There is nothing I love more than a spontaneous picnic. They say we eat with all of our senses, so I’m not surprised when I think of how food always tastes a little better when I’m eating outdoors. The Vegetarian and I have mastered the art of the picnic. Long before we met, I was content to toss whatever odds and ends into a small cooler and make my way to the closest spot near water. I knew I may have met my match, when he showed up, pretty early on in our relationship with a classic wicker picnic basket that had been decked out with all the servingware, including wine glasses and linen napkins. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
The beauty of a spontaneous picnic is that no meal is ever the same. It is the ultimate delight of the senses. Our rotating cast of characters often will include a creamy wedge of brie, always olives, crunchy things like vegetables and crackers, some type of salad or dip and obviously, the sheer joy of being an adult – a crisp cider or some such alcoholic beverage.
The sun actually shines a lot more than most people think here in Seattle. So last weekend when it appeared, along with throngs of people who had the same idea as us, we grabbed our things and threw together another one of our spreads. This time we had blanched green beans drizzled in sesame oil and salt, a cold rice noodle salad with sweet peppers and chili sauce, an assorted blend of Spanish olives, spring onion crackers to dip into a savory salsa hummus, a three-tiered slice of creamy chocolate mousse cake and my guilty indulgence of the moment, Mike’s Hard Lemonade Mango Punch. What can I say, I’m reverting to my wine cooler days in college as I age. We set up camp on the rolling hillside that follows the Ballard Locks where birds and boats of all sizes float lazily along in the air and water. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
Our picnics are not complete without the tasty addition and protein that a good hummus can provide. Today being National Hummus Day, I brought together a blend of our favorite picnic things and created this green olive and tangy sweet pepper hummus. This hummus, however, is sans tahini or the sesame paste that resembles peanut butter and is a classic ingredient in most hummus recipes. Tahini is a little on the pricier side so when I don’t have it on hand, I find I can still make do without it and get delicious and creamy results. If you haven’t treated yourself to the joy of dining al fresco, I highly recommend you give it a go next time the sun comes out. The combination of effortless eating and fresh air is just plain good for the soul.
- 2 cans chickpeas
- 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 large clove garlic
- 1/3 cup Italian parsley
- 2 Tablespoons lemon thyme
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup pitted green olives, plus 1/3 cup for olive-pepper topping
- 5 large pickled cherry peppers, seeds and stems removed, diced
- Rinse and drain chickpeas. Add to a food processor along with all ingredients from lemon zest through kosher salt. Puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Add in 3/4 cup green olives and pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a serving bowl.
- Rough chop remaining green olives and cherry peppers. Top hummus with olive-pepper mixture, additional chopped herbs and serve with assorted vegetables, crackers or pita.
You can use any of your favorite olives in this recipe. I have recently discovered Pearls brand, fresh cured, green ripe olives. They come in a 6 oz can and are less briny, but meaty and salty enough to hold up well in this recipe. They're also easy to use because they do not contain pits.
If you aren't a fan of sweet peppers you could also use something like pepperoncini or cornichon pickles. I was mostly looking for tang and color to complement the olives.