Picnic Pleasures

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Summery Sandwiches and Salads

The Umbrellas - Renoir

Here in the Northwest, the old joke that says summer starts on July 5th and ends July 6th. Though we’ve enjoyed some sunbreaks, the rainy and/or cloudy days are so far outnumbering the warm sunny ones since the surprisingly sunny Fourth. That never slows us Northwesterners down, so I’m offering some tasty recipes to try next time picnic weather arrives.

I spent Saturday evening consorting with several teams of Morris dancers, who are in general enthusiastic and sometimes splendid singers as well. One of them, Ian Robb, opened the festivities around the firepit (where a huge salmon was majestically cooking) with his classic hymn, Old Rose and Crown, with a rousing chorus provided by several dozen voices. Hours later, Ian ending the evening by leading us all in a heartfelt version of Rolling Home (the British labor song, not the sea chantey), which brought a lovely evening to a satisfying end.

Party Hearty

These delightful folks proved to be hearty eaters and enthusiastic and practiced drinkers, and a great good time was had by all. (I’ve never heard so many love songs to alcohol all at once.) Cooking a huge fish to perfection is not an easy task (though host extraordinaire Simon ffitch managed it brilliantly), so here are a couple of simplified recipes to play with.

Grilling For Maximum Appreciation

Those who picnic with a hibachi have figured out that grilling almost anything outside gets you raves, no matter what you cook. The sizzling salmon sandwiches below take only a few minutes to cook and assemble, so don’t start them until the softball game is over. (Otherwise you may have a crabby cook.)

Vegetarians may have to fend off meat-eaters when the savory scent of their grilled pepper and fennel combos waft over the meadow. Serve either of these snappy herbed taste treats on split rolls (preferably the kind that are crusty on the outside and soft inside). To avoid strained relationships, better make enough for everybody.

Pruning For The Grill

If your garden has a few leggy herb plants, bring along a bundle of clippings to toss on the charcoal. Woody old dry stems of  thyme, rosemary, and sage are perfect (young ones work fine too). Toss on some alder twigs if you like; the splendid combination adds smoky magic to salmon or vegetables.

The warm potato salad below is a family favorite, and the entree vegan salad is always greeted with requests for the recipe (so here it is!). Add fresh fruit (we had bowls of local strawberries and Eastern Washington cherries) and beer, minty iced tea or raspberry lemonade, and you have a meal to remember, rain or shine.

Grilled Salmon Sandwiches

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sesame OR peanut oil
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
2 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced or grated
1 tablespoon Thai chilli sauce OR sweet and sour sauce
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
4 salmon steaks (about 2 pounds), rinsed and patted dry
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon citrus shoyu OR any soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon balm, minced
8 fresh sandwich rolls, sliced in half
1 Walla-Walla onion, thinly sliced
1 cup salad greens
1/2 cup arugula, mustard greens, and/or radicchio

Prepare grill. In a plastic bag, blend oils, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind, ginger root, and chilli sauce. Shake well, add fish and set aside. Blend mayonnaise with soy sauce and lemon balm and spread on sandwich rolls (cut sides). Top each slice with onion, lettuce and greens. When coals are ready, sprinkle fish with sesame seeds and grill quickly (about 4-5 minutes per side), turning once (when done, internal temperature is 136 degrees F.). Serve on rolls (open face makes 16 pieces, closed makes 8 sandwiches). Serves 4-8.

Grilled Pepper and Fennel Sandwiches

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 organic orange, juiced and rind grated
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked OR coarsely ground pepper
1 teaspoon oregano, minced
1 teaspoon basil, minced
1 teaspoon rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon sage, minced
2 red bell peppers, quartered and seeded
1 green bell pepper, quartered and seeded
4 small bulbs fennel (about 3/4 pound), sliced in half lengthwise
2 sweet or red onions, thickly sliced (1/4 inch)
1/2 cup baba ganoudj (smoked eggplant dip)
4 large fresh rolls, sliced in half lengthwise
2 cups salad greens
1/2 cup herb twigs, optional

Prepare grill. In a plastic bag, blend olive oil, orange juice, 1 teaspoon grated orange rind, vinegar, salt, pepper and minced herbs. Shake well, add peppers, fennel and onions and gently squeeze liquid over vegetables to coat (keeping onion slices intact). Set aside. Spread sandwich rolls (cut sides) with baba ganoudj. Top each roll bottom slice with greens. When coals are ready, add twiggy herbs (optional) to make an aromatic smoke and arrange vegetables on the grill. Cook until tender (3-4 minutes per side, though fennel may take 5-6 minutes per side) turning once and basting with marinade once or twice. Serve on rolls (open face makes a pretty presentation). Serves 4.

Warm Potato Salad

4 Yukon Gold or Ladyfinger potatoes,  scrubbed
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon lemon thyme, minced
1 teaspoon lemon balm, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 slices pepperback bacon, chopped
1 Walla-Walla sweet onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt,
1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, stemmed

Boil unpeeled potatoes in salted water until fork tender (about 12-15 minutes). Drain and set aside. In  a bowl, blend mayonnaise, herbs, and mustard, set aside. In a frying pan, heat bacon over medium high heat, stirring often. When crisp, remove bacon to a paper towel to drain. Add onion, celery and red pepper to pan, sprinkle with salt, then cook, stirring often, until barely tender (2-4 minutes). Stir vegetables into mayonnaise. Slice potatoes in half or quarters and add to mayonnaise, folding gently to cover. Top with cilantro or parsley and serve at once. Serves 6-8.

Not Just For Vegetarians

Crispy, crunchy, savory and well balanced, this summery salad combines delightfully layered flavors with the rosy, blushing beauty of high summer harvest.

Vegan Vegie Bean Salad

1 cup each cooked garbanzo, white Italian, black, and kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup Balsamic Citrus Dressing (see below)
1 cup cooked beets, julienned (cut in shoestrings)
1 Walla-Walla Sweet onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 ears sweet corn, kernels cut from cob
1 pound medium shell pasta
1/2 cup kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise
1 cup artichoke hearts in olive oil, sliced thinly
1 cup basil leaves, coarsely torn
8 ounces fresh spinach
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half

In a large bowl, combine drained beans with 1/2 cup dressing, mix well, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. In a large bowl, combine drained beets, onions, and red pepper with 1/4 cup dressing, mix well, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and toss with 1/4 cup dressing while warm. Combine with olives, artichoke hearts, basil, bean mixture and vegetable mixture, toss gently with spinach and tomatoes and serve. Serves 8-10.

Balsamic Citrus Dressing

1 cup virgin olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 organic oranges, juiced, rind grated
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated

In a jar, combine oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, orange juice and zests, adding lemon juice to taste. Shake well to emulsify. Makes about 1-2/3 cups.

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