Can a picnic be complete without a delicious, yet simple picnic basket? Here’s your guide to putting together an easy picnic lunch.
After a long time, we decided to go on a picnic recently. It had been too hot the past few weeks but the last two days rained and brought down the temperature, making it ideal for picnicking. I got started on one of my favourite jobs – making up lunch menus. Sadly, that morning the skies opened and we had to cancel our picnic plans.
Though we didn’t go, it got me thinking about the menu I created and what makes for ideal picnic food. Many families have standard options – my mum and grandma prefer the traditional staples of ‘mixed rice’ (puliyodarai or tamarind rice, lemon rice, curd rice) accompanied by pickles and fried vadam or chips. In fact, our names should probably appear in record books somewhere for taking the aforementioned puliyodarai-curd rice combo to picnic at Hyde Park, London! And my brother credits our mum with clearing Trafalgar Square of its pigeons, by the simple act of opening her dabba of lemon rice.
If mixed rice is the picnic staple of the South, for many North Indians, poori-aloo sabzi seems to be the favourite picnic dish. This is closely followed by stuffed parathas. Not surprisingly, sandwiches seem to be a picnic staple too, with the Indian green chutney sandwich proving quite popular among the masses.
For popular blogger Monika Manchanda, no family picnic is complete without pooris and aloo while for mum-of-two Abha, picnics mean homemade methi thepla, alu subzi and coconut -coriander chutney. In the case of Indu, a working mum, picnic food means anything that can be put together real quickly with minimal cooking effort! So her ideal menu would be PBJ (or peanut butter and jam sandwiches), cold Frooti and fresh fruits.
What makes for ideal picnic food?
The ideal picnic dish should be transported easily. This is why sandwiches are perennial favourites. Make a filling, squish it between two slices of bread and you’re all set. Any dish that involves complicated handling, mixing and dealing with liquids fails as a picnic item.
This is a particular requirement for Indian weather – in this heat, it is very important that the food we carry does not spoil on its way to the picnic. Creamy gravies are out, for this reason.
How easy is it to hold in your hand? These are not indulgent full course meals, where you have room to spread your food around in three places, if need be, and assemble it before devouring it. At picnics, you want to hold on to your food, preferably with one hand, leaving the other hand free to hold a cold drink! For this reason, cutlets feature in mum of one, Sajita’s picnic menu.
Not too Smelly
I don’t know about you but this is a personal requirement, especially since the day my mum’s lemon rice dabba sent two Chinese tourists away from their cosy lunch spot next to us! Somehow, food that carries pungent smells does not suit a picnic – the smells seem to gain more strength in the sun and what was appetising in the kitchen turns off-putting in the park.
Let’s not forget the drinks
As picnics are an endeavour best suited for sunny days, the drinks are equally, if not more, important. Popular choices are lemonade, salted buttermilk and aerated drinks. I recently came across a lovely, tangy one from Fabindia, a mango punch drink in powder form. Mix it up with water and voila – one super drink is ready in a jiffy!
Quiches are popular picnic items in the West, as it scores high in the portability and grab factor stakes. Another favourite is cold pasta – cook up a massive batch of pasta, toss in some red pesto, throw some steamed veg, garnish with grated cheese and pack it up. The cheese will soften and melt a little in the residual heat of the dish and the cold dish will taste like heaven. For added crunch, take some garlic bread or cheesy breadsticks.
One thing I have noticed is that, generally, picnic grub translates to the oily, the fried and basically, the unhealthy. None of the items listed above will score high with the health-conscious. Whilst picnics come under the title of ‘let us just relax and enjoy ourselves’, I think there is room to revamp it a wee bit so it appeases the foodie, the hedonist and the health-conscious ones among us.
If you make a crustless quiche, it becomes a protein super-dish. Or, if we can turn the simple picnic into a backyard (or a balcony) barbeque, the options increase dramatically. Marinated freshly grilled veggies / paneer /meat served with a crispy salad and a cold drink can tick most people’s boxes and for those craving a carb fix, throwing a sweet potato on the barbeque is a super quick option.
To quench your thirst, crack open a few tender coconuts and drink the sweet water for a super healthy drink!
So, does this make you want to dust your picnic mat out, grab your hat and sunscreen and head outdoors to enjoy the sun with friends and family? If so, tell us what your favourite picnic food is. While you are planning your picnic, here’s a super easy recipe for punch that is truly lip-smacking.
Quick and easy fruit punch
Take a massive bowl and pour in the club soda and orange juice. Extract the juice from four ripe lemons.
Add the sugar and stir well. Mix in the ice cubes. Remember to be careful with how many you add, as it will dilute the taste.
This drink is so easy and tastes so yummy that you’ll find any excuse to make it! You can customise it to your taste by varying the amounts of the different juices in the mix.
Mother, writer, foodie, margarita lover, Lavanya is the exception to the rule that women are
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