Throwing the perfect picnic

Instead of going for the usual favorites, try something more exotic.

Robert Harbison/CSM/file
Idyllic setting: A California picnic offers the opportunity to enjoy colorful wildflowers as well as tasty food.

There's no better way to enjoy the last month of summer than to head to the great outdoors for a picnic with friends and family. And that means coming up with some variations on standard picnic food.

Chips and dips are always an easy way to begin, but instead of going for the usual favorites, try something different and a bit more exotic. Hummus (see recipe) with pita chips is gaining popularity for its mix of flavors and texture. These days one can easily find a variety of different kinds of hummus at the local grocery store – such as roasted garlic, red pepper, and mint.

Salads pack and travel well as side dishes. For a more hearty salad, use whole grains or pasta as a base.

Sandwiches are always an obvious picnic favorite. They're simple to make, easy to carry around, and satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. Try to have a good selection of meat and vegetarian options for your guests.

Consider sticking to a theme when planning the menu. That ensures that the foods complement one another without being too diverse. Whatever you decide to serve your crowd on the grass, keep it light and have fun.

Classic Hummus

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained

1/4 cup tahini (see note)

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, for garnish

A pinch of paprika, for garnish

Put all the ingredients into a blender and grind into a fine paste. Garnish with fresh parsley and a pinch of paprika. NOTE: Tahini is ground sesame paste. It imparts an aromatic smoky flavor. Look for it in the international foods section of your grocery store.

Yield: 2 cups.

Garlic-Yogurt Dip

1 cup plain yogurt, stirred till smooth

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

A pinch of paprika

Mix yogurt with lemon juice, garlic salt, and a pinch of paprika. Serve with fresh, crisp veggie sticks, crackers, pitas, or grilled skewers of meat, poultry, or fish.

Yield: 1 cup.

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