Portable Cuisine for Meals Outdoors

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We’ve been cooped up for weeks, noses pressed against the proverbial glass, so the idea of getting out and experiencing some of the beauty within this state is tantalizing.

Nearby national forests and state parks are dusting off their welcome signs, and outdoor enthusiasts are readying backpacks, picnic baskets and hiking shoes.

Indeed, summer in the Pacific Northwest, from the beautiful coast to the central Cascades and beyond, is the ultimate tonic for those who are drawn to the natural world. And whether you’re hiking amongst them, or driving through them, the elegant forests and peaks offer any style of viewing you need to set your soul back on course.

And since appetites expand in the fresh outdoor air, familiarity with cuisine that will stand up to the absence of walls is not exactly an optional social grace in these parts. Outdoor fare doesn’t have to be fancy, but it better be portable. And it better taste delightful.

The following collection meets those minimal requirements: tried-and-true recipes that have fortified the spirits of all who’ve shared the road to adventure with me in this wonderful place called Oregon.

A Greek Country Salad

The ideal Greek salad, by my standards, has a basic seven elements to consider: cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, red onions, feta cheese, olives and a delicately seasoned olive oil dressing. Each of these components should be chosen with care, because each and every one contributes in such a grand way to the total experience.

Makes about 6 servings.

2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced or chunked

2 medium-size ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks or slender wedges

1 sweet green bell pepper, cored and sliced into strips or rings

1 medium red onion, peeled, thinly sliced and separated into rings

About 1-1/2 cups of pitted Kalamata olives (good quality; they shouldn’t be mushy or bitter)

Greek Salad Dressing (recipe follows)

For picnic fare, assemble all of the ingredients except the dressing and place them in a plastic container. Prepare the dressing and pour into another plastic container (make sure the lid is on very tight!). When ready to serve, drizzle on enough dressing to coat the salad ingredients; toss gently and serve. (Note: I prefer not adding the dressing until just before serving so that all of the ingredients maintain their own, special flavor. That way, when you eat it, there is layer upon layer of flavor.)

Greek Salad Dressing: Whisk together 2 tablespoons double strength canned chicken broth, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, scant teaspoon minced fresh oregano, 2 cloves finely minced or pressed fresh garlic, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper. Whisk in 1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil. Makes about 1-1/3 cups of dressing.

Vichyssoise (Cold leek and potato soup)

This is an exceedingly refreshing soup that tends to get overlooked this time of year, even though it’s the perfect outdoor/summer fare. And so easy to make ahead.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

3 medium-sized leeks

1 medium-sized onion, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

4 cups chicken broth

1-1/2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half (cream is more fattening, but makes a richer soup

Salt

Heaping 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (see note)

To deal with the leek, first cut off the roots and about 1/4-inch of its base. At the other end of the leek, cut away the darkest portion, leaving the pale green and white portion. Those darker portions of leaves are too tough for this recipe. Now cut lengthwise through the leek, which will loosen all of the layers and make it easy to rinse away any dirt that has managed to work down into the leek while it was growing. Go ahead and rinse it thoroughly at this point.

Slice the leek into 1/4- to 1/2-inch wide half-rounds. Size isn’t critical, you just want relatively slender pieces.

Select a pot that can hold about 2 quarts of liquid. Place the pot on a burner over medium heat and saute the leeks and onion in the butter for a few minutes to soften. Add the potatoes and broth, then cover the pot and simmer the mixture until the potatoes are extremely fork tender, which means they practically fall apart when poked with a fork. Remove the pot from the heat. Let the mixture cool slightly so it’s easier to handle.

At this point, using a hand-held blender, standard blender or food processor, puree the soup. Depending on the equipment you are using, you may have to do this in batches.

If you don’t happen to have a blender or food processor, don’t give up hope. Take a potato masher or very large spoon, or something flat, and smoosh around in the soup until the potatoes are broken into tiny little bits and sort of merging with the soup. You won’t have a puree, but it will still taste very good.

Now add your cream to the pureed soup. Don’t put in the entire amount at first because you may not need it. The consistency is up to you. Do you want it thick and rich, or on the thin side? You decide, there’s no wrong way.

Add the salt and white pepper.

Transfer the soup to a container and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Once chilled, it will thicken considerably, so before transferring to whatever container you are using to transport it to your picnic or hike, you will probably need to thin it with a bit more milk, cream or chicken broth.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. 

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