Please bring a main dish and salad or dessert . . .

by WCE

Between scouts, church and sports, potlucks are common in my life right now. I’m interested in potluck-friendly recipes that aren’t too fussy. A crockpot meal or casserole is a straightforward main dish and I have tons of great dessert recipes, but salads are harder. I don’t like them to require mayonnaise, be too time-consuming to prepare, require me to visit a specific grocery store, require ingredients that aren’t “adequate” year round, be too high in calories or anything my kids won’t eat, since we’ll be eating the leftovers. I also would like my salad to be visually appealing, so I typically choose a yellow bell pepper to contrast with the avocado, red onion, black beans and tomato in this salad. (You can also use mini peppers in a pinch.) This recipe is one of my favorites. What other suggestions do you have for potlucks? Feel free to expand this into a general recipes post — I partly just want to share this salad recipe, since it’s become a favorite. The lime juice, olive oil and salt in this particular quantity are ideal.

2 c shell macaroni, cooked according to package directions
1 c tomatoes, chopped (or use grape tomatoes, halved)
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1/3 c diced red onion
1 diced bell pepper
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained (I like low salt S&W)
4 T chopped fresh cilantro
2 T extra virgin olive oil
juice of one lime (I use ~3 T bottled lime juice)
1 t salt

Toss ingredients through cilantro with pasta. Mix olive oil, lime juice and salt into a dressing; toss salad with dressing mixture. Ideally, refrigerate for 1-4 hr before serving.


59 thoughts on “Please bring a main dish and salad or dessert . . .

  1. WCE I make a salad very similar to that, but instead of pasta it has a can of corn, and instead of olive oil it takes 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar. I serve it as a side with grilled foods or with chips during college football. (And my team always wins when I make, so apparently it’s magic). I leave out the avocado because I despise the texture, but my sister leaves it in and thinks it’s the best thing ever. Since it’s all veggie, my vegetarian friends always appreciate it.

  2. Hah — I just did a whole basically casserole dinner for 20 for Rosh Hashanah, so I feel very up-to-date on this kind of stuff. :-)

    My favorite is just a real mac and cheese casserole — cook macaroni; melt butter, add an equal amount of flour, stir, whisk in milk, add shredded cheese of choice, stir in noodles, pour into buttered casserole, top with cheese and crushed saltines or Ritz. It’s easy because it’s 2-2-2-2 — 2 T butter, 2 T flour, 2 c. milk, 2 c. cheese (and one box pasta). Although I always add more cheese. :-) I also just did a rice and cheese and mushroom soup and broccoli casserole — used brown rice and no one even noticed.

    For salads, I do a version of kale (or spinach) with apples, cranberries, nuts, bacon bits, and blue cheese or goat cheese. The “hardest” part is cooking the bacon while chopping the apple and assembling everything else, but of course Bacos work, or skip that entirely. My SIL does a version of this with candied walnuts and goat cheese (minus the apple) that is awesome. It will take any kind of dressing — I have a lime oil and a peach balsamic that I just use as is, but a basic vinaigrette (shallot, dijon, olive oil, balsamic, salt/pepper, maybe a shot of soy) is great. Of course, if you use real bacon, you can do an awesome hot bacon dressing with the drippings and vinegar and a little sugar. :-)

    New main course favorite, from Tyler Florence: Put chicken parts in a roasting pan. Add apricot jam (or boil dried apricots in water or chicken stock to soften), prunes, a bunch of sage leaves, olive oil, a few tablespoons vinegar, salt/pepper, and bay leaf (my addition — I liked it a lot). Whack it in a 400 oven until it’s cooked through — if you use boneless/skinless chicken, cover with foil. Vinegar keeps it from being too sweet, and sage/bay add a really nice herbiness that balances it out. You could also do this in a crock pot, adding a little stock, but then I’d put the chicken breasts in near the end.

    Big crowd pleaser: carrot “soufflé.” Cook through 2 lbs. carrots, drain. Put in food processor with 1/2 c. flour, 1 c. mixed white and brown sugar, I think 3 eggs, and a stick of butter (I also add nutmeg and cinnamon and, for grownups, some cayenne or chipotle). Whiz, pour into buttered casserole. Mix more butter and flour and brown sugar and pecans and oatmeal into a streusel topping, top, and bake at 350 for 45 mins or so. Note: I cut the sugar and butter way back from the recipe and the kids still devour it.

  3. Tortellini Salad – package of frozen tortellini, can of artichokes, can of sliced olives, feta cheese, Italian dressing. Boil tortellini, mix with cut up artichokes, olives, feta, and Italian dressing. Voila! Super easy and quick. I always have these ingredients on hand so it works great when I’m in a hurry.

  4. That salad sounds good and like something my kids would eat. I am going to make it one night this week.

    For brownies, I have started putting peanut butter on them when they come out of the oven. I smooth it out when it is melted then let cool and frost with a chocolate buttercream. People go crazy for them and it is embarrassingly easy.

