I set an intention to cook less this summer, for the sake of both my mental health and my electric bill. But cooking less doesn’t mean eating less, not at all. I cook in batches, maybe two or three times a week, hopefully early in the morning before the hot afternoon sun streams through my kitchen window. This is when the roasting, the bean simmering, the bread baking happens. The days in between are ripe with opportunities for easy meals like sandwiches, veggie-and-bean salads, and tacos that come together quickly and fruitfully. I figure, with all this extra time on my hands, these meals can be packed into little containers and tucked into a cooler for picnic dinners that will make the end of a long summer day feel rather sweet.
With a bit of planning and preparation, you can turn your CSA share into a wonderful and rewarding picnic. A loaf of Barrio Bread accompanied by fresh fruit and a few summery salads makes for a simple meal that is best enjoyed in nature. Prepare a melon for picnic by removing the rind to make it lighter and easier to pack, then dice the flesh into bite-sized pieces and chill in the refrigerator. To make your melon even more transportable, scoop the flesh into a blender with a few sprigs worth of fresh mint or basil, a healthy squeeze of lime juice, and perhaps some honey and blend it into a sweet agua fresca. Store the refreshing drink in a lidded carafe, mason jar, or reusable water bottle and bring it along to serve as a refreshment alongside a slew of snacks and salads. Delicate peaches can be transported in lidded containers and apples are hardy enough to make it up the mountain at the bottom of a backpack, so choose accordingly.
The right salads can make for great picnic food because they’re easy to eat and travel well. While traditional greens-based salads are prone to wilting and sogginess, chopped salads made up of tomatoes, corn, potatoes, beans, and cooked grains retain their texture and flavor over time. Replace mayo with a Dijon vinaigrette to make potato salad that keeps better in the heat and is delicious at room temperature. To make it, boil small potatoes and green beans until they’re tender, then drain and toss them with a vinaigrette made up of one-part wine vinegar, two-parts olive oil, one-sixth part Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. For a crunchy and bright summer salad, toss diced tomatoes, cucumbers, cooked corn kernels, and diced jalapeño with a simple dressing made up of equal parts lime juice and olive oil, then sprinkle everything with minced fresh herbs and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. And, if all else fails, rest assured that almost any combination of cooked grains, tender beans, seasonal veggies, and vinaigrette will make for a delicious picnic salad. Briney cheeses like feta are a bonus.
Once you have bread, salad, and fruit, choose a few finger foods–olives, nuts, cheeses–and perhaps a bottle of wine or beer to round out your meal. Then, store everything in individual air-tight containers before packing them in a cooler filled with frozen ice packs. Fill a tote bag with an old blanket or towel, a few plates, utensils, and napkins before heading up the mountain for a wonderful day. Even when you’re short on time, a delicious seasonal meal enjoyed in a beautiful setting can help you relax and muster through the hot weather.