Two Heads of Lettuce

Simple recipes for vegetarian potlucks. Would you like to join the Two Heads of Lettuce team? Contact twoheadsoflettuce at gmail dot com.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Potluck Tips From the Washington Post

This week's Washington Post features an article about how pervasive potlucks have become in (maintream adult) people's lives. I mostly disagree with the author's opinion that potlucks are all the rage not because people are interested in community building, but simply because they don't have time to cook full meals. Time is definitely a factor, but I also think that most of us who live the potluck life are committed to potlucks for a whole host of reasons that have to do with community.

That said, the Post also ran a good selection of potluck tips from DC-area chefs and catering professionals. They're not all practical (I challenge you to use an upside-down watermelon as a grilled-vegetable holder at your next potluck!), but some are great. Enjoy, and keep cooking!

Green Salad

Hardy greens -- such as romaine lettuce, radicchio, endive and frisee -- hold up well.

Instead of creamy dressings, use a vinaigrette -- it's safer for warm weather.

Place the dressing in the bottom of the bowl, place the greens on top, toss when you get to the party. (Thanks to Steve Dunn, Well Dunn Catering)

Pasta Salad

Make the salad vegetarian-friendly by adding garbanzo beans and French white beans.

For added flavor, toss in some sliced black olives, whole Spanish caper berries and lemon zest. (Anita Ellis, Avalon Caterers)

For the potluck meal-in-one: Use a sesame noodle salad as a base, add grilled shrimp or grilled boneless chicken breast (Editor's note: tofu, seitan, or chicken-flavored wheat gluten would make lovely kosher vegetarian substitutes) as well as shredded raw carrots and broccoli, julienne snow peas and blanched asparagus tips. (Deborah Allen, Federal City Caterers)

Potato Salad

For deep potato flavor, roast the spuds instead of boiling them and proceed with your regular recipe. Or, for a change, use sweet potatoes with diced yellow bell pepper, red onion and either cilantro or parsley. Mix with a simple peanut dressing made with peanut butter thinned with a little vegetable oil and vegetable broth. (O'Rourke)

Vegetable Casserole

Don't use canned soup; instead, bind ingredients together with cheese, eggs or a simple white sauce. (Maria O'Rourke, RSVP Catering)

Fruit Salad

Think round. Round shapes are more attractive and tend to hold up better. (Ellis)

If the fruit isn't perfectly ripe, toss the cut pieces in a little orange liqueur.

For a refreshing summer salad: Mix orange and grapefruit sections with chopped candied ginger. (Dunn)

Fruit kebabs eliminate the need for a fork and are a good way to control portion size. (Henry Dinardo, Catering by Windows)

Beverages

Frozen cubes of watermelon are just the thing for chilling lemonade, in the glass or in the punch bowl. (Susan Gage, Susan Gage Caterers)

For spritzers, freeze a cherry, grape, lemon or lime wedge in ice cubes. (Dinardo)

Presentation

Instead of Tupperware and aluminum pans, bring a gift in a gift. Colorful, inexpensive bowls and platters, for less than $12, are available at stores such as Ikea and Target. (Susan Lacz, Ridgewells)

For a disposable, natural container: Hollow out a sourdough boule and fill it with seasoned flatbread crisps, breadsticks and cheese straws. A giant papaya is a perfect container for salsa. Use a small watermelon half, rind up, as a holder for small skewers of grilled vegetables. (Bill Homan, Design Cuisine)

Present your Asian seafood or sesame noodle salad in disposable, clear plastic Chinese takeout boxes, available at many paper/party stores. Don't forget the chopsticks and fortune cookies. (Lauren Levine, Festive Foods Catering)

Using a mandoline, cut paper-thin slices of vegetables such as carrots and zucchini. Alternating colors, line the inside of a glass salad bowl with the slices. (Eric Michael, Occasions Caterers)

It's the perfect time of year for a quick and easy gazpacho. Serve it in clear votive-candle holders, available for about 25 cents each at Ikea. (Philippe Demol, 3Citron)

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