I feel two ways about potlucks. On one hand, they're the only sensible way for a big group to gather and eat together. In all my magazine-reading (have I mentioned how much I love magazines? The paper kind?), I often come across "Easy do-ahead party menus!" that look atrocious. More work than I have ever put into having anyone over in my life. Maybe each step is technically easy, but you'd still have to be unemployed (or have a kitchen staff), hyper organized, and love cooking to pull it off. So potlucks solve this problem.
However, sometimes too many potlucks stack up in one week, and I find they are just as much work (or more) than what I would have made for my family that night. And I have occasionally cursed potlucks, though please don't tell anyone. Puget Sounders are supposed to love them. Always.
I adore people that bring a hot, main dish to potlucks. People with crockpots (I gave mine away as it was suffering from disuse), people with those handy Rubbermaid sets with thermal jackets. If you're one of those, thank you! Keep doing your thing!
As for me and my house, we will supply the salad. It's usually something like this one – brown rice and kale salad with cranberries and pecans. Here's my reasoning:
1. It's vegan and gluten free. And I label it as such.
2. It's filling. Though I'm not a main dish super hero (God bless you!) it's conceivable that someone could eat a load of this and feel fairly satisfied.
3. It's delicious. Have I ever let you down? (Don't chime in if I have. I know readers have slaved over some recipes and been ruinously disappointed. I'm sorry!)
4. It is best served room temperature. (Potluck royalty!)
5. It can sit in its vinaigrette forever and just get better. You don't have to worry about it getting soggy.
6. Crazily, I usually have everything I need for a version of this salad -- grains, greens, homemade vinagrette. If you wash and dry kale and put it in a ziploc bag in the fridge, it lasts a really long time. (Though it gets gobbled up around here. Along with a latte and Triscuits, it's the food I eat almost every day.)
7. It looks bright and beautiful with the macerated cranberries and the green kale. There's never any left.
The very first recipe I posted was something similar – Barley and kale salad with dried cherries and blue cheese. I had taken it to my Mom's birthday party and been accosted with requests for the recipe.
I prided myself on always delivering recipes (handwritten and cobbled together from memory) to people who asked for them, but had the idea of putting it online to save my fingers from so much work. I made up the name on-the-spot, and I've always been glad I didn't think it about it much. Otherwise it wouldn't have happened. (I have a couple dear friends who are contemplating – and contemplating some more! –the idea starting a blog. Just get out there. We'll all be better for it.)
Kale and brown rice salad with cranberries and pecans
You could use white rice, barley, quinoa ... so many other grains here. The important thing is that it's had a chance to cool down a little bit so the grains can separate. If you can't cook it ahead of time and chill it, just spread it out in a very shallow layer, drizzle a little bit of olive oil over it, and stir it occasionally to release the steam.
4 cups cooked grain (I made brown rice in my rice cooker the day before)
1 large bunch curly green kale, de-stemmed, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons honey
salt and pepper
2 garlic gloves
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Combine honey, salt and pepper, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil with an immersion blender. (Or with a whisk if you use a garlic press.) Add more of anything to taste. Drop the sliced onions and dried cranberries into the dressing to marinate.
To assemble salad
In a large bowl, combine rice, kale, and dressing. I use my hands. Make sure everything is covered with the vinaigrette. That's what makes this salad. Scatter the toasted pecans over the top and maybe a little more coarse salt and pepper.