What makes an outdoor pendant light different from a picnic? A kind of informality, certainly. Outdoor suspensions are more spontaneous, an enthusiastic reaction to spotting a very near 72 degree day on the horizon, while browsing a weather app. But spontaneity doesn’t mean you toss planning to the wind. Consider channeling some of that enthusiasm into these recipes, which will still hold up and stand out even after a few hours. They will make a pleasant and languid afternoon in the park or in the courtyard all the more enjoyable.
With barely a whiff of dairy, a vegan onion dip is perfect for any outdoor get-together. For this recipe by Yossy Arefi, the onions are cooked until caramelized and the softened raw cashews are mixed in a food processor with cannellini beans. Lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and paprika enhance the flavor, making this dip brighter than other onion dips. Delicious with chips or a favorite crudity.
No offense to the traditional American potato salad, this might not be the best recipe for the great outdoors. For her adaptation of the German potato salad, British cookbook author and culinary personality Nigella Lawson replaces the usual mayonnaise with a combination of garlic infused oil and white wine vinegar, which means that you won’t have to worry about your salad turning.
Recipe: Light Potato Salad
Use store-bought puff pastry to cut down on preparation time for this full-bodied tart from David Tanis, made with all kinds of wild mushrooms (chanterelles, shiitake, oysters) and caramelized onions. In fact, with a little planning ahead, feel free to make the garlic and thyme filling the night before and cook everything a few hours before you go.
Recipe: Wild Mushroom Pie
The great thing about fried chicken is that it is a delight to eat, whether hot or cold, making it a great choice for outdoor snacks. Plus, using relatively small pieces of chicken, potato starch, and a double frying method in this recipe from Japanese restaurant Kunyan also means you won’t have to worry about soggy skin.
This Yewande Komolafe Grilled Millet Salad is an exercise in preparing ingredients ahead of time. She points out that cooks can “toast and cook the millet, set aside and add the other ingredients when they’re ready.” This means bottling the lemon, olive oil, and honey dressing and packing the cucumbers and mint leaves to go. Leave the avocado cut until the very last minute to limit any browning.
When in doubt, go for the cold noodle route. This Martha Rose Shulman recipe is particularly excellent because it gets its creaminess from a rich nutty tahini enhanced with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, cayenne pepper and ginger; fresh cucumber, celery and blanched baby bok choy give the salad a pleasant crunch. Also wonderful? Genevieve Ko’s Chicken & Snow Pea Soba Noodles, which come together in just 20 minutes, about half the time.
The beauty of this salad from Melissa Clark is that while you can (and should) make it with fresh veggies, she says you can use frozen corn to speed up the process. Once you’ve taken this shortcut, simply toss all the veggies with the red wine vinegar and mustard dressing and enjoy.
There is nothing better than a classic hummus. This version of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi involves cooking dried chickpeas with baking soda, which significantly reduces the cooking time and gives a smooth and creamy result. Best of all, it can be prepared up to two days in advance.
Recipe: Hummus from ‘Jerusalem’
A staple of the Iranian table, Samin Nosrat describes this vegetable salad as “a more grassy, juicier, and tangier version of Greek salad, Israeli salad or Indian kachumber.” It is also very easy to prepare, with a mixture of Persian cucumbers, red onions and tomatoes mixed with any combination of fresh herbs (parsley, basil, dill or cilantro), olive oil, of dried mint and lime juice. For maximum effect, wait until the last minute to mix everything together.
What makes these brownies (and really all) ideal for hanging out outdoors is that they travel extremely well. There’s nothing to worry about spreading icing, and if the brownies break in transit, no one will care. Plus, these olive oil brownies from Melissa Clark will stay moist until the end, if they manage to last longer than a few minutes.
There are two secrets to soaking yourself outdoors: firstly, vacuum-packed water bottles, and second, the dosage, because a blanket lying on rough ground is a terrible place to brew a drink. Double, triple, or quadruple this Alexa Weibel watermelon margaritas recipe and have someone else bring the ice cream. A few quick pours and the whole group will be in margarita heaven.
Or if you’re not in the mood for a few simple math, there’s this sangria recipe from cooking instructor Danielle Wecksler, which makes about 10 cups. Prep and wrap the fruit ahead of time, and as one reader points out, making the ice cubes with wine instead of water means you don’t have to worry about that fresh, fruity sangria going out over time.
Recipe: Strawberry-Peach Sangria