Salads and fruit juices will keep you cool and hydrated, but if you're feeling more adventurous a chilli-spiked hotpot and a crisp Aperol spritz will sharpen your senses.
Food for hot weather
In the languid heat of this long-awaited summer, the most important thing is to be outside as much as possible. Now is not the time for pot-stirring, for labouring over a risotto or a stew. Better to wash crisp, fresh vegetables in cool water and eat them as salads, with bread, cold meats and cheese, or make a gazpacho. Serve fresh peas in the pod. Or do your minimal cooking in advance and then sit on a terrace to enjoy the fruits of your labours: an Arabian carrot salad with spices and herbs; red peppers slowly charred over a gas flame, stripped and then mixed with anchovies, capers and shallots; thinly sliced courgettes grilled and then dressed with mint leaves, olive oil and red wine vinegar; broad beans briefly cooked with spring onions and morsels of bacon; a roast chicken flung in the oven with lemon juice and garlic and allowed to cool before serving. For pudding, strawberries or raspberries, just as they come, or a salad of ripe stone fruits and berries with olive oil, mint leaves and a spritz of sharpening lime.
Alternatively, take a Chinese point of view. Instead of cold foods, eat foods that are cooling in terms of Chinese medicine. Sip a bowlful of hot rice porridge laced with cooling mung beans or lotus leaves; eat stir-fried cucumber and bitter melon; avoid greasy, meaty foods and opt for lighter flavours. Rather than iced drinks, relieve your internal heat (qing huo) with hot infusions of dried chrysanthemum or honeysuckle, or bitter buckwheat tea. On sultry evenings, sit outside with your friends nibbling cold, cooked dishes: spiced aromatic pig's tongue and chicken wings, blanched spinach in a refreshing ginger-and-vinegar dressing; little salads of cooked beans, sweetcorn, lotus root and other vegetables.
If it is really hot and humid, fight fire with fire, like the labourers and young trendies of Chengdu and Chongqing, sitting around a seething hotpot of chillies and Sichuan pepper in molten beef fat, cooking your own supper from a selection of stacked ingredients: crisp, slithery ox tripe and other offal; mushrooms and greens; slices of raw potato and luncheon meat. Remove all unnecessary clothing. Let the chillies stimulate your sluggish appetite and drive the sweat from your body. Give yourself over to an inferno of glorious, irresistible heat.
What to drink in the hot weather
While it is true that we need to stay hydrated, it is not necessarily true that we need as much liquid as the sports drinks industry might like us to think. Being made to believe we need eight glasses a day and worrying that we have left it too late by the time we are thirsty is great marketing, but the scientific literature doesn't really back it up.
We get about 20-30% of our fluid intake from food, and as long as we drink throughout the day, when we are thirsty and more often if exercising, we probably get enough (dizziness, headaches, dry mouth and dark urine are signs that we are not). Tea and coffee are mild diuretics, but still count towards the 1.2 litres of water a day that the NHS recommends. Booze is a much more efficient diuretic, so you need to drink more water if you are knocking back cocktails in the sun. A glass of water for every one or two alcoholic drinks will make tomorrow's hangover far more bearable.
If you are looking for non-alcoholic summer drinks that aren't sticky-sweet, try one of the new flavoured tonics by Bottlegreen (pomegranate) or Fevertree (elderflower), garnished with cucumber. Cawston Press and Luscombe both do excellent ranges of sparkling drinks for adults, including spicy ginger beers. Give fruit juices a savoury kick by adding a sprig of herbs, gently slapped to release their oils - peach, apple, pear or apricot all work wonderfully with rosemary or thyme (add a splash of sparkling wine for a bellini); dill, basil and mint are great with lime or lemon juice, lengthened with soda water.
For something boozy but low in alcohol, and delicious as an aperitif, try Aperol or Campari with soda and a wedge of orange (extra gin and prosecco optional, as is a green olive in brine); an ice-cold Wine Cooler cocktail with sparkling lemon, fresh lemon juice and a splash of vodka; or a long Paloma, with pink grapefruit juice, tequila, sugar and sparkling water.
Ice-cold gazpacho will cool you down in the heat. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian