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Splendor in the Grass

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At long last, it's picnic season. And this is far from the average picnic menu: no fried chicken, potato chips, or sandwiches in sight.

This fair-weather feast is an imaginative mix of do-ahead dishes that taste great individually and even better when combined on the plate. The grilled, brined chicken breasts, for example, are served with a rich chile oil that adds a unique flavor to the bulgur salad when the two come in contact. Likewise, the garlicky yogurt sauce that accompanies the toasted pita chips makes a fine dip for the chicken as well. Go ahead, play with your food.

There’s more fun to be had packing up this picnic. When every dish is boxed individually, and all picnickers get their own box of goodies, unwrapping and discovering what’s to eat takes on the feel of a group birthday party.

No fried chicken, no potato chips, no sandwiches (unless you count the impossibly delicious ginger and lemon sandwich cookies for dessert)—a picnic never tasted so good. Let the hunt for that perfect grassy spot begin.

Menu Timeline

Up to 2 days ahead:

  • Roast and marinate the peppers.

1 day ahead:

  • Make the pita chips.
  • Make and fill the cookies.
  • Make the bulgur salad and refrigerate.
  • Make the yogurt sauce and refrigerate.

The morning of the picnic:

  • Brine and grill the chicken. If you’re making it more than 6 hours ahead, refrigerate until you’re ready to pack up your picnic.
  • Make the chile oil.

Wrap it up:

  • Start with large individual boxes with flap lids that can hold several containers snugly.
  • Next, look for medium-size, rectangular boxes with flap lids to hold the chicken, the bulgur salad, and the pita.
  • Pack the peppers and sauces in separate sealed plastic containers. They should be added to the plate just before eating; otherwise, they’ll stain the other foods.
  • Wrap the cookies in parchment or in a parchment bag and place them carefully in the box.
  • If you aim to impress, glue a menu card to the lids of the boxes so people know what they’re eating.
  • To keep everything fresh, transport the picnic boxes in a cooler, with ice packs. Pack a tote bag with plates, forks, knives, and napkins.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce:

  • 6 medium red bell peppers
  • 1 large or 2 small bunches green Swiss chard
  • 2 medium lemons
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 1 large shallot

Meat, Eggs & Dairy:

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (preferably organic)
  • 1 cup full-fat plain yogurt
  • 6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature

Other Groceries:

  • 6 whole wheat or white pita breads
  • 1-1/2 cups medium bulgur
  • 1/2 lb. whole green olives, such as picholines
  • 3-4 dried New Mexico or Anaheim chiles
  • 1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 1 Tbs. cumin seeds
  • 1 Tbs. coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp. black sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp. ground sumac
  • 1 tsp. caraway seeds

Pantry Staples:

  • 2 cups plus 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 6 oz. (1-1/2 cups) confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 Tbs. sherry vinegar
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1-1/4 tsp. cayenne; more to taste
  • Kosher salt
  • Black peppercorns

The Menu


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