Picnic-perfect dishes for outdoor pandemic dining

Across the city, Calgarians have been seeking out sunny spots to spread out and enjoy lunch or dinner — and even breakfast. Here are a few recipes to try out.

Snack on this portable dip, salad and pastry from CBC columnist Julie Van Rosendaal

This rhubarb cake is a buttery sweet snack for a pandemic picnic. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Across the city, Calgarians have been seeking out sunny spots to spread out and enjoy lunch or dinner — and even breakfast.

With spring arriving eight weeks into this COVID-19 pandemic, picnicking has become a way to get out to eat and a means of breaking the monotony of meals eaten around the same table.

When deciding what to pack for a picnic, there are plenty of options that are perfectly portable. Aim for things that don't rely on staying hot or cold. Avoid items that get soggy or are easily crushable. However, chips are kind of a must.

Mezze are small plates or snacks popular in parts of the Middle East and north Africa. They're perfect for spreading out and delicious at room temperature. These may include:

  • Sips and spreads, such as hummus and baba ganoush.
  • Pita and other flatbreads.
  • Cheeses, such as labneh, halloumi and feta.
  • Substantial salads, such as fattoush and tabbouleh.

Pulses, such as beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils, travel exceptionally well. Try them in dips and spreads and grainy salads. Use a base of barley, quinoa, wheat berries, lentils or other legumes paired with chickpeas, kidney or black beans.

Chunky pasta and new potatoes also make a great cold salad. Toss with a mustardy vinaigrette or other oil and vinegar or citrus-based dressing or marinade.

Savoury pies also make for great picnicking. Try a quiche, or veggie and cheese galettes.

There are plenty of prepared food and deli items available at small groceries and delis. Cheese and charcuterie, good bread and local mustard are perfect for picnics. Only do this if you're picnicking with people with whom you can safely share.

Of course, restaurant takeout is also ideal. Ready-to-eat items, such as pizza or tacos, are perfect to pick up to take to the park.

Here are a few things you can make at home if you're planning to swap the kitchen table for a patch of grass.

Quinoa and chickpea salad with apples

Salads made with grains and pulses travel well. The parsley won't wilt. I like to pack toasted nuts in a small container or foil pouch to add at the last minute to keep them crunchy.

This apple quinoa and chickpea salad is a hearty lunch to enjoy outdoors. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)


1 cup quinoa, rinsed.

¼ cup golden or sunalta raisins.

1 19 oz (540 mL) can chickpeas, drained.

3 tbsp chopped parsley.

½ cup crumbled feta.

1 apple, diced.

¼ cup canola or olive oil.

2 tbsp lemon juice.

1 tsp liquid honey.

¼ tsp curry powder.

½ cup toasted walnuts or almonds.


Cook quinoa according to package directions. Set aside in a wide salad bowl to cool.

Add the raisins while the quinoa is still warm so they plump up.

Once cooled, add the chickpeas, parsley, feta and apple.

Shake the oil, lemon juice, honey and curry powder together in a jar. Drizzle over the quinoa salad.

Toss, then top with nuts just before serving.

Serving: Four people.

Elizabeth Baird's lunar rhubarb cake

This buttery snack cake is perfect for traveling to the park. It also makes use of all kinds of dairy products that need to be used.

Make a buttermilk substitute by adding a couple teaspoons of lemon juice to regular milk and letting it sit. Another option is to thin plain yogurt or sour cream with water until it has the consistency of buttermilk.

This unbaked rhubarb sheet cake will be tasty once cooked. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)


½ cup butter, softened.

1½ cups sugar.

1 large egg.

1 tsp vanilla.

1-2 cups chopped rhubarb.

2 cups all-purpose flour.

1 tsp baking soda.

¼ tsp salt.

1 cup buttermilk.

Topping ingredients:

1 cup packed brown sugar.

2 tsp cinnamon.

¼ cup butter, softened.


Preheat the oven to 177 C (350 F).

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, about three to four minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Put the rhubarb into a bowl. If it's frozen, keep it frozen. Sprinkle over a spoonful of the flour, shaking to coat the rhubarb.

Put the rest of the flour into a small bowl or measuring cup. 

Stir in the baking soda and salt.

Add to the butter mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk in two.

Spread the batter into a parchment-lined, nine-by-13-inch baking pan and sprinkle with the rhubarb. Press the rhubarb down with the back of your spatula to help it sink in a bit.

In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon and butter with a fork and/or your fingers. Sprinkle the mixture over the top of the cake.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until deep golden. The cakey parts should be springy to the touch.

Serving: 10 people. Let cool or serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Fire-roasted baba ganoush

If you happen to have a fire going, tuck a whole foil-wrapped eggplant or two into the coals as they die down.

Then come back later or the next morning for smokey, slow-roasted eggplant that's delicious in a baba ganoush.

This tasty dip can be used as a dip with pita bread or as a spread. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)


1-2 eggplants.

¼ cup (approximately) tahini.

¼ cup (approximately) olive oil.

1-2 garlic cloves.

Juice of half a lemon.



When you have a nice bed of coals established, or your fire is dying down, tuck the eggplants whole into the hot coals.

Leave them for an hour or so until blackened on the outside and very soft.

Remove them from the ashes with tongs.

When they're cool enough to handle, peel away the blackened skin.

Put the soft flesh into a bowl or the bowl of a food processor. Either mash with a fork or pulse until well blended. Adjust the salt, tahini, lemon and oil as you like it.

Serving: Dip or spread.

Listen to Julie Van Rosendaal's radio column on pandemic picnics or check out more of her recipes at

Our food guide Julie van Rosendaal is going old-school this week serving up some fresh ideas for a pandemic picnic. 9:26

About the Author

Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.