Thursday, May 13, 2010

Veggie Might: Potluck Tips to Save You Time and Moolah

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

With a couple more potlucks in my immediate future, and summer picnics and barbecues just around the corner, I wanted to give potlucks a little more VM time. Plus, they’re just so much fun.

A potluck can be a vegetarian’s feast for a king or slim pickin’s. You’ll either be faced more choices than you’ve had in your life or endless bacon-topped casseroles and bread. But at least you can eat what you brought—and as everyone knows, bread good.

A potluck is also a good opportunity to show omnivores how amazing vegetarian/vegan food can be. I always try to choose foods that are low on cost and big on flavor. Here are some tips to help you decide what to make for your next potluck without ending up in debtor’s prison.

Choose a scalable recipe
Recipes that will take you easily from 4 to 24 servings are your potluck friends. Grain, bean, and vegetable dishes with only a few ingredients will make your life so much easier. The idea is to maximize the amount of food, not effort. Doubling a stuffed grape leaves recipe means rolling twice as many grape leaves, while doubling a grits and quinoa recipe means using a bigger pot.

Use seasonal produce
Seasonal produce, as we often remind you, is cheaper produce. Save money and serve your friends the pick of the crop. If it’s the dead of winter, frozen is the way to go.

Use pantry items
No need to buy a ton of specialty ingredients. Raid that pantry. At a potluck, people will likely only sample your wares. Your effort will go well appreciated, but it also may go back home with you. Use the opportunity to blow through that lentil stash you’ve been hoarding.

Enlist the spice rack
Those lentils will seem a lot less boring if they’re punched up with some zippy herbs and spices.

Know your audience
Sometimes it’s impossible to accommodate everyone’s dietary needs, but a little effort goes a long way. Ask yourself a few questions before assembling your dish: Does this have to have meat? Can the cheese go on the side? Can I do only half with cheese/bacon/cream of lard sauce? Your lactose intolerant, gluten-free, vegan friends will kiss you just for trying.

Don’t be afraid to fail
A potluck is an opportunity to be experimental and adventurous. Take a chance and shock the church ladies, by all means. The first vegetarian recipe I made was stuffed mushroom caps with tofu; I was sure to blow the minds of my family at Christmas dinner. To my great surprise, it was the hit of the night—and no one batted an eye at my “secret” ingredient.

Occasionally a dish falls flat and is not the success you hoped. That’s the beauty of a potluck. Even if your dish bombs, no one goes hungry. And if everyone loves it, you will explode with joy.

Favorite Potluck-Friendly Recipes
BBQ Seitan Bites (**)
Nopales Chili (**)
Pumpkin Orzo with Sage (*/**)
Toor Dal with Ginger and Green Chilies (**)

Black Bean Salad with Fresh Corn (**)
Daikon (or Jicama) and Mango Slaw (**)
Esquites (*)
Potato Salad for Rainy Day People (**)

Cauliflower with Garlic, Ginger, and Green Chilies (**)
Red Cabbage with Apples (**)
Roasted Asparagus and Chickpeas (**)
Tunisian Beans and Greens (**)

Rice Pudding (**)
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble (**)
Sublime Fruit Salad with Mint (**)
Vegan Ginger Cookies (**)

(*) vegetarian—contains dairy and/or eggs
(**) vegan—contains no animal products

Readers, what are your favorite vegetarian potluck recipes? Any great tips you’d like to share? The comments are open and caring. Spill, if you will.

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