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Tomato salad gives simple picnic foods a little more pizzazz

Also try Chilled Carrot-Dill Soup for a great starter

SHARE Tomato salad gives simple picnic foods a little more pizzazz

CONCORD, N.H. — The beauty of picnics is the simplicity they allow the cook. Perfect picnic food is easy to prepare, easy to carry and, most important, easy to eat.

But too often for vegetarians, that turns into yet another potato salad loaded with mayonnaise (tofu-based or otherwise) and sandwich wraps stuffed with vegetables.

While easy and certainly edible, those dishes don't always live up to the romantic notions most people have of dining on a blanket in the park. Living the picnic fantasy calls for naturally cool and refreshing food with slightly more pizzazz.

For a great starter with a little spark, try a cold soup of pureed carrots, fresh dill, sweet potato and a touch of ginger. The sweet potato gives the soup a thick, hearty consistency and prevents the watery taste so common in cold soups.

Be sure never to boil this soup. Allow it to simmer until the vegetables are just tender. For an even zippier version, add a tablespoon or two of sweet white miso when pureeing.

Miso is a nutritious fermented bean condiment that has a sweet and salty taste. Though most common in clear, brothy soups, it can lend a wonderful savory flavor to heartier dishes. It is available at natural food shops and some grocery stores.

Follow the chilled soup with Garbanzo and Tomato Salad, from "Cafe Max & Rosie's," by Max and Rosie Beeby (Ten Speed Press, 2000, $19.95).

The authors, who named the book after their Asheville, N.C., vegetarian cafe, say this simple, healthy and hearty salad is even better when tossed with couscous or brown rice and topped with a bit of fresh-ground black pepper.

For dessert on a hot summer day, try a refreshing Light Lemon Pudding from Meredith McCarty's cookbook, "Sweet and Natural" (St. Martin's Press, 2001, $17.95).

To deepen this dessert's luscious golden color, try adding 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric. It won't change the taste, but provides plenty of color. Honey could be substituted for the brown rice syrup, as could additional maple syrup.

This recipe uses agar flakes (also called agar agar) in place of gelatin, which is derived from animal products. Agar is a colorless, flavorless seaweed that dissolves and makes liquids jell, even at room temperature.


CHILLED CARROT-DILL SOUP

(Preparation time 30 minutes, chilling 2 hours)

1 tablespoon corn oil

1 pound carrots, roughly chopped

1 sweet potato, diced

1 onion, diced

6 cups of vegetable broth

4 tablespoons fresh dill, minced

1-inch piece of fresh ginger

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium flame. Add the carrots, potato and onion and saute lightly for about three minutes.

Add the broth, dill, ginger, salt and pepper and bring to a gentle simmer. Allow to cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Transfer soup to a food processor or blender (in batches, if necessary) and pure lightly. Soup should have a slightly mealy texture, and not be whipped smooth.

Return the soup to the pot and chill for two hours. Use a thermos for an easy way to pack soup for a picnic. Makes 6 servings.


GARBANZO AND TOMATO SALAD

(Preparation time 10 minutes, chilling 1 hour)

6 cups cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained

4 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped

1 red onion, chopped

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and fresh-ground black pepper

Leaf lettuce or mixed greens

In a large bowl combine the beans, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, garlic, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. Let the salad sit for at least an hour at room temperature or in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to blend.

Serve on a bed of lettuce or mixed greens. Makes up to 6 servings.


LIGHT LEMON PUDDING

(Preparation time 10 minutes, chilling 2 hours)

1/4 cup arrowroot powder

3 1/2 cups apple juice

1/4 cup agar flakes

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1/2 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons brown rice syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup combined nuts and coconut, toasted and ground for garnish

Place arrowroot and 1/2 cup of apple juice in a glass and mix to combine. Set aside.

Combine remaining apple juice with agar and salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer until agar dissolves, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the lemon zest and juice, sweeteners and vanilla. Stir the arrowroot in its glass, then add to pan and stir until simmering resumes and texture thickens, about a minute.

Transfer to serving cups, ideally with covers for easy transport. Chill for about 2 hours. Garnish with ground nuts and coconut. Makes 5 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 219 cal., 8 g total fat (1 g saturated fat), 0 mg chol., 2 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 3 g pro., 37 g carbo.