My two favorite picnic spots are on a beach blanket watching waves or in our own backyard. Of course, I also have many happy memories of large family or group picnics in public parks, as well. Rain has never been a problem, because if the weather turns soggy, we just take the paper plates and outdoor attitude, indoors. But outside or in, it’s the company and the food that make a picnic successful.
Once you have decided on the where of your picnic and what games to play, it is time to decide on the most important part of the picnic—the picnic salads! Yes, I know, main courses are usually the focus. However, for me, side dishes are what give picnics their unique flair . Even if ten people are serving hamburgers and hot dogs, varying sides, will enable you to find your family's spot, even if all the people are up playing bocce or softball. Some families serve a special potato salad (be it egg, mayo, or vinegar-based). In my family it was cold eggplant parm that came along with us to all picnics, house based or in a local park.
Recently, I attended a house picnic with the Lewis family in Carolina Shores, NC (just north of the border).They shared "Grandma Lewis'" family recipe of a delightful cold cauliflower salad that really hit the spot. It made tasty accompaniment to both the chicken and the sausage main courses. Sally DeBartolo, an officer with Carolina Italian American Organization, and veteran of many of that group's delicious group meals, said that her go-to summer picnic salad is one that combines several types of beans. My own new favorite summer picnic salad combines that ultimate summer fruit, watermelon with feta cheese and mint. (This is a simplified version of a recipe I shared last year for savory watermelon dishes)
Sally DeBartolo's Three Bean Salad
1 can green beans (15 oz)
1 can red kidney beans (15 oz)
1 can white cannellini or Great Northern Beans (15 oz)
Drain each can of beans, then put the beans in a bowl.
Add, salt, pepper to taste, some red onion (I use ¼ cup)
Balsamic vinegar to taste (I start with ¼ cup)
Add a pinch of oregano
Stir, refrigerate. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Note: I add 2 T olive oil as well
Patricia Lewis' Cauliflower Salad
1 head of iceberg lettuce
1 head of cauliflower
2 cups mayonnaise
1 red onion
1 pound of bacon
½ cup parmesan cheese
¼ cup sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Fry all the bacon until crisp, crumble, and set aside.
Tear the lettuce into a large salad bowl.
Prepare cauliflower by separating into tiny florets.
Slice onion paper thin and separate rings.
Layer lettuce, cauliflower, onion, and bacon in that order, then smooth mayonnaise over the top of the salad, sealing it at the bowl’s edge. Sprinkle parmesan cheese, sugar, salt and pepper over mayonnaise. Cover securely and refrigerate overnight (for best results). Toss together when ready to serve.
Watermelon and Feta Salad
For each cup of watermelon cubes, add one ounce crumbled feta and 2 teaspoons shredded fresh mint.