." "I'm not good at it."
Not one of those reasons are however justified when it comes to no-cook, no-bake recipes. A pressed sandwich, chopped salad, summer roll, trifle pudding or mango kulfi require little time and effort, no fussing and no expertise.
And did we mention that you don't have to turn on the stove or oven to prepare them? So enjoy a labor-less Labor Day holiday and celebrate the end of summer with good food and lots of relaxation.
Sandwiches are perfect picnic food because they're transportable, infinitely variable and so easy to serve. That said, who wants to make sandwich after sandwich?
Enter the pressed sandwich. Designed to feed multiple people, it's basically a loaf of some sort of rustic bread that's been split and hollowed out, and then stuffed with meats, cheeses, veggies or whatever your heart's desire. Ciabatta, a fat, flat Italian loaf is a favorite building block, but a crusty French bread or good sourdough will work, too.
Once filled, cover the sandwich with plastic wrap, really tightly, so the layers flatten, and then stick it in the fridge with some sort of weight on top (a cast-iron skillet works) for at least an hour to allow the flavors to fuse together. Think panini, only with less fuss.
The Italian version constructs the sandwich with a variety of cured meats — Genoa salami, sweet sopressata and hot capicola — topped with creamy, fresh mozzarella and a lightly dressed arugula salad. But the beauty of this dish is that you can fill the bread with anything you like.
— Gretchen McKay
ITALIAN PICNIC SANDWICH
A sandwich is only as good as the bread it's made on, so spring for a high-quality artisan loaf. Don't be afraid to make it ahead of time — pressed sandwiches keep really well in the fridge for several days.
1 large loaf ciabatta bread, sliced in half horizontally (but not all the way through)
1/3 cup homemade or jarred pesto
1/4 to 1/2 pound thinly sliced sweet sopressata
1/4 to 1/2 pound thinly sliced Genoa salami
1/4 to 1/2 pound thinly sliced hot capicola
3/4-pound ball lightly salted fresh mozzarella, sliced or torn
2 cups baby arugula
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, from half of a lemon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup diced red hot cherry pepper spread, optional
Open loaf of bread and hollow it out by pulling out some of the bread. Spread pesto evenly inside of the 2 sides of bread. Layer loaf by starting with sopressata, salami, capicola and mozzarella.
In a small bowl, toss together arugula, lemon juice and olive oil. Top meats and cheese with the salad. Sprinkle cherry pepper spread, if using, on top of salad. Top with the remaining half of the bread and press together. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate, weighted down with a cast-iron pan or between two cutting boards, for at least 1 hour or up to overnight before slicing and serving.
Serves 4 to 6.
— Gretchen McKay
The quintessential layered English dessert has stood the test of time, although in various incarnations.
It is said to date back to 1598 when an Oxford-educated translator, John Florio, referred to "A kinde of clouted creame called a foole or a trifle in English" and was the "it" dessert during the Victorian era when day-old sponge cakes were soaked in wine along with fruit and topped with an egg custard.
In my world, there is no set recipe for a trifle pudding for I believe trifle should live up to its word of origin — trufle. The old French term literally means something whimsical.
So I can see trifles being built with cookies such as Oreos, Thin Mints and biscotti instead of the cake. If a white chocolate or dark chocolate pudding mix is used instead of vanilla custard, that's plenty fine by me, and lemon curd or chocolate chips or nuts are welcome additions.
Topping a trifle with whipped cream is one thing but please don't ruin it by using the white stuff from a tub.
— Arthi Subramaniam
VERY BERRY TRIFLE PUDDING
The standard trifle features some sort of vanilla cake, but I found that lady fingers work just as well with all those fruits. And any instant pudding flavor can be used, including vanilla and white chocolate vanilla bean.
1 package (3 ounces) strawberry gelatin
4 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1 package (7 ounces) lady fingers
2 packages (3.4 or ounces) vanilla pudding
4 cups 2% cold milk
2 cups fresh blackberries
2 cups fresh blueberries
6 ounces raspberries, to decorate on top
In a medium bowl, add 2 cups boiling water to the gelatin and stir to dissolve. Then add 2 cups cold water. Transfer liquid to a trifle bowl and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours to set.
In a second bowl, add strawberries and sugar. Combine gently and set aside.
Cut lady fingers in half and arrange them neatly on top of the set gelatin.
In a third bowl, whisk pudding mix with milk. Spoon pudding and spread evenly over the lady fingers.
Arrange strawberry slices on top of custard and add sugar syrup that has formed at the bottom of bowl.
Layer blackberries over strawberries.
Spoon the rest of the pudding over the blackberries.
Add blueberries over the pudding.
Top with raspberries for garnish.
— Arthi Subramaniam
Spring rolls are a perfect finger food because they pack a lot of flavor into one easy bite. But what if you don't feel like standing at the stove, frying? Swap the wonton wrappers and pan of cooking oil for rice paper wrappers and a bowl of hot water and you'll get summer rolls instead.
The Vietnamese wraps are a terrific way to enjoy crispy-crunchy vegetables with fresh herbs, cooked noodles and some type of protein. They're also incredibly pretty, as their translucent skin allows whatever's stuffed inside to shine through in an array of colors.
