Thursday, May 21, 2009

DeeDee Stovel: Menu for a Memorial Day Picnic

Memorial Day is a holiday for all ages to get together for a picnic or a cookout. When I was growing up, neighborhood families gathered at a backyard swimming pool made by the fathers. Everyone brought salads and desserts and something to put on the old charcoal grill. Someone usually concocted a wicked punch for the grown-ups to consume, and my father did his annual flip off the diving board before the day was over. The kids put on a play, and we splashed and ate for most of the day.

Memorial Day is etched in my mind as the kickoff to summer and a time to gather friends and family for a backyard picnic. This old-fashioned Memorial Day Picnic menu, taken from recipes in Let’s Get Together*, is designed for all ages. Add your favorite condiments, and accept offers of help. I like to take care of the main course and the dessert. But I am happy if guests bring appetizers or a salad.

*Healthy Nachos with Kate’s Fresh Salsa
*Cheese Flight
*Grilled Pocket Burgers or
*Burgers with Great Toppings
*Chopped Cucumber Salad
*Curried Lentil Salad
*Big Green Salad
*Vanilla Frozen Yogurt or Ice Cream with Fresh Strawberries and Hot Bittersweet Sauce and Ice Cream Sandwiches

Curried Red Lentil Salad
This is an all-time favorite salad with a spicy kick. Curry is a blend of many spices, which in India are purchased separately in the market and ground together. Curry powder is an attempt to replicate the blend of flavors with a combination of ground spices. There is no such thing as a curry plant. If your spice rack cannot produce the variety needed for this recipe, you can substitute curry powder for some or all of the spices. Check the curry powder label first, however, to see what you are substituting. If you mix the suggested spices, you will be rewarded by a rich blend that complements the relatively bland taste of the lentils. And this salad can be made ahead of time.

Preparation Time: 30 minutes • Setting Time: Overnight • Serves 8

1 pound dried red lentils
2 cups water


1/2 cup tarragon wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Freshly ground pepper (about 2 teaspoons)
3/4 cup canola oil

1 cup currants
1/3 cup capers
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
Fresh lettuce leaves, for serving

1. Rinse and pick over the lentils. Bring 2 cups water to a boil, add the lentils, and cook until they are just tender, about 10 minutes — you don’t want them mushy. Rinse and drain the cooked lentils.
2. While the lentils cook, make the vinaigrette. Combine all the vinaigrette ingredients except the oil; mix well. Slowly whisk in the oil, not to get a thick emulsion but to combine well. Set aside.
3. Combine the lentils and vinaigrette and allow to set for several hours or overnight.
4. Several hours before serving, add the currants, capers, and onions to the salad, and let it marinate. Serve the salad on fresh lettuce leaves arranged on a large plate.

DeeDee Stovel began her lifelong love of food and cooking in her backyard as a child, cooking on a buddy burner. That early passion turned into a career as a writer, caterer, teacher, and passionate advocate of fresh, homemade food, and her books, Pumpkin: A Super Food for all Twelve Months of the Year, Picnic:  125 Recipes with 29 Seasonal Menus, and Let’s Get Together: Simple Recipes for Gatherings with Friends have furthered her devotion to helping people cook and eat with love. Her years of teaching middle-schoolers  to prepare foods that are fresh, good for you, and easy to make as well as her love of gardening in her adopted state of California have given her books an authentic voice as well as a dose of how to create menus for a crowd with what’s in the backyard garden.

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