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Easy Summer Salads for Life without Air-Conditioning

A-photo-of-Colleen-NewquistWhen I stopped to pick up a pizza the other night, a fan whirred on the hostess desk of the tepidly air-conditioned restaurant. It was hot outside, the temperature hovering around 90, with humidity that felt nearly as high. In conversation with the 20-something hostess about the malfunctioning cooling system and the weather in general, I casually mentioned that we don’t use air conditioning in our home. She gasped, her eyes wide, “What do you DO?”

The hostess, I realized, had never experienced life without air conditioning. It existed when I was growing up, but in my blue-collar town, it was a luxury my parents didn’t invest in until I was nearly grown and gone. Now, even though we can well afford it, not using air conditioning is a choice. All the long, long winter, we fantasize about steamy nights, sitting on the porch barefoot, cold bottle of beer leaving sweat rings on the table, listening to the symphony of cicadas, crickets, and katydids. This is living, we tell each other. And it is.

Unfortunately, it’s a dying way of life. I believe we are the only household in a neighborhood of 75 homes or so without an air conditioner on. If a thunderstorm knocks the power out, the streets hum with the sounds of backup generators.

On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoy the silence of a sealed up neighborhood. We always feel lucky when we’re sitting outside, because it seems like we’re the only ones. The sounds we hear are of the natural world, except the car alarm that goes off down the street every time an acorn falls on it, and the power washing and leaf blowing of the anal-retentive neighbor across the creek — but those are other stories, long, expletive-filled stories, and thankfully, not regular occurrences. Mostly we hear the owls and coyotes and see bats swoop through the yard, and it’s lovely.

Admittedly, a long string of hot days can get me wishing for a cool, closed-up home. But only momentarily. The minute I think about shutting the windows, I decide that sweating is OK by me. I spend my days in an office with windows that don’t open; when I come home, I want to breathe.

So what do we DO without air-conditioning? Well, when it’s really hot, not much. Or as little as we can get away with. And we sweat. We do have a pool — a nice, big in-ground pool. But you can only stay in the water so long. You can’t do laundry or vacuum or cook or blog from a diving board. So we live the way I have lived for most of my life — with the windows open, the fans blowing, sleeping with nothing but a sheet on, sometimes even pushing that aside. We eat lighter fare (or pick up a pizza!) and we cook outdoors as much as possible.

Here are a few easy summertime salads from my zine, Stop and Smell the Butter, that require hardly any cooking at all — mostly just chopping, mincing, opening a few cans and putting it all together.

Terrific Tuna Salad


I love this—perfect for summer. No oven or stove to turn on, and it’s scrumptious! Makes a great appetizer.

1 can solid white tuna, drained
1 can (2 ounces) of flat anchovy fillets, drained and minced
1 clove garlic (2 if they’re small), minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons capers
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup (or more to taste) white wine vinegar (I’m fond of using tarragon-flavored.)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Let stand for 15 minutes or more before serving. Serve with crackers or crusty bread.

For a heartier salad, add cannellini beans and chopped tomatoes.

Fresh Corn and Black Bean Salad


Nothing says summer like sweet corn on the cob. When it’s good, I can’t resist cooking a couple dozen at a time for guests, and I invariably end up with leftovers. I came up with this recipe as a way to use cold corn. I really just winged it, mixing ingredients to taste. I encourage you to do the same!

Mix together:
Fresh corn cut from the cob (I used about 6 ears for this recipe)
1-2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
Half of a serrano pepper, minced
Two tablespoons minced red pepper, fresh or roasted
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Juice of two limes
1 teaspoon cumin (if you’ve got ’em, freshly ground seeds are best)
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste

Bean and Barley Salad


This is another one that can calls for any sort of creativity you care to throw at it—the original recipe called for cannellini beans and chick peas, parsley instead of basil, and canola oil instead olive oil. I also added olives and feta. Work with what you’ve got and with combinations that sound good.

3 cups water
½ cup pearl barley
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup chopped basil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
½ cup or so pitted kalamata olives
¼ or so crumbled feta cheese

Cook barley: In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Reduce heat and add barley. Cook over medium heat until tender-firm, about 40 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water. Drain again.

Make dressing: In a small bowl, combine vinegar, salt, pepper, cumin, and garlic. Mix thoroughly. Whisk in oil until evenly combined. (Or put all ingredients in a jar, put lid on and shake thoroughly—does the same job.)

Combine barley, beans, onion, olives, and basil in a serving bowl. Add the dressing and toss gently. Sprinkle feta cheese on top. Serve at room temperature.

chuck mallory
8/22/2010 12:26:39 PM

Yes, it's interesting to see how many people think humans can no longer SURVIVE without AC! And amen to the words about car alarms and leaf blowers. I even had someone tell me the other day they were so "tired" of hearing the LOCUSTS! I tried to explain what a cicada was. Anyway, these recipes sound great. I'll be sure to try them.

8/2/2010 10:40:51 AM

My sister and I were just talking about that as children we never had air conditioning and wondering how we stood it. This year though the heat doesn't seem to be letting up so these salads sound wonderful. We do use window air-conditioners here but only occasionally when we can't stand it anymore! Thanks for the dinner ideas. vickie

nebraska dave
7/29/2010 3:54:56 PM

I just whipped up a smoothie today with yogurt, strawberries, a little milk, and a banana. It turned really yummie for my first ever attempt to make a smoothie. My grandson tried his attempt at making a smoothie. I tried to tell him the things he wanted to put in the smoothie wouldn't really taste too good, but he is his mother's son and would not be convinced other wise so we whipped up a small one. First ingredient was his favorite chololate milk, then blueberries, then strawberries, then grapes. All things he really likes. So we blended it up and he took a big old slurp. The look on his face from was priceless. I asked how it was, there was moment of silence, and he indicated it was good. However he suddenly wasn't thirsty any more. :0) Smoothies seem to be a good way to use fruit before it goes bad. I'm definitely going to try more. As for cold coffee, I think I would have to add some stuff to it in order to drink it cold. Any suggestions?

almost country_1
7/29/2010 2:12:24 PM

Hey Dave, Thanks for reading, as always! Fruit smoothies are super easy--and good! Use frozen fruit, like strawberries and peaches, a banana, and yogurt. Just whip it up. Yummy. As for coffee, do you like iced coffee? It's a summertime staple for me.

nebraska dave
7/27/2010 10:26:39 PM

@Colleen, it’s amazing that we survived our childhood without air conditioning isn’t it? My first air conditioner was after I left home was married and had two kids. We bought a window air conditioner on sale from Sears. We thought we were living the ritzy life for sure. I still prefer not to have so much air on but with others in the house I suppose it would be torture for them. We survived with fans and windows open. Living outside during the summer and sometimes even sleeping outside. It was great fun to fall asleep under the stars. I can hardly see stars because of the city night lights. It’s sure a treat when I go fishing in Northern Nevada 50 miles from any city lights at the 6000 foot altitude. It’s like having the stars in 3D, so clear and bright. Thanks for the hot weather no cook and little cook recipes. My treat for this hot summer is to learn how to make fruit smoothies. I haven’t been brave enough to try one with my old beater blender but I’m getting closer. Two days now I’ve been sweating outside in the 90s with 90s humidity. I’m thinking a good smoothie would be a good way to cool down. What do you think? I’d have to give up hot coffee though. I used to think that if I just drank hot coffee and kept my inside hotter than the outside temperature then I would feel cool. I’m here to tell you it ain’t working. Have a great day and stay as cool as you can.