What you need to know to bring the perfect potluck dish to pass
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It’s not always easy to come up with a potluck dish idea that keeps everyone happy! I mean, some week’s it’s hard enough deciding on what to feed my own family, let alone figure out a potluck dish that check off the following:
- Suits multiple tastes
- Suits multiple diets
- Works with my own budget
- Can be made in the “likely limited” time I have
- Is sturdy enough to be transported out of my kitchen and hold up well at a party.
- Tastes good. (I mean, I have a reputation to uphold as the “cook” in the crowd, right!?)
And I admit: sometimes, if I can’t be bothered, I’ll whip up a super quick hummus in my blender and grab a pre-cut bag of carrots on the way. BOOM. Everyone is happy.
But when I’m going to a potluck and I need to bring a dish that keeps everyone happy, I have a short list of qualifiers that determine what that recipe is going to be. Ready for this?
Here’s what I look for in the perfect potluck salad:
Perfect Potluck Salad Rule Rule #1: Skip the lettuce.
The delicate leaves are just going to get soggy and make everyone sad.
There are some exceptions for this, though: Lettuce based salads like a Layered Salad, where the dressing forms a “lid” that sits on the salad before getting mixed in, works perfect. (I love the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Layered Salad, if I’m not making my mom’s famous version)
I’ll also bring a lettuce-based salad if I’m able to bring a dressing on the side. That way, I can dress the lettuce right before everyone eats, or leave the dressing on the side and people can help themselves.
Perfect Potluck Salad Rule #2: Wrap it right.
And by “right”, the wrapping needs to encompass two things: tight and secure, or tight and breathable.
Tight and secure: perfect for more liquid or oil-based salads, such as a fruit salad. That’s when I make sure to use my big fat Pyrex glass containers with their snug lids; 10 years since I got my first set at my wedding shower and they haven’t failed me yet.
Tight and Breathable: This is great for lettuce based salad, tabbouli salad, a salad with warm componenets (think”: bacon and broccoli salad), and meal that you want to cover a bit, but don’t feel like closing off from oxygen. These are also great for keeping bugs off dishes at an outdoor picnic without everyone needing the pry a secure lid off a bowl each and every time.
That’s when I break out my beloved fabric wraps. Mine were a homemade gift from Food52 when I worked with them a few years ago, but you can also find the same here on Amazon– 100% organic cotton, elastic (think shower cap). There are disposable versions, printed versions, and more. I also like using beeswax wraps, since they’re washable and incredibly sturdy.
Perfect Potluck Salad Rule #3: Keep it looking appetizing.
There is nothing less appetizing than brown guacamole. Some ingredients, like apples or avocadoes, turn brown when they’re exposed to oxygen. To combat this, I do one of three things:
Wrap the dish with beeswax wrap or cling film and place the plastic directly against the top layer of the salad. This prevents oxygen from getting too close and ruining it.
Perfect Potluck Salad Rule #4: Skip the mayo-based salads.
I love love love oil-based potato salad (like this one with whole grain mustard and green beans) when I’m headed to a party, especially an outdoor one. Because everyone loves eating potato salad that’s been baking in hot sun, right? (yep, that was sarcastic)
Perfect Potluck Salad Rule #5: Pick a plant-based protein for a sturdy dish that’s a little different.
The thing about plant-based proteins? They might not be the norm, but they’re always a crowd-pleaser.
Think lentils, beans, couscous, chickpeas.
Perfect Potluck Salad Rule #6: Keep it on ice.
Keep whatever you’re transporting nice and cool (or warm) with an insulated food tote bag and ice packs.
I love these flexible ice packs that are easy to handle (no ice burns on your hands), with cute prints, and stay flexible even when they’re frozen. (Pssst… They’re also great for soothing sunburns #AskMeHowIKnow)
Perfect Potluck Salad Rule #7: Don’t spend so much time on the cooking.
My latest fave recipe to bring to potlucks is an easy rice salad, made with VeeTee Microwavable Rice. It’s hearty, sturdy, delicious, easily transportable, and just out-of-the-box enough to be different but a good crowdpleaser all the same. Take that for checking off every box!
Click here to see the recipe for my favorite potluck salad: this Tomato and Rice Salad with Pine Nuts and Goat Cheese.