  5. And I make something similar with quinoa instead of pasta for those with gluten issues. I also add corn.

    I’m making spinach lasagna for the XC team pasta dinner because a couple of the boys are vegetarian.

    In general, I find that gluten free or vegetarian dishes are always popular at potlucks because there are so few options for those people.

  6. For morning or brunch events away from home, or when you’re having overnight guests and don’t want to have to get up too early to start making breakfast:

    Egg Casserole:

    10 eggs, well beaten
    1/2 C flour
    1 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper
    1 16oz container cottage cheese
    1 16oz package shredded Monterey Jack
    1 4oz can chopped green chiles
    1 lb sausage, cooked and drained. (the tube of bulk sausage works well, break it up small)

    Break and beat eggs in bowl. Separately, mix flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Combine flour mixture and cottage cheese, then add this to the beaten eggs. Add grated cheese and chiles and sausage into the egg/cottage cheese mixture. Mix well. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes.

    Can also be prepared the night before, refrigerated, and baked the next morning. Bake for 45 min in that case.

  7. I’ve made lots of egg casseroles and stratas and have never put cottage cheese in them. Can you tell it is in it or does it just kind of lighten it up?

  8. WCE – I’m going to share that recipe with DD. She’s going through a vegan phase (not sure if I’ve ranted about it here or not) – but this recipe would be great.

  9. Took this to 2 pot lucks recently:

    1 – 12 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts (either quartered or cut them up)
    3 – Tbsp Olive Oil
    2 – Tbsp White Wine Vinegar
    1 – clove garlic minced

    Drain artichoke hearts, reserve the liquid. Return the liquid to the jar and add garlic, oil and vinegar.

    6 cups torn romaine
    1 – 3.25 oz pkg of pepperoni
    1 – 2 cup pkg of Italian Blend Shredded Cheese
    1 – 14 oz can of black olives
    1 – pint of grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
    1/2 red onion sliced in rings
    Marinated banana pepper rings (we prefer the slightly spicier ones)

    Layer in a 4 quart bowl:
    1/3 lettuce, 1/2 tomatoes, all the artichokes, all of the peperoni
    1/3 lettuce, all the cheese, all the black olives, all the onion rings
    Shake the dressing and drizzle half over the salad
    1/3 lettuce; 1/2 tomatoes, banana peper slices, crumbled bacon
    Shake the remaining dressing and drizzle over the salad

    Cover and refrigerate 3-12 hours before serving…too long and it gets soggy.
    Toss before serving.

    If your bowl is a sharp V shape vs a U shape, I put less lettuce on the bottom because you will need it at the top where the bow is wider.

  10. I often volunteer to bring dessert to pot lucks, and will do something easy like 7 layer bars or brownies, or lemon squares if I want to be a little fancier.

    A “stick to your ribs” side dish that I make sometimes is the hash brown casserole:
    2 packages of frozen hash browns
    1 can of cream of mushroom (or chicken) soup
    1 small carton of sour cream (I think it is 8 ounces)
    8 ounces of shredded cheese
    1 stick of butter, melted
    mix it all together and bake for an hour at 375.

    Argh, I can’t find my recipe to double check the amounts/details – these are all in my head! You may want to check online. Anyway, this is very fattening and unhealthy, so we don’t make it at home, but it is great for a brunch or a side dish to steak. I’ve also brought it when feeding homeless people, and they really like it.

    A daintier, but no less fattening brunch contribution is Paula Dean’s spinach and bacon quiche. I do substitute half and half or mild for heavy cream, though! It is very easy and delicious!

  11. For breakfast or dessert, I make this:

    French Toast Casserole

    1 (1 pound) pan loaf challah bread, sliced
    8 eggs
    2 cups milk
    1 1/2 cups half-and-half cream
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 cup walnuts (optional, I leave them out due to family’s allergies)
    1/3 cup sugar, mixed with extra cinnamon
    1 pear OR 1 apple OR 1-2 cups berries

    Butter a 9×13 inch baking dish.
    Mix cinnamon, sugar & walnuts and sprinkle across bottom of pan.
    Peel and slice pear. Arrange on top of cinnamon sugar and walnuts mix.
    In a large bowl, beat together eggs, milk, cream, vanilla and the 1/4 tsp of cinnamon.
    Dip each slice in mixture and arrange in pan, on top of pear and walnut topping.
    Pour remaining mixture over top of bread slices, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
    The next morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
    Bake in preheated oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes. If desired, cover with foil and bake another 15 minutes.

    If you want it to be less rich, you can use fewer eggs and more milk instead of half and half. My household needs the extra calories (well, except for me!) :)

  12. Sunday’s potluck had skewers like Rhett’s with mint instead of basil leaves and watermelon cubes in addition to the tomatoes. They were delicious. Potluck was held in a pole barn which holds the family’s mini-winery. They also had wildflower mead.

