June 25, 2011
Welcome back to the kitchen. Friends, it is absolutely beautiful out there. Sure, we had a bit of a wet, late spring, but that just means everything is that much greener out there as we warm up into the hot post-solstice summer.
Gardens and farmers markets are really taking off, and we have plenty of local foods to work with. The sunshine is really pulling me outside, and I love dining al fresco whenever possible. So this week, I’ve got my mind on one version of the perfect picnic.
Now, what makes a picnic perfect? Well that’s subjective of course. For me, it has to be simple to assemble, but contain food fresh and interesting enough that it doesn’t just feel like any other bag lunch. So this week I want to make the best use of some seasonal local ingredients to create an easy yet memorable meal outdoors.
Of course, lots of outdoor eating centers around the grill, and I though about having us lug the mini coleman down to the river, lake, park, or wherever your picnic is located. But really, when I think about the classic picnic, it is made up of cold, pre-prepared or leftover foods. So we’ll focus this week on assembling more than cooking our feast.
I’ve got a couple of ideas for our proverbial picnic basket, but of course just gathering up a bunch of fresh veggies, some meats, chesses, good bread and wine can make for a great nosh in nature. However, I suppose I’m here to inspire your creativity, so let me attempt to do just that.
A friend of mine recently got a sprouting kit, which makes it easy to take broccoli, radish, alfalfa, or any number of sprout seed varieties and get copious amounts of sprouts in just a few days. All you need to do is water and harvest them. These gadgets are quite cheap, and I highly recommend investing in one. Sprouts are delicious, they have a great texture, and they are incredibly nutritionally dense and good for you. Also, sprouts can get quite pricey in the store, so it is a good crop to do on your own at home.
I wanted to create a dish with my newfound love for these spicy, crunchy, yummy sprouts. I’ve also got a huge profusion of greens: spinach, mustard greens, lettuce, and my all time favorite arugula. Some of these greens are about to start bolting in the garden, so it’s a good time to try to eat a lot of them.
I also have a bottle of pre-made spicy peanut sauce. Now, normally, I would shun a pre-made sauce like this in favor of something made from scratch, but this stuff (House of Tsang Bankok Peanut Sauce) is actually quite tasty, and we want to make our picnic lunch quickly so we can get out there and enjoy the sun. So in this case I think it’s ok to cut some corners.
Where I’m going with this recipe is a sort of Asian wrap packed full of fresh veggies and topped with peanut sauce. Ideally, it would be great to get a rice noodle wrapper like on a Thai salad roll. But those may not be so easy to find around here. What is very easy to find, and also friendly to our gluten averse friends, are corn tortillas. I like to use these ubiquitous discs as a foil for more than just tacos and quesadillas.
So before we head out for our picnic, let’s chop and ready everything. We’ll rinse a couple of big handfuls of those salad greens plus peppery arugula and mustard. I like to store them in an open plastic bag with a paper towel inside to absorb the extra moisture. This way they’ll still be crispy when we’re ready to eat.
Slice a red or yellow pepper into long, thin strips. If you are very good with a knife, slice some carrots into matchsticks as well. You can also use a mandolin slicer or a food processor. Also slice up some celery stalks into long, thin strips. You can pack all these sliced veggies together for the picnic, but keep them in the fridge until you are ready to go.
Toast a few tablespoons of sesame seeds in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until they begin to brown or pop. Quickly remove the seeds from the heat and put them aside in a small yogurt container. Pine nuts or walnuts would also make a perfectly suitable substitute.
Let’s mix up some of that pre-made peanut sauce with a few dashes of rice wine vinegar and the juice of a fresh lime. I also like to add a little sriracha hot sauce to kick things up a notch. Of course you can use the prepared sauce as is, but I like to thin it out a bit, and I find the citrus and vinegar make for a brighter, fresher taste. Pack this peanut dressing in another yogurt container.
Let’s gather a handfrul of fresh mint and basil leaves (in my garden my favorites are the lime mint and the purple Thai basil). Give these leaves a rough chop. They will add a lot of fresh flavor to our picnic wraps. Oh! And I almost forgot that we should get as many sugar snap peas as we can find. There are great in the wraps, on the side, or just about anywhere! And of course grab a big container of those fresh sprouts and a big stack of corn tortillas. If you have a tortilla warmer that keeps them warm for some time, now would be a great opportunity to use it.
Finally, if you have any leftover grilled meat or tofu, these wraps would be the perfect time to use that as well. I’m especially keen on some sliced, marinated and grilled pork from last night, which will be perfect for this. Of course, some roasted turkey breast would be delicious. Or you may want to bake off some tamari tofu to get some more vegetarian protein in the picnic.
But that is the basic idea of these modified Thai peanut salad wraps. The fun comes when you lay out all the many topping choices on your picnic blanket, and everyone gets to stack their wraps high and personalized. For me, this adds to the perfect picnic, where the food is semi-assembled and creating each plate is part of the experience.
I am also going to mix up a big batch of strawberry lavender lemonade, using fresh squeezed lemons and a few sprigs of lavender. I like to take a few cups of fresh-frozen strawberries, which I’ll add to the lemonade just before packing. It. This way we have strawberry ice cubes to keep our tasty beverage cold! And bring along a well chilled bottle of white wine for the adults, so you can mix a sort of summery sangria.
It may sound simplistic, but I’m telling you these Thai salad tacos with peanut dressing will be a huge hit. They make great use of what’s in season, and they are irresistibly delicious. Plus, they are so light and healthy you can feel good about putting quite a few away.
I hope this one picnic idea inspires lots of creative summer dining al fresco. For me, great food is the highlight of many activities, including enjoying the great outdoors. Next time you are packing a picnic, leave the processed meats and junk food out of your basket. Eat fresh and local, and each meal will be a joy. I’d love to hear some of your favorite summer recipes. Send me any questions or comments to Isaac@kohoradio.com. Cooking Local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.