Packing the Perfect Portable Feast

Salads to go, but hold the sand!

A SUCCESSFUL picnic is when you remember to bring everything, says Elizabeth Wheeler, co-author of the ``Yachting Cookbook'' (New York: Crown). ``Be detail-oriented,'' she advises. Ms. Wheeler offers a menu for a beach picnic. ``The chicken salad should be ice cold,'' she says, adding that bubble pack makes good insulation. Don't forget your pepper grinder. And you may want to consider bringing insect repellent. ``It's nice to have cloth napkins and real silver,'' she adds.

When setting up on the sand, ``find a place where you have shelter from the wind; a beach umbrella is great,'' she says. Some beaches already have picnic tables, but a tightly woven blanket on which to place your feast can also serve as an impromptu table, she adds.

Wheeler says fresh fruit and cookies are items ``one should always have on picnics.''

The following recipe is one of the authors' favorites: a ``glossy, colorful, and richly flavored salad.''

ITALIAN EGGPLANT SALAD 2 pounds small tender eggplant 1/2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil Salt 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 1 teaspoon sugar 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 1/2 cup sliced roasted peppers 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano 1/4 cup currants 2 tablespoons capers 2 to 4 tablespoons finely chopped celery leaves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut each eggplant lengthwise into quarters. Cut the quarters into 2-inch sections.

Place the eggplant in a shallow baking pan large enough to hold the pieces in one layer. Add the olive oil and toss to coat the pieces generously.

Bake the eggplant, turning the pieces every 15 minutes, about 40 minutes, until tender and golden brown.

Remove the eggplant from the oven, pour off any excess oil, and allow to cool in the pan. Sprinkle the eggplant lightly with salt, vinegar, and sugar, and turn gently. Fold in the remaining ingredients. Scatter a few celery leaves on top for decoration.

Serve at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6.

Note: Grilling instead of baking the eggplant will give the salad a smoky flavor. A BEACH PICNIC Brie and apple slices on whole grain bread Chicken salad with walnuts Grated carrot salad Italian Eggplant salad Pecan moon cookies Fresh fruit

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