Lake, ocean or river, no matter, with the heat and humidity of July beating down in oppressive waves, water is the only salvation! My best childhood memories involve family and sand and food and water while the fiery orb finally settles down into the east coast horizon. My mother planned our late-day excursions around a dinner picnic, mostly to include my father, who worked through July at the hospital, but also because we are a fair-skinned bunch and crisp-up pretty easily.
State parks with public beaches basically empty out by 5:00, yet remain open to dusk, which in July means until almost 9:00. But by late afternoon most beach-goes pack up their picnic baskets and portable radios, their water toys and sandy tots, and head back into the still heat of summer evenings. But not us. With 80% of the other folks gone we had miles of beach to ourselves and we splashed and surfed about in the waves like we owned the place before wrapping up in towels and opening the basket of sandwiches. While eating we watched the last golden rays shoot across the blue horizon. Even today I am surprised over how few people do this.
Now-a-days we still love packing a cooler with a portable feast and filling the trunk of the car with the needed gear and head to any swimmable water nearby for a dinner picnic. Of course Vermont affords plenty of river swimming holes for a quick dip, but for a proper alfresco supper, an expanse of grass or sand under a clear blue sky, is as essential as the blanket we spread. This year we are hooked on all Crystal Lakehas to offer…refreshing lake water, leafy trees for shade, functional charcoal grills for public use, and a crowd that heads home by 5:00 like clockwork!
Of course every family has their favorite salads for a picnic, but this summer we have perfected a few recipes and have had a few memorable outings already. These dishes can stand on their own or be pared with barbecued chicken or tofu-pups. This first salad is really just a more portable version of the tomato, mozzarella and basel platter, but the portable part makes it a great option.
Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Salad
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon minced garlic 1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
a dribble of honey 1 large vine-ripened tomato, cut into cubes
1/4 pound mozzarella cheese (preferrably fresh), cut into cubes
6 to 8 large fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
In a small bowl whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, mustard, honey, and salt and pepper to taste. Dice the tomato and mozzarella, then tear up the basil before mixing with vinaigrette.
Nothing like a cold pasta dish, especially after a long lake swim when you crave something hearty. The following dish should satisfy that hunger.
Asian Noodle Salad
1/4 cup soy sauce 2 tablespoons seasoned or plain rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil 1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger 3/4 lb whole grain pasta of your choice
1 cup coarsely shredded carrot 3 scallions, cut and sliced lengthwise
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted 6 radishes, halved and thinly sliced
Stir together soy sauce, vinegar, oil, garlic, and ginger. Cook pasta (perhaps a penne or a rotini is easiest for a picnic) in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, then drain and rinse under cold water. Toss with dressing, carrot, scallions, sesame seeds, and radishes in a large bowl.
Vegetables aren’t always on a picnicker’s mind, but we make a point of including them no matter where we are eating! Here’s a hands-down easy and yummy salad to bring along. If you haven’t started including fennel in your meals, let this be your first foray into that unknown delight.
Green Bean and Fennel Salad
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil 2 teaspoons water
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise (about 4 cups)
2 cups chopped fresh Italian parsley 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Cook green beans in large pot of boiling water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain. Transfer to large bowl of ice water. Drain beans. Pat dry. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill dressing. Wrap green beans in paper towels and chill.) Place beans in large bowl. Add fennel, parsley, chives and lemon peel. Drizzle dressing over and toss.
Are you as wild over chickpeas (garbanzo bean) as I am? This next recipe is another tasty way to include these legumes.
Bulgur Salad with Chickpeas and Spiced Cumin Dressing
1 1/2 cups bulgur 3 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper(optional)
Salt 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
(or soak your dried chickpeas overnight in plenty of water and then cook until edible (around an hour))
Place the bulgur in a large bowl. Add the boiling water and set aside, stirring occasionally, until the bulgur has softened, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the bulgur then return the bulgur to the bowl. Meanwhile, whisk the lemon juice, honey, cumin, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon salt together in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil until the dressing is smooth. Add the chickpeas and parsley to the bowl with the drained bulgur and stir to combine. Drizzle the dressing over the mixture and toss to combine.
So, after your long July work day, don’t come home to your hot house, don’t wait for the weekend, instead, with a tad of culinary planning beforehand, pack yourselves up and head to water and sand and lingering sunshine. Enjoy your early evening under that now-not-quite-so-deadly-sun, have a fun-filled splash-about, and savor a healthy and delicious picnic on a now almost deserted beach. When you do finally return home, all that coolness is bound to come along with you.