As the weather grows warmer, many of us are eager to get outdoors and luxuriate in the fresh air with our friends and families. Mid-summer is a splendid time for a picnic under the trees.
By lucy herrman
Whether planning to bring a moveable feast to one of Taos’s multitude of beautiful parks and recreation areas, or to invite a few friends over for a backyard get-together, we love the simplicity of eating outdoors. We can keep things effortless and still reap the benefits of special get-togethers.
Picnics mean we also get to feel good about eating lighter fare. But lighter doesn’t mean bland! We can still make food that is pleasing to the palate and to the eye. And as a bonus, picnics are infinitely expandable — if you happen to have a bigger group joining you, just add an additional dish or two to round out your carte du jour.
For a classic picnic, I always think of special salads and sandwiches. I want my dishes to be portable, especially when we’re carrying the food in a basket or a backpack. I look for something I can make ahead that is easy to serve and easy to eat. And I try to minimize the mess!
Take a look at the gorgeous tomatoes offered right now at our farmer’s markets — yellow, red, orange, green. They cry out to be sliced and served just as they are. But add a baguette, some cheese and voila! Beautiful and hearty caprese sandwiches, sure to please any fellow picnicker!
To prepare ahead, alternate tomato slices with thinly sliced fresh mozzarella in a travel container, drizzle with some olive oil and balsamic glaze and garnish with shredded fresh basil. When you arrive at your destination, arrange the slices on fresh baguettes, split open lengthwise, for gourmet hero sandwiches that will rival anything you can find in a deli. You might even wish to go all out and add some thinly sliced prosciutto for the meat-lovers in your group.
With its sweet and savory flavors, Watermelon Salad is a refreshing addition to your picnic. Pick a small sweet watermelon and add diced cucumber, mint, feta cheese and Greek olives for an accompaniment as attractive as it is tasty. For no-mess serving, pack individual portions in small mason jars.
And finally, since we live in New Mexico, I want to include something spicy and brightly flavored. I happen to love Black Bean Salad. This versatile dish is colorful and enticing, with tart and savory ingredients including corn kernels, peppers and lime. You can eat it as a salad, or use it as a salsa.
Summer is a great time to revel in the natural beauty and inviting mountains, rivers, trails and parks Taos has to offer. So try a little gourmet entertaining in the great outdoors. What could be better than a picnic? Stay safe and enjoy your al fresco get-togethers. Keep it fun and easy for yourself, and make everyone happy.
Summer is the time to try this refreshing salad that has a wonderful sweet and savory Mediterranean flavor.
8 cups diced watermelon, drained for 30 minutes in a colander
1/2 unpeeled English cucumber, washed and diced
20 pitted kalamata olives, sliced in quarters (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup (measured, then chopped) mint leaves
Arrange the watermelon cubes in a large deep platter. Evenly spread the cucumber over the watermelon. Then evenly layer the feta, the olives and the chopped mint on top. Drizzle with balsamic glaze. Toss before serving. Can make it several hours in advance and refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.
TOMATO-MOZZARELLA (CAPRESE) SANDWICHES
I love the simplicity of this fresh salad, especially for a picnic. By serving it on a baguette, though, you accomplish a light and flavorful sandwich as your centerpiece dish. A drizzle of olive oil and balsamic glaze are all you need for the dressing, which is absorbed by the crispy French bread. Delicious!
Two or more heirloom tomatoes, cut in half and sliced lengthwise
One or two balls of fresh mozzarella, cut into slices
A small bunch basil, washed and gently patted dry
Sliced prosciutto (optional)
A good fruity extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Balsamic glaze for drizzling
Fresh ground salt and pepper
One large baguette, sliced lengthwise
Layer the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella in a deep container. Sprinkle with the basil leaves (chop if leaves are large.) Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic glaze. Grind salt and pepper over the top.
To assemble as a sandwich, split a baguette lengthwise. Place the marinated layers of tomato and cheese on the bottom side. Drizzle sandwich with dressing from the container. (If using, add a layer of prosciutto.) Close up the baguette and press together. Slice sandwich lengths to order.
BLACK BEAN & CORN SALAD
I love this versatile salad, which easily may also be eaten as a hearty salsa.
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen sweet corn kernels, defrosted and drained
1 diced jalapeno
1 diced red bell pepper (about 1 cup)
1-2 scallions, diced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon cumin
Juice from 2 limes (about 1/3-1/2 cup)
salt and pepper to taste
Combine ingredients. Allow to sit 15 minutes at room temperature.