Edible Cooks: Potluck Salads
Photo by Michael Piazza / Recipes by Our Readers / Edited and Styled by Sarah Blackburn
Come summer, we New Englanders like to eat outside. Picnics in the park, sandwiches on the beach, ice cream cones on a sidewalk stroll, block party potlucks, lobster bakes, community barbecues, you name it: If it’s not raining, we’ll take it outside, thank you. Just look at the packed Boston Public Gardens at lunch hour on a warm, summer day! Is there a better way to celebrate what’s finally growing in our parks, gardens and local farms than by finding a patch of grass to sit on and sharing a meal together, under the sky, bugs and all?
In the seaside community where my family spends the summer there is a weekly cookout following the children’s sailing races. Folks line up just before 6pm, sometimes 100 strong, while club stewards man the grills and aproned volunteers set up tables and chairs overlooking the channel. Every family tugs along a wagon or cooler filled with BYO plates, flatware and cocktails for the grownups. Each person gets a burger, a hot dog and all the fixings. But to round out the meal (and to my mind the best part of it), everyone brings a big salad to share, turning what could be just a simple BBQ into a far more elaborate supper.
We end up with a rainbow of salads, including old standbys like the creamy pea salad one family brings every week (thawed frozen peas, curried mayonnaise and smoked almonds from a can—surprisingly delicious and always the first to go!). Then there are the “on-trend” dishes, like last summer’s ubiquitous rubbed-kale salads with garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano or zucchini carpaccio. There’s usually a bowl of couscous, maybe some tabbouleh and always a few pasta salads. When everyone’s gardens are bursting with tomatoes, the caprese is an easy and popular offering. Some bring dressed spinach with strawberries, blueberries and goat cheese, while others bring trays of hot-from-the-oven tater tots or pots of warm baked beans for the kids. It’s not fancy and there’s a little something for every taste.
So when it came time for this season’s Readers’ Recipe Contest, we thought we’d ask for your salad recipes. You know, the one your friends always ask you to bring to the potluck, the one that goes best with your neighbor’s grilled ribs or the one you make on August weekends that provides lunch during a long, hot work week. These are the types of recipes everyone needs in good supply: simple to put together, delicious to eat, using locally grown ingredients that sing of Massachusetts’ stunning—if somewhat short—summer.
We received so many good responses from our readers! Our five favorites are below, along with a cache of useful vinaigrette recipes from our kitchen. Each is perfect for hot weather sharing, so if you don’t have a potluck or a picnic on your calendar yet this summer, I hope you’ll plan one. Call your friends, family, neighbors or colleagues, invite them to meet up at the park, on a beach or in your own backyard and ask everyone to bring a little something to share. You’ll be glad you did.
Pantry Staple Vinaigrettes
Every home cook needs a good salad dressing recipe, or five. They’re so easy to make it seems silly how huge the bottled dressing industry is! Most of these are made with ingredients you already have in your pantry. Take 5 minutes to make one and you’ll see such a stark difference from the packaged dressing you’ve been using that you’ll never go back to bottled again.