I don’t know about you, but I probably ate as many childhood summer picnics sitting inside while it rained as sitting outside in the sunshine. Still, soon-to-be-soggy tomato sandwiches, tayto crisps, club orange and mikado biscuits were as much of a summer treat inside our holiday caravan as out. Eating in also meant you avoided the inevitable gobful of sand that accompanied a meal on the beach, which was a not unimportant consideration.
Fast forward an unspecified number of years and my picnics, when they happen, are more likely to consist of crusty bread, a nice block of cheese, ballymaloe relish and a more adult beverage. Throw in some potato salad, coleslaw and maybe a tossed salad or sorts and I’m more than happy. It’s simple food to which the warmth of the sun (when it’s there) always adds its own particular seasoning.
That’s not to say, however, that you can’t mix it up a little every now and then.
This month’s 5 star makeover asked us to do exactly that: take some classic picnic fare and give it a shiny new look. Armed with a stash of ingredients from my recent Lebanese travels, I thought that I would take the simple tossed salad of tomato, lettuce and onion on a journey to the Middle East. The result is a salad packed with Lebanese flavours. The preparation, though, is simple, which is a must for picnics in Ireland. Too much time spent getting ready and you might have to enjoy your picnic inside, again.
The unfortunate thing about holidays is that, by definition, they must come to an end.
I’m physically back from my tour of Lebanon but mentally, I’m still several hundred miles to the south and east. And it seems a particularly cruel irony, as Eat Only Irish For A Week approaches, with its challenge to eat only Irish-produced food and use Irish-produced ingredients, that I am surrounded by the edible spoils of my foreign travel. There’s jam made from rose petals, bottles of orange blossom water and pomegranate molasses, bags of za’atar, sumac and freekeh, blocks of labneh, halloumi and more. None of it is remotely Irish – you need look no further than the arabic script on the labels to confirm that particular fact.
Lebanese preserves (or mouneh) at
Rayess Trading in Chtaura, east of Beirut:
Sadly my suitcase was not quite big enough to fit them all...