Need an update to your picnic salad?

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)July 16, 2014 

Summertime is high season for eating outdoors; weekend plans will soon be filled with cookouts, backyard parties and picnics.

That often means bringing a dish, usually a dessert or salad, to go with the host’s main course. With salads, the lineup is often the same: potato salad, coleslaw, pasta salad, baked beans, bean salad.

We wanted modern takes on these classics, and this spring’s crop of cookbooks offered plenty of inspiration.

In his new cookbook, “Down South,” New Orleans chef and restaurateur Donald Link spices up a carrot and raisin salad with homemade curry powder. Link also updates an apple and raisin slaw by adding ginger, jalapenos and cooked bits of country ham or prosciutto for heat, crunch and saltiness.

Food writer and memoirist Kim Sunee cleverly pairs coconut milk, ginger and chiles with black-eyed peas for a fresh take on hoppin’ John. In “A Mouthful of Stars,” Sunee writes that she considers black-eyed peas to be “the catfish of the legume family — musky and murky if not cooked properly.” She discovered that the murkiness vanishes when the peas are cooked like an Indian-spiced lentil dish. The recipe was delicious at room temperature and without rice, which makes it a contender for taking to the outdoor feast.

Food blogger Lisa Fain updates Texas macaroni salad in her book, “The Homesick Texan’s Family Table.” Fain explains that a Texas macaroni salad involves pasta, pickles, peas, peppers and a mayo dressing. But it wasn’t to Fain’s taste: “It’s a little cloying with the sweet pickles and sweet mayonnaise.”

Fain’s version adds cabbage for crunch, lime juice and mustard for balance and chipotle peppers for heat.

“It’s a little more modern taste, a little more to my taste,” Fain said.

That’s exactly what we’re looking to bring to the next picnic.

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