Rice paper starts to dissolve (and gets incredibly sticky) in just a few seconds of being wet, so it takes some practice to get the technique down pat. Place your fillings on the bottom third of the dampened rice paper, then fold in the ends and roll it, as you would a burrito, into a tight cigar. Transfer the rolls, seam side down, to a platter and cover with a damp towel so they stay moist while you make the remaining rolls.
Just as the fillings can vary, summer rolls can be served with a variety of sauces — peanut, sweet chili or one made with soy, rice vinegar, honey and garlic.
— Gretchen McKay
SHRIMP SUMMER ROLLS
Rice paper is incredibly sticky after it's been dipped in water, so have all your ingredients in piles, ready to go before rolling. Also, working on a damp towel will help the process.
2 ounces dried cellophane noodles
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, optional
1 teaspoon minced scallion, optional
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
10 (8 1/2-inch) rice paper wrappers
10 bibb lettuce leaves, torn in half
3/4 pound cooked shrimp, halved
1 cup small mint leaves
1 cup packed small cilantro or basil leaves
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
In a medium bowl, cover cellophane noodles with hot water and let stand until soft, 30 minutes. Drain and cover with a damp paper towel until ready to use.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds and scallion (if using), sesame oil, salt and pepper.
Soak 1 rice paper wrapper in hot water until pliable. Lay the wrapper on a cutting board and blot dry. Arrange 2 pieces of bibb on bottom third of the wrapper. Top with some of the cellophane noodles, shrimp, mint, cilantro and carrot. Roll up the wrapper, tucking in the ends as you roll. Cover with a damp paper towel.
Repeat with the remaining wrappers and fillings. Cut each roll in half and serve with the dipping sauce.
Makes 20 rolls.
— Adapted from finecooking.com
Kulfi is the king of no-fuss ice creams. You don't have to churn it, and if you really want to take the easy way out, you don't even have to cook it.
The Indian-accented ice cream is dense and rich, and can be almost chewy when made exclusively with heavy cream. Of course, it can be made with only milk, but the real taste comes through only when it is boiled down to an evaporated milk consistency.
Sweet is kulfi's middle name because when it comes to the ingredients, there are only two constants — milk and/or heavy cream and sugar.
Traditional flavors are cream (malai), cardamom (elachi), mango, saffron (kesar), pistachio and rose. But just like everything else, the kulfi has taken on modern guises and been reinterpreted. These days, hot chocolate, coffee, coconut and salty caramel kulfis are a thing and it is only a matter of time when key lime pie and birthday cake join the list.
The Indian way to freeze kulfi is in conical stainless steel or aluminum molds or in tiny clay pots. But hey, plastic Popsicle molds and ramekins work, too.
— Arthi Subramaniam
If you are freezing the kulfi in clay pots or ramekins allow the ice cream to sit at room temperature for a few minutes and then serve the ice cream directly in the bowls.
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
2 pinches salt
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (30 ounces) mango pulp
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Pinch of saffron, optional
In a large bowl, mix heavy cream, cardamom powder and salt. Add evaporated milk, condensed milk, mango pulp, almonds and saffron, if using, and combine well.
Pour mixture into popsicle molds or clay pots and place in freezer to set for at least 10 hours.
Dip the molds in bowl of warm water for about 20 seconds to release the kulfi and serve immediately.
Makes 15 kulfis.
— Arthi Subramaniam
Green salads are a great way to please your vegetarian and vegan guests. It is still not too late to find fresh greens, herbs and veggies. The problem lies in who takes what. Doesn't it seem there's always that guy (or girl) who takes all the good stuff that add color and texture, leaving just lettuce for the rest of us?
An easy solution is a chopped salad.
Crunchy and bright, this mix of greens and vegetables is exactly as billed: chopped up together in bite-sized pieces. You can go with smooth-textured lettuces like Boston or bibb and homemade dressing, or keep it real simple with iceberg or romaine and bottled dressing. But greens are only the start — you'll also want to add everything from tomatoes, peppers and corn to fresh herbs, cheese and maybe some crunchies.
Whatever you choose, keep this in mind when building a chopped salad: The better the mix of greens and veggies in your bowl, the more perfect each and every bite.
— Gretchen McKay
CHOPPED SALAD WITH CORN AND COTIJA
Be sure to chop your lettuce and other ingredients into small, uniform pieces so they toss together easily, and you get multiple flavors and textures in every bite.
Juice of 2 limes
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups finely chopped romaine or butter lettuce
Kernels from 2 medium ears corn
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus more as needed
1/2 cup crumbled cotija cheese
1/4 cup diced red onion
Make dressing: In blender or food processor, combine the ingredients. Blend until dressing is smooth and creamy. Season with additional salt and black pepper to taste.
Make salad: Place lettuce in a large bowl. Add corn kernels, cilantro, cotija cheese and onion. Toss to combine. Drizzle salad with 3 tablespoons of dressing and toss again. Serve with extra dressing and another sprinkle of cilantro, if desired.
— Adapted from "Eat More Plants" by Molly Krebs (Page Street; August 2019; $22)