06/01/2010 12:03 pm ET Updated 6 days ago

Perfect Veggie Picnic Fare

Recently, we staged a picnic photoshoot for our book. Though the food, the friends, and the sun were real, and the mud was definitely real enough to engulf poor Essie's new gladiator sandal, the constant smiling and coordinated floral clothing may have been just a tad bit posed. That was an unseasonably warm March day, but now that we're actually and officially into full-fledged summer and eating-outdoors weather, it seems important to be thinking almost constantly about the type of food that's good for picnicking.

I've always loved eating outside; at my sleepaway camp, the best of all dinners were the ones that took place on the lawn, and we used to walk up towards the lodge just hoping that we'd see tables set out on the grass and not have to enter the stuffy dining room for a dreaded indoor meal. And then the last meal Phoebe and I ate together with Essie, before we all went our separate ways to college, was another memorable picnic. Essie made sandwiches, Phoebe brought salad, and I baked toffee bars. We sat in Sheep's Meadow and exchanged cheesy notes about our friendship.

But the picnic that reminded me to make a batch of these green beans was with a different crowd. My mom and I had been invited to a potluck dinner on the beach late one summer a few years ago. Obviously, my mom knew the woman who'd invited us, but we hadn't met her friends, and so we didn't really know anyone else who'd be there. We were both a little nervous. In the afternoon, we made a double recipe of this string bean salad with late summer's crop of beans. When we got to the beach at sunset, we put it down with the rest of the food spread and went about eating and making friends. By the end of the night, unlikely as it sounds, we'd talked to everyone at the picnic. It's not that either of us had gotten a sudden burst of outgoing-ness, but rather that nearly 100% of the guests had sought us out as the culprits behind the green beans.

Truthfully, I can't believe I haven't made these green beans for every potentially awkward situation since, but now that I've remembered them, I think I probably will. Sometimes I just need a little push to be the social butterfly I am deep down.

--Cara Eisenpress of Big Girls, Small Kitchen


String Beans with Mustard Dressing and Cured Shallots
Makes 4-6 servings

1 small red onion or shallot, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds of string beans, trimmed
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons mild honey
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
pinch cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil

Spread a clean kitchen towel on a baking sheet and set aside.

Place the sliced onion or shallot in a small bowl and cover with the vinegar. Set aside to let cure for 10-15 minutes.

Bring a pot of water to boil. Salt it generously and add the trimmed string beans. Cook uncovered for 4-6 minutes, until just tender. When they're done, drain them, then spread them out onto the towel-lined pan to fully dry. This will allow the dressing to coat the beans.

In your salad bowl, combine the lemon juice, mustard, garlic, honey, salt, and cayenne. Whisk until smooth. Slowly whisk in the oil until creamy.

Mix the beans into the dressing. Drain the onions and toss to combine. This salad is best if you let it sit for 15-30 minutes after. That's what it's great for picnics--it only gets more flavorful with time.