By Stephanie Linehan
I know I’m not the only one who’s made great use of their patio this past year. After five years of living in our house, we finally found moments to really enjoy our outdoor set up. While al fresco dining in my yard was special, especially at the height of the pandemic, the novelty has worn off a bit and I’ve been thinking of changing the landscape; and I don’t mean spending thousands of dollars on new outdoor furniture.
I’m thinking picnics — a change of scenery, a little adventure for my kids, and a meal all wrapped up in one lovely afternoon. Here are my thoughts on how to create picnic perfection.
While tea sandwiches and cheese platters still make great traditional picnic fare, it’s always good to enliven the menu with something special. I used to shy away from bringing salads to a picnic, as they would wilt or get soggy, so I stuck with crudités, but the veggies were rarely eaten. Over time, I’ve learned how to make salads work.
Mason jars are a great way to present picnic salads, especially the tabbouleh and broccoli salads featured here. The former stands up to the dressing and tastes better the longer it marinates. The latter is, for the most part, hearty and doesn’t wilt. However, to keep the arugula that’s in it from getting moist, I put the dressing at the bottom of the mason jar and then layer the greens straight on top of the dressing. When you are ready to eat, all you need to do is shake up the mason jar and serve. Alternatively, you can bring a separate jar of dressing.
For a picnic, you don’t have to set up a full-on tabletop, but you definitely need something other than a worn picnic blanket. If you have one of those waterproof tablecloths tucked away somewhere, use it as a first layer to repel any moisture or dirt from the ground, then cover it with a stylish tablecloth and sit right on it. It brings a little fancy to the party and you don’t feel like you are eating on the ground. Another great addition are pillows to add some comfort, which extends the lovely afternoon that much more.
I’m not a big fan of carting around ceramic plates for a picnic, especially when you can find stylish paper goods downtown at Dabney Lee. They are certainly not your regular paper plates. I’ve also mixed in my favorite bamboo flatware and napkins to elevate and refine the look. Happy picnicking!
1 cup bulgur wheat
1.5 cups boiling water
1 cup chopped mint
1 red onion
2 Persian cucumbers
1 shredded carrot
2 cups cherry tomatoes halved
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1.5 tsp. kosher salt
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
2 tsp. ground sumac
1 tsp. ground cumin
¼ cup olive oil
½ tsp. black pepper
6 ounces feta cheese
To make the dressing, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, sumac, and cumin and set aside.
Turn on a tea kettle to boil water. Place the bulgur in a large heatproof bowl, pour in the boiling water, add one teaspoon of salt and the dressing. Stir, then cover and allow to stand at room temperature for about one hour. Stir in parsley, mint, red onion, cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes. Season with the remaining salt and pepper. Add to mason jars and top with feta cheese. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.
¼ cup tahini
3 T. apple cider vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. pepper
2 T. olive oil
1 tsp. sesame seeds
¾ cup broccoli florets and reserved stems
1 bunch broccolini
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 handfuls baby arugula
1 handful mint leaves, roughly chopped
¼ cup of toasted almonds, chopped
To make the dressing, combine tahini, vinegar, garlic, sesame seeds, 3 tablespoons water, olive oil, and one teaspoon of salt and pepper in a bowl. Whisk together.
Peel the broccoli stems with a vegetable peeler, slice to make small round disks, and place in a bowl. Cut off broccoli florets and chop the broccolini florets into 1-inch pieces. Add to the bowl. Add in the green onion, arugula, mint, almonds, and toss to combine. Pour dressing into the bottom of the mason jars. Add salad. When ready to serve, shake jars to toss the ingredients.