Recipes

Make This Now: French Vegan Picnic

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Kathie Bergquist
Written by Kathie Bergquist

What’s better during the long, lazy days of summer than packing up a basket with yummies and heading out to a favorite park with a few buddies, the family, a sweetheart, or just a good book, and enjoying a leisurely meal al fresco, beneath the summer sun or stars?

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It seems like almost everyone loves a good picnic, but the French have a special affinity for the summer tradition. French food is typically not associated with the vegetarian or vegan diet, but here we present three delicious vegan and gluten-free traditional French recipes perfect for enjoying au plein soleil. What makes these dishes especially great for a picnic is that because they have no dairy products, you can keep them out of refrigeration for a long time without worrying about spoilage.

Just add your favorite fruit or chocolate bar for dessert!

Ratatouille

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Although this recipe will serve 4-6, you may want to double it, as left over ratatouille freezes well, and is great folded into scrambled eggs, tossed with pasta,  scooped over polenta, or used as a most awesome pizza topping.

Equipment

1 large skillet (a wok or a large Dutch oven will also work).  

Cutting board

Chef’s knife

Measuring spoons

Ingredients

4 tbsp. olive oil

1 large eggplant, chopped into 1 inch dice (keep the skin on)

1 large zucchini (or two small), chopped into 1 inch dice

1 heaping tbsp. herbes de Province herb blend (available in most grocery spice sections)

1-2 cloves of chopped garlic (about a tablespoon when chopped)

1 small onion (should yield about a cup to a cup and a half, chopped)

2 bell peppers, chopped (I prefer red or yellow peppers for this, but any will do)

1 15 oz. can chopped tomatoes

A splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. salt

Fresh black pepper to taste.

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Heat two tablespoons of olive oil into the skillet over medium heat. Add the eggplant. Initially the eggplant will seem to absorb all of the oil, but eventually it will release it again. Saute the eggplant until its brown on all sides and pretty soft but not falling apart.

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Remove eggplants from the skillet and set aside. Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet and repreat with the zucchini, sautéing until browned but still holding its shape. Set the browned zucchini aside with the eggplant.

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Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. Add the onions and peppers and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir it together with the onions and peppers until the garlic aroma releases, only 30 seconds to a minute.

Return the eggplant and zucchini to the pan. Add the herbes de Province and stir until the herbal aroma releases.

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Ratatouille veggies mixed together before tomato is added.

Add the chopped tomatoes and a splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar and the salt. Stir until well heated through.

Ratatouille can be served, hot, cold, or at room temperature.

 

Tarragon Lentil Salad

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 This recipe is comprised of three main steps: preparing the lentils, making the tarragon vinaigrette, and tossing it all together with diced celery and red onion. Specific ingredients are listed under each step. It will serve 4-6.

Equipment

A fine mesh strainer

Medium sized Dutch or large sauce pan

Cutting board

Chef’s knife

Measuring cups and spoons

Small mixing bowl

Small or medium-sized whisk

Medium-sized mixing bowl.

Lentils

1 cup small French green lentils (also called lentilles du Puy. These are the best for the recipe because they hold their shape well and don’t disintegrate, but normal brown lentils will do in a pinch).

2 cups water

1 bay leaf

1 pinch of salt

Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh strainer. Add lentils, bayleaf, and salt to water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and simmer until the lentils are tender and the liquid is absorbed (about a half hour). This should yield about three cups of cooked lentils. Return the lentils to the strainer and rinse with cold water to lower their temperature and stop the cooking. Set aside.

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Vinaigrette

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup white wine vinegar

2 small or 1 medium shallot, minced (yielding about a tablespoon)

2 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon (located with fresh spices in your grocers produce section)

A pinch of salt

Whisk all ingredients together in a small mixing bowl until emulsified (until the vinaigrette takes on a cloudy appearance and thickened enough to coat a spoon).

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The Salad

3 cups prepared lentils

All of the vinaigrette

1 stalk of celery, finely chopped (yield about ½ cup)

½ cup diced red onion

Mix all ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste. Can be served immediately, but it will be even better after resting in the fridge for a couple of hours. Serve at room temperature.

French Potato Salad

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Even if you’re not vegan, this tasty oil-based herbal potato salad will have you bidding au revoir to heavy mayo-based versions. Serves 4-6.

Equipment

Large pot for boiling potatoes

Cutting board

Chef’s knife

Large strainer

Small mixing bowl

Whisk

Large mixing bowl

Rubber spatula or large spoon

Ingredients

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1 ½ or 2 pounds red, waxy potatoes (about 6 medium-sized), peeled (keep them submersed in cool water until ready to use, to avoid discoloration)

A hearty pinch of salt

Vinaigrette:

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup white wine vinegar

1 tbsp. minced shallot

2 scallions (green onions), finely chopped (cut off remove root and coarse top leaves before mincing)

2 tsp. Dijon-style mustard

1 loosely packed cup of chopped fresh herbs

            Here are herbs that are particularly good for this recipe. Use in any combination: rosemary, thyme, chives, parsley, dill.

Fill a large pot with water, leaving enough room that you can add the potatoes without overflowing. Add a hearty pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes (peeled, but whole) and simmer for about 25 minutes to a half hour, until they can be pierce easily with a fork but do not fall apart. Pour into a strainer and rinse with cold water right away to cool potatoes and stop cooking. Set aside and let cool.

In the meantime, make the vinaigrette. Add all ingredients to a small mixing bowl, and whisk together until emulsified (slightly cloudy looking and thick enough to coat a spoon).

When the potatoes are cool, slice them crosswise into rounds about a ¼ inch thick. Add potatoes to the large mixing bowl and pour vinaigrette over them, using a rubber spatula to gently fold the vinaigrette into the potatoes, so as not to damage the potatoes in the process.

Best served at room temperature.

Bon appetit!

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About the author

Kathie Bergquist

Kathie Bergquist

Kathie Bergquist is publisher and editor-in-chief of Ms. Fit Mag. She teaches writing at Columbia College Chicago and edited of the anthology. "Windy City Queer: LGBTQ Dispatches from the Third Coast" and is co-author of "A Field Guide to Gay and Lesbian Chicago." Pulled reluctantly into a fitness lifestyle by her wife and partner of many years, Bergquist is now a runner, a boot camper, and a yogini.

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