What differentiates an outdoor hang from a picnic? A sort of informality, certainly. Outdoor hangs are more spur-of-the-moment, an enthusiastic reaction to spotting a 72-degree day very near on the horizon, while browsing through a weather app. But spontaneity doesn’t mean you throw planning to the wind. Consider channeling some of that enthusiasm into these recipes, which will still stand up and even stand out after a few hours. They’ll make a lovely, languorous afternoon in the park or in the backyard all the more pleasurable.
With nary a whiff of dairy, a vegan onion dip is perfect for any outdoor meet up. For this recipe from Yossy Arefi, onions are cooked down to the point of caramelization, and softened raw cashews are blitzed in a food processor with cannellini beans. Lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and paprika up the flavor, making this dip brighter than other onion dips. Enjoy with potato chips or a favorite crudité.
No offense to the traditional American potato salad, but perhaps it’s not the best recipe for the great outdoors. For her adaptation of German potato salad, the British cookbook author and food personality Nigella Lawson substitutes the usual mayonnaise for a combination of garlic-infused oil and white wine vinegar, which means you won’t have to worry that your salad might turn.
Recipe: Light Potato Salad
Use store-bought puff pastry to cut the prep time on this full-bodied tart from David Tanis, featuring any kind of wild mushroom (chanterelles, shiitake, oyster) and caramelized onions. In fact, with a little advance planning, feel free to make the garlic- and thyme-flecked filling the night before and bake everything a few hours before heading out.
Recipe: Wild Mushroom Tart
The great thing about fried chicken is that it’s a delight to eat whether it’s hot or cold, making it a winner for outdoor snacking. What’s more, the use of relatively small cuts of chicken, potato starch and a double-frying method in this recipe from the Japanese restaurant Kunyan also means you won’t have to worry about soggy skin.
This toasted millet salad from Yewande Komolafe is an exercise in preparing ingredients ahead of time. She points out that cooks can “toast and cook the millet, set aside and toss in the other ingredients when ready.” That means bottling the lemon, olive oil and honey vinaigrette and packing the cucumbers and mint leaves to go. Leave the cutting of the avocado until the very last minute to limit any browning.
When in doubt, go the cold noodle route. This recipe from Martha Rose Shulman is particularly great as it gets its creaminess from a rich, nutty tahini spiked with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, cayenne and ginger; fresh cucumber, celery and blanched baby bok choy give the salad a pleasant crunch. Also wonderful? Genevieve Ko’s soba noodles with chicken and snap peas, which come together in just 20 minutes, or about half the time.
The beauty of this salad from Melissa Clark is that, even though you can (and should) make it with fresh vegetables, she says you can get away with using frozen corn to speed up the process. Once you take that shortcut, simply toss all the vegetables with the red wine vinegar- and mustard-based dressing and enjoy.
There’s no beating a classic hummus. This version from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi involves cooking dried chickpeas with baking soda, which significantly reduces the cooking time and yields a smooth, creamy result. Best of all, it can be made up to two days ahead of time.
Recipe: Hummus From ‘Jerusalem’
A staple of the Iranian table, Samin Nosrat describes this vegetable-forward salad as “an herbier, juicier, more tart version of Greek salad, Israeli salad or Indian kachumber.” It’s also super easy to make, featuring a mixture of Persian cucumbers, red onions and tomatoes tossed with any combination of fresh herbs (parsley, basil, dill or cilantro), olive oil, dried mint and lime juice. For maximum effect, wait until the last minute to mix everything together.
What makes these (and really, all) brownies ideal for an outdoor hang is that they travel immensely well. There’s no worrying about smeared frosting and, if the brownies break up in transit, no one will mind. What’s more, these olive oil brownies from Melissa Clark will remain moist until the bitter end — if they manage to last more than a few minutes.
Recipe: Olive Oil Brownies With Sea Salt
There are two secrets to imbibing outdoors: first, vacuum-sealed water bottles and, second, batching, because a blanket set on uneven terrain is a terrible place to mix a drink. Double, triple or quadruple this recipe for watermelon margaritas from Alexa Weibel, and ask someone else to bring the ice. A few quick pours and the whole group will be in margarita heaven.
Or if you’re not in the mood for some simple math, there’s this sangria recipe from the cooking instructor Danielle Wecksler, which makes roughly 10 cups. Prepare and package fruit ahead of time, and, as one reader points out, making the ice cubes with wine instead of water means no worrying about this fresh and fruity sangria becoming watered down over time.
Recipe: Strawberry-Peach Sangria