Picnic, Phoenicia-Style

Categories: Vegetarian

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Every trip I take to Phoenicia (12141 Westheimer) for basic grocery shopping somehow culminates in a giant picnic at my house afterwards, owing to the bounty of ready-to-eat food in Phoenicia's deli section (which is getting ready to move out of the store itself and into its own, adjoining space). Not that I'm complaining.

On Saturday evening, it was far too windy to sit outside on the patio and enjoy the spread I'd brought home, so I invited a friend over and we had an indoor picnic by my [non-functional] fireplace to the sounds of John Lee Hooker, with the windows and doors open to the slightly cool weather outside. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.

Here's how you can assemble your own Phoenician picnic, whether or not you buy your hummus and pita bread from the giant grocery store on the far west side.

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Essentials:

  • Pita bread: The foundation for all the excellent dips that comprise your picnic.
  • Hummus: The king of all Middle Eastern dips.
  • Stuffed grape leaves: Great finger food with a tangy flavor.
  • Falafel: More excellent finger food.
  • Cheese: A little feta can go a long way. I like lebne or even something completely random, like a mild Polish cheese.
  • Wine: Red or white, it's really your call. I went with a Lebanese rose on Saturday night, which matched the spring weather.

Recommendations:

  • Baba ghanoush: Roasted eggplant dip with a strong flavor; not for everyone.
  • Muhammara: Red pepper dip with walnuts; slightly sweet.
  • Tzatziki: Yogurt sauce with dill and cucumber; perfect with falafel or just pita bread.
  • Roasted beets: Sweet and earthy.
  • Couscous: Not as easy to eat in a picnic, but light and refreshing.
  • Seafood: Baby octopus cooked lightly with lemon and olive oil is a great accompaniment to the spread without being overwhelming. Plus, Phoenicia's baby octopus is outstanding.
  • Fruit: Figs, dates or apricots are all acceptable. I went for dried apricots on Saturday night. (Apricots dipped in lebne are outstanding, by the by.)
  • Dessert: Baklava. Baklava. Baklava.

Lagniappe:

  • Radishes: These aren't Middle Eastern, but I love the snappy bite of sliced radishes on a piece of pita bread with a little lebne or butter.
  • Sausages: Polish kabanosy aren't Middle Eastern either, but they're the perfect meat for a picnic -- portable, bite-size, perfect with cheese and wholly delicious, with an almost buttery aroma.

This spread easily fed the two of us, and -- in all honesty -- we probably should have invited at least two more people. But, hey: Now I have leftovers! What foods do you like to set out for a picnic at home?


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