Mexican-Inspired Picnic

Ah, summer. Offering endless daily possibilities, brilliant green grass, stunning gardens…wait, haven’t I used this opening already? Well, it’s still damn true. And what better way to celebrate this festival of sun beams, blooming flowers, and chirping birds than to assemble a picnic basket full of vegan goodies and eat it at a park in all of nature’s splendor? No better way, I tell you.

Picnic basket all wrapped up...with yummy surprises inside!

Usually the picnics with my favorite Frenchy, Ariane, follow some sort of theme. A medley of salads constituted our first (with a random sushi roll thrown in), while an Italian-inspired parade of farmers market produce made up our second. On this particular Monday, the sandwich fairy seemed to flit around my head, but alas, none of my favorite multigrain bread from Batch Bakehouse remained from last week to satisfy the fairy’s wishes. She immediately called her friend, the tortilla pixie, who reminded me of the fresh bag of Ezekiel tortillas I had just bought from the Happiest Place on Earth: the Willy Street Coop. A Mexican elf must have weasled her way into the magical party somewhere along the picnic planning line because quesadillas popped into my head soon after the tortilla pixie visited. Requiring a salad at every meal, I contemplated a lime-bathed mixture of black beans, corn, and tomatoes served over a bed of greens to remain in line with my Mexican theme. Both of my recipe inspirations came from the Clean Green Simple blog, though I called upon the salsa and “Unfried Refried Beans” recipes from Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

I whipped up the salad first to let the flavors meld while I prepared the rest of our celebratory summer meal.

Lime-Bathed Black Bean, Corn, and Tomato Salad (Gluten Free, Soy Free, Nut Free)

Serves 4.


  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Pinch cayenne pepper (can omit if you have a low heat tolerance, like my Frenchy.)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed (I use Eden brand…the best!)
  • 3/4 cup frozen corn (or fresh! I suspect some smoky grilled corn would serve as a welcome addition. Thawed if frozen.)
  • 1 avocado, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, halved or 1 medium tomato, chopped

Whisk together the lime juice, oil, garlic, cayenne (if using), chili powder, and cilantro in a medium bowl. Stir in all other ingredients and refrigerate for about an hour to promote maximum flavor mingling. Adapted from Clean Green Simple.


Local Ingredients: Garlic from JenEhr Family Farm, cilantro from my garden, sungold tomatoes from Snug Haven.

Salad: check. Let’s move onto the quesadillas. Of course, I shouldn’t call them true quesadillas since “queso” means cheese and, well, vegans and cheese are not entirely conducive. However, the “creative names” lobe of my brain does not function very well so I give you….

Ques-no-dillas (Gluten Free if using GF tortillas, Soy Free, Nut Free)

Serves 2.


  • 2 whole wheat tortillas (predictably, I use my favorite Ezekiel Flourless Sprouted Whole Grain tortillas.)
  • 1 recipe Mexican Mashed Beans (recipe below.)
  • 10 arugula/spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup frozen/fresh corn (thawed if frozen.)
  • 1/4 cup salsa (use my recipe below, store bought, or your own homemade.)
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast

Warm the beans in a pot over medium-low heat. Spread half the beans over one tortilla then layer on the spinach, corn, and salsa.


Spread the remaining beans over the second tortilla, sprinkle with the nutritional yeast, and sandwich the two tortillas together.

At this point, you could grill the ques-no-dillas, heat them over medium heat in a skillet for about 1-2 minutes each side, or just leave them as is. I chose not to heat them since I would be serving them later at the picnic and they wouldn’t stay warm anyway.

Finished ques-no-dilla stuffed to the brim.

Local Ingredients: Arugula from Jones Valley Farm.

I’ve seen many a recipe for virtually oil-free, much lighter versions of refried beans with silly names such as “Unfried Refried Beans” and “Defried Beans.” Frankly, they make no sense to me and I think of them simply as….

Mexican Mashed Beans (Gluten Free, Soy Free, Nut Free)

Serves 2.


  • 1/2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 15-oz can kidney beans (pinto beans are traditional in refried beans, but no pinto beans lived in my pantry during the making of this recipe. Thus, their kidney bean cousins substituted. Quite well, I might add.)
  • 1/3 cup tomato juice
  • Pinch of cayenne (optional)

Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium-sized pot. Saute the onion for 3-5 minutes until softened then add the garlic and spices. After about a minute, add the kidney beans and mash the hell out of the beans with a potato masher until relatively smooth. Stir in the tomato juice and cook to heat through. Adapted from Appetite for Reduction.


And finally the last recipe you’ll need to complete your very own Mexican-themed picnic.

Simple Fresh Tomato Salsa (Raw, Gluten Free, Soy Free, Nut Free, Oil Free)

Makes about 1 cup.


  • 2 medium tomatoes (I prefer heirloom.)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Cayenne and black pepper to taste.

Chop the tomatoes small. I always chop tomatoes on a paper plate to save all the delicious juices that spill forth. Mix the remaining ingredients with the tomatoes. How simple. Adapted from Appetite for Reduction.


Local Ingredients: Heirloom tomatoes from Snug Haven, cilantro from my garden.

Sitting undisturbed in a grassy park under a shady tree with a delicious meal in front of us, our picnic turned out as a huge success. Gotta love outdoor summer meals.


Picture featured on Finding Vegan.

Meal Checklist: Protein–black beans and kidney beans. Whole Grain–tortillas. Vegetables–corn, tomatoes, avocado. Leafy Greens–lettuce and arugula.

Until next time, Ali.

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