Picnic season is in full swing. Is this the year you’ll eschew supermarket chips and salsa in favor of something homemade and fabulous? Do it! Spin the globe for inspiration.
There they are again—the bag of store-bought tortilla chips and jar of slimy, mediocre salsa—at a picnic. Another bag is sure to arrive shortly, followed by another. Hope you packed water and protein and produce and everything else.
Though there’s no need to go full Liz Lemon and spreadsheet your way to a varied feast (but no judgment if you do!), maybe you could stand to picnic more creatively. To that end, here are inspirations from around the world so your crew thinks you’re all that—and a bag of chips.
Classic Thai ingredients mingle to great effect in this bright, fiery, tart papaya salad. It’s just the thing for early spring or late summer get-togethers, and in the heat of mid-summer those Thai chiles are sure to make you sweat in a good way.
Smashed cucumber salad has enjoyed a popular revival these last few years, as chefs have figured out a way to coax the dish onto their menus. Cold, salted, jagged cucumbers bring the fruit into a satisfying new dimension, especially when they’re spun with sugar, garlic, cilantro, and soy sauce and flecked with sesame seeds.
If you’re a cook in the Southeastern part of the U.S., it’s likely you have a pimiento cheese recipe up your sleeve. Whether you like your mix of cheddar, pimiento peppers, and mayo spicy, creamy, or herbaceous is up to you, but served with crackers and celery, it is tough to beat as part of a spread.
My go-to for picnics this spring is a just-barely-still-warm loaf of bread, ricotta from the local Italian market, plenty of olives, a honey bear, and a pepper grinder. I pass the olives and slice the loaf on a small cutting board right on the premises, slathering small pieces with ricotta, drizzling them with honey, and cracking pepper over them before sending them around.
The ultimate cheap, easy al fresco snack, this popular Spanish dish is tastiest at room temperature. Potatoes and onions are sliced thinly, fried briefly in olive oil, and layered with eggs before being baked in a skillet and inverted onto a plate. It’s like a less messy, crustless version of quiche.
You really should wait until tomatoes, summer squash, and eggplant are in season before making this sweet, savory, kickass jam of a dish. Pack a baguette, throw some of this ratatouille (which takes all day to make, but it’s so worth it) into a jar, and kick back to await the compliments.
Who doesn’t love her own individual snack? British meat pies and Jamaican and Trinidadian “doubles” are enormously popular for good reason: They’re protein-packed treats you can eat without mess… and then go play football.
8. Indian chaat
If you’re open to getting a little messy, consider India’s chaat. A term that loosely connotes snacks made with a crisp, savory base, a sauce, crunchy veggie toppings and sev (thin crunchy bits), a chaat can take many different forms, but I’m most partial to those with samosa bases. Just put all the toppings in various containers, set them in a row with spoons, and let people make their own chaat.
Sweet and addictive, sort of the sticky toffee pudding of South Africa, this delightful dessert should be served warm, if you don’t mind bringing something slightly high-maintenance to a picnic. (Spoiler alert: It’s worth it.)
10. French cannelés
I’ve raved about these fluted, rum-and-vanilla scented pastries before. Their gorgeous appearance belies how easy they are to make, they’re absolutely divine, and they can be done many hours in advance (so long as you serve them the day they’re made). No one will believe how little work they involved.
Is it possible to win a picnic? You just did.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.