When it comes to picnic food, texture and simplicity reign supreme: Potato chips count as dinner, and a crisp, delightfully sweet watermelon makes the sticky, juice-covered fingers totally worth it. Don’t fret about what you’re loading in the cooler—it’s hard to go wrong.
Of course, there are a few things to keep in mind. Sturdier ingredients will travel better; tender leaves have no place here. Opt for recipes that taste good at room temperature. And focus on finger foods (even if you’ve got nice bamboo travel dinnerware, eating with your hands enhances the picnic experience—as long as you pack some wipes). Unsurprisingly, the cuisines of warm-weather locales make for ideal picnic food: salty Greek fare; tangy, spicy Indonesian dishes; or garlic-and-herb-specked Middle Eastern meals all just get better as the ingredients sit and flavors meld.
Below, find four summery cookbooks full of big-flavor dishes that will stand up to a long time spent in the picnic basket or a few hours out on the lawn. Just add watermelon.
Coconut & Sambal by Lara Lee
A picnic means a crowd, and with a crowd comes dietary restrictions. I turned to Lara Lee’s Indonesian cookbook while planning an outdoor feast that needed to cater to vegetarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free folk alike. The book has a handy index in the back with every recipe in its pages listed by various dietary requirements—and equally handily planned menus, including a make-ahead menu perfect for picnics.
A crunchy peanut sauce–dressed gado gado salad holds its texture and saltiness through a day at the park: Just pack the hard-boiled eggs separately and place them next to the ice pack, then dress the salad upon arrival. Generously spiced seafood dishes like chile prawn satay, kecap manis calamari, and fish and prawn lemongrass satay might all shine the most when served immediately, but if it’s a seafood-focused picnic you’re after at the beach, these dishes will hold together far better than a sad tuna salad or flaky fish fillet.
Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan
Yasmin Khan is something of a picnic pro. Flip to the index of Ripe Figs to find an entire Eastern Mediterranean picnic menu, where finger foods like dolma and fritters star as well as peak summer produce.
It’s the Cypriot Potato Salad that I’ll be packing again and again. Khan calls for Cyprus potatoes, a thin-skinned, earthy little spud grown in the island’s mineral-rich red clay soil. If you can’t find them, opt for a small heirloom potato or new potatoes. Build on their savory flavor with a slew of salty, zingy additions: capers, slick Kalamata olives, lemon zest, a big handful of mint, cilantro, and onion. The resulting flavor is nostalgic…but also miles ahead of the gloppy, flavorless potato salad you might remember from childhood picnics.
Chicano Eats by Esteban Castillo
You could turn to Chicano Eats for the gelatinas alone. Wobbly, vibrant, fun to eat, and maybe even better when the edges turn just a bit slushy from the heat: This is ideal summer dessert, particularly alongside juicy peak-season fruit. Esteban Castillo’s Gelatina de Mosaico will woo the youngest in the crowd with its tricolor appeal, but I’m partial to the silky Gelatina de Leche—especially if someone packs a bottle of cold brew to drink alongside.
For main courses, consider packing the components for a few of Castillo’s tacos in separate containers and letting everyone serve themselves on-site to avoid sogginess and spillage.
Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
A picnic food story isn’t complete without Ottolenghi, reigning champ of the sturdy salad. I’m all in for his Iranian Herb Fritters (make a double batch of the sauce; you’ll want it on every grilled or roasted thing that week). They’re just as good at room temperature, and if you make them a bit large, the fritters can double as a tartine base of sorts for whatever spreads and snacks you have out—ideal for plate-free picnics.
Our editor in chief Dawn Davis relies on a baked rice and feta dish from Simple for every potluck. While it’s best to broil shortly before serving, I recently prepped the recipe a few hours in advance and reserved the pomegranate relish to pour over when everyone was ready to eat. There wasn’t a grain left.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious