Day after tomorrow, July 4, we Americans–most of us at least–will gather together in backyards and parks, on beaches and boardwalks, in small groups and giant crowds to celebrate our nation’s birthday with fireworks and music and, most of all, food.
We plan to do likewise. Although we’re headed back up to Tahoe in a few days, we’ll be in Santa Barbara for this 4th of July and I will be singing all the patriotic favorites with the Santa Barbara Choral Society and Santa Barbara Symphony at the annual Pops in the Park Independence Day celebration at the Sunken Garden of the county courthouse downtown.
When we’re in town for the 4th, Mike and our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter usually join with one or two or three other families to enjoy a picnic on the green lawn of the Sunken Garden to watch the concert. (I join them afterward for the food and drink.) This year, I’ve been a little uninspired about what to pack for the picnic, having been too busy recently to really give it much thought. But that all changed this morning.
Today’s NY Times Dining Out section carried a front page article by one of my favorite chefs, Mark Bittman, with (literally) 101 tasty and inspired picnic suggestions that in his usual Minimalist way can be whipped up in under 20 minutes.
The list is divided into main groupings: Raw Veggies; Cooked Veggies; Bean, Rice and Grain Salads; Potato Salads and Egg Salads; Fruit; Meat and Poultry; Sandwiches; Cold Noodles; a category called ‘Also’, which includes such things as marinated cheeses, cheese balls, and dips; and Desserts.
Dozens of the interesting offerings will feel right at home in a low carb picnic basket just as they are. The entire meat and poultry section will work without a change (except not indulging in the occasionally recommended bread on the side).
But there are dozens more that with just a little tweak can also work. For instance, in the potato salad recipes, substitute diced, cooked celery root or steamed cauliflower florets for the potatoes or diced butternut squash for the sweet potatoes and you’ll drop the carbs way way down.
In the recipes that call for rice, bulgar, or cous cous, substitute steamed or sauteed finely chopped raw cauliflower (Just wash, trim, and slice the head in about 1/2″ slices and process in the food processor in pulses to a small ‘grain’ size, then steam in the microwave, covered, for a few minutes until tender or saute in olive oil and/or butter.) Chill for salads or use warm in wraps.
For the wraps use fresh butter lettuce leaves instead of flour tortillas or pita pockets. Or if a real tortilla would trip your trigger, substitute a low-carb version, available from several purveyors, such as Mission, La Tortilla Factory, or Tumaro’s Gourmet Tortillas, which even has a low-carb green onion tortilla wrap.
Try julienne of jicama as a dipper for guacamole, salsa, or other dips.
Substitute drained black soybeans for the kidney beans, black beans, or chick peas in some of the Bean, Rice, and Grain salads.
You can use cooked spaghetti squash (seasoned with some soy sauce and herbs) as a substitute for the soba noodles or vermicelli in the Cold Noodle category.
With just a bit of ingenuity and your low-carb imagination, while you might not make it to 101, you’ll find more than enough interesting and inspired dishes to make your July 4th picnic a world class feast!
As you enjoy the fireworks and feasting, please take a moment to remember (and give thanks to) the brave souls who have sacrificed to keep our freedoms safe since 1776.
Have a happy, healthy, safe July 4th!