Toast to summer time picnics with Mediterranean Food, Mediterranean Picnic Food and flair. We're smack dab in the middle of the year here in So. California, produce is coming
into the height of season, and even though the sun still wants to play peek-a-boo, my soul is definitely ready for some outdoor blanket and basket time. And wine, of course. Bonus points if it's bubbly.
What to pack? Sandwiches? Fruit? Drinks? Yes. But, what if you're wanting to change things up a bit? What if you want to add some bold new flavors, dishes from other lands, regions of the Mediterranean, let's say, that reach beyond our favorite Greek or Caprese Salads?
Lucky for you, as your go to gal for all things Mediterranean and delish, I've got you covered.
For starters: it helps to understand how the
foods of the Mediterranean are inspired by so many of her neighboring countries. Countries who don't share in her glorious coastline. Here's a brief summary with some exceptional foodie comparisons. For example, stuffed grape leaves, Dolma, that we readily recognize as a Greek specialty also shows up in Armenian, Lebanese, Turkish, Georgian, Azerbaijani, Iraqi, (I could go on), cuisine. The yogurt dish that accompanies it may have cucumbers and dill, as in Greeces' tzatziki. In Iran it may have raisins and caramelized shallots. In fact, many stuffed vegetable recipes appear even into more Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland. But, I digress. Why am I bringing up this little, but important bit of historical trivia about the origin of Mediterranean food. Well, I think if we were to ask any Grandmother from any of those regions, they'd claim it as their own. Am I right? It can be a sensitive topic. I mean, have you met a grandmama who isn't proud of her dishes and their origin stories? Where their recipes came from and who does it better? To my point, we really don't know. I believe that in the end the only thing that does matter, beneath the feelings of ownership or competition, is realizing that food is, and will always be, our common denominator.
If we allow it, if we are open to the more profound power of what food can do, what breaking bread together can do for us, the results can be transformative, beyond, I believe, any peace summit. It will open our hearts and minds to compassion and understanding for the other. Soon we see that the other is far more like us than we thought. Than we feared. That's my hope, anyway. That's my mission.
With that bit of background you now know that even though some of my suggestions may not at first present as Mediterranean food, that that's where the fusion part comes in. How, like in my family's heritage, these foods all crossed over, from one beautiful coastline to another. Like my maternal grandmother's recipe for Piroshki, who grew up on the coast of the black sea. At the age of 14 she immigrated to Iran, living by the coast of the Caspian Sea. Some of her siblings moved to Israel. More inspiration, more fusion. Finally she moved to Los Angeles, CA. I remember as a little girl, tagging along to the grocery store with her and my mom. They were looking for parsley. Back in the 70's herbs weren't sold as they are now. Can you imagine? No one here knew what to do with parsley; except to use it for garnish. So, that's precisely how she bought the parsley she needed for Ghormeh Sabzi. She would pluck it from around the oranges where it was used for filler. Their recipes came with them, of course, their palette too. In each new country, new ingredients are introduced. Perhaps the dish took on a different form or paired with something new. In writing this, I see my family has an affinity for living by the water. Which I love. Maybe that's the musings of my next blog. The ancestral pull to bodies of water: Generations of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food inspired by the sea.
Speaking of water, let's get to that Picnic list! I hope these ideas inspire you. Here's to a summer filled with great picnics, great food and good times. To your health!
Hummus: A staple of Israeli cuisine, hummus is a creamy dip made from chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste), garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. It's typically served with pita bread or fresh vegetables.
Falafel: These deep-fried balls or patties made from ground chickpeas or fava beans are a popular street food in Israel. They are often served in pita bread with tahini sauce, pickles, and salad.
Israeli Salad: This refreshing salad is made with diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and parsley. It's dressed simply with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Israeli salad is light, flavorful, and perfect for picnics.
Borekas: Puff Pastry hand pies filled with a variety of savory or sweet fillings. Chiefly, feta and spinach, potato and cheese, cherries and cheese.
Kabab: Iranian kebabs are a must-have for picnics. They usually consist of skewered and grilled meat (such as lamb, chicken, or beef) marinated in a mixture of spices, yogurt, and lemon juice. The tender and flavorful meat is often served with saffron-infused rice.
Mirza Ghasemi: This smoky eggplant dish is a popular Iranian appetizer. It's made by grilling or roasting eggplants, mashing them, and then cooking them with tomatoes, garlic, turmeric, and eggs. Mirza Ghasemi is usually served with bread and is a delicious addition to a picnic spread.
Persian Rice Cakes (Tahdig): Tahdig is a crispy rice dish that is highly regarded in Iranian cuisine. It's made by cooking rice with a layer of oil or butter at the bottom of the pot, creating a golden crust. The rice is then served inverted, showcasing the crispy layer. Tahdig can be flavored with saffron, herbs, or vegetables.
Georgian (Formerly, Russian):
Pirozhki: These small baked or fried pastries are a popular picnic food in Russia. They come in various fillings, including meat, fish, vegetables, or sweet options like fruit or cheese. Pirozhki are portable and perfect for outdoor snacking.
Olivier Salad: Also known as Russian Salad, Olivier Salad is a classic side dish for picnics and gatherings. It typically includes boiled potatoes, carrots, pickles, peas, and sometimes cooked chicken or ham. All the ingredients are diced and mixed with mayonnaise to create a creamy and flavorful salad.
Blini: Blini are thin pancakes made from buckwheat or wheat flour, similar to crepes. They are often served with savory fillings like sour cream, smoked salmon, caviar, or mushrooms. Blini are versatile and can be enjoyed as a main dish or a dessert during picnics.
These are just a few examples of staple picnic foods from Israeli, Iranian, and South East Asian cuisines. Each country has a rich culinary tradition, so there are many more delicious options to explore within their respective cuisines.
Flatbreads, cheeses, like Feta, fresh herbs, olives, radishes and fresh cut fruits, especially watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew round out the menu for any combination of the above picnic fare.
If you try one, two, a combination or all of these this summer, I'd love to know about it and how it turned out. Here's the link to my Roasted Eggplant Salad recipe to get you started.
Looking forward to hearing about your summer picnic adventures.