  13. Rhett – A nice variation on Caprese that DW has been making this summer is a salad of watermelon cubes, sliced cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, balsamic vinegar, and chopped mint leaves.

    Sky – That sounds really good; I’m going to do it. But I’m wondering what the actual difference is between “French toast casserole” and “bread pudding,” other than the time of day that it’s eaten.

  14. Oh, yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of watermelon salad — simplest is watermelon, feta, mint, lime, olive oil, and salt. Another version I like is watermelon, feta, red onion, chopped peppers (jalapeno, Hungarian, Italian, etc. – your preference, a little spice is nice), served on a bed of arugula, with the same olive oil/lime juice/salt “dressing” (have to use the quotes because I just pour stuff on vs. mix it up).

    For fruit, I like a bowl of strawberries with either marscapone cheese or yogurt mixed with a little brown sugar and vanilla.

    “I’m wondering what the actual difference is between “French toast casserole” and “bread pudding,” other than the time of day that it’s eaten.” — You can call the former “breakfast” and ergo don’t have to feel guilty about it. Same reason my carrot dish is so popular — it’s a “vegetable,” not dessert. :-)

  15. The cat just jumped in a large cardboard box at the top of tomorrow’s recycling pile and dislodged it, so she got to sled down the pile. Now she’s trying to push the box back up with her head so she can do it again. Weird cat.

    Anybody have a good recipe for leftover ham? I got a 10 pound one on sale and am baking it, but there is no way I can get the kids to eat that many ham slices.

  16. Grumble. We always have to take low-carb stuff so that we’ll have something to eat. I often make a roast beef or roast leg of lamb. Those go over well. Slice them before you leave the house. This salad is from Cook’s Illustrated and it’s very good. I usually at least double it. Sometimes I skip the whole salt-and-drain the cukes.


    4 – 5 large vine-ripened tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
    1/2 teaspoon table salt
    3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    2 tablespoons lemon juice from 1 lemon
    1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
    1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
    Ground black pepper
    2 medium cucumbers, peeled, quartered, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch pieces, tossed with 2 teaspoons salt in strainer set over bowl, and drained about 1 hour (discard liquid)
    1. Core and halve tomatoes, then cut each half into 4 or 5 wedges. Toss wedges with salt in large bowl; let rest until small pool of liquid accumulates, 15 to 20 minutes.

    2. Meanwhile, whisk oil, lemon juice, red onion, mint, and pepper to taste in small bowl. Pour mixture over tomatoes and accumulated liquid and toss to coat. Rest to blend flavors, about 5 minutes.

    3. Add drained cucumber pieces; toss to combine. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately.

  17. We have a potluck coming up Sunday. Last year I brought teri ribs, under the impression that the kids would be eating as well as the parents, but it turned out the potluck was just the parents and all the ribs were eaten anyway, so I had to make more for the kids. The nice thing with ribs is that they’re easy to make but people feel like it’s a primo potluck contribution.

    Nonetheless, this year I might just do kim chee dip. Or oven-baked gon lo mein, but then people assume you bought it somewhere.

    I don’t like to bring salads b/c they take longer to make and there’s always plenty of salads to go around.

  18. I make navy bean soup and leftover ham and potato casserole (from allrecipes). I used a 22 lb ham last Christmas in various ways. The volume of food we eat continues to increase.

  19. Sky, awesome cat! As for the ham, take it back to 1977 and tell them that the Syrian refugee kids would love to have that ham – well the Christian ones. Maybe I should re-think my argument.

  20. Sky, there’s also the twenty zillion variations on ham and egg noodle casserole, usually with a cottage cheese – sour cream – egg mix or a canned soup-based mix to bind it all together. Or there’s also a similar thing, sauerkraut gratin with ham cubes folded in.

    Also, cooked ham freezes fine for later use in soups or whatever.

  21. Sky, we make ham and scalloped potatoes with our leftover ham. I make a basic cheese sauce similar to what laurafrombaltimore uses in her mac & cheese, slice up some potatoes and chop the ham. Then throw it all in a dish and bake at 400 for 45 minutes or so (make sure the potatoes are soft). It’s always a hit.

    There’s also this amazing ham bone soup recipe from NYT: it doesn’t actually call for ham, but we always put some in it. It makes a ton and freezes well too.

  22. “Nonetheless, this year I might just do kim chee dip. Or oven-baked gon lo mein, but then people assume you bought it somewhere.”

    Recipes, please!

    Regarding the ham, chop it into cubes and mix it with mac and cheese for dinner. KJ’s scalloped potatoes idea is also awesome. How about split pea soup with ham?

  23. for potlucks, I often bring my sweet and sour, very bacony, red cabbage dish. Or in summer I do a potato and green bean salad that is dressed with olive oil and lemon instead of the usual mayo. I also usually bring a bowl of olives

  24. This is the basic idea for the baked gon lo mein: It uses fresh noodles (not the hard dry shelf-stable kind; the soft kind you get in the refrigerated section by the won ton wrappers — if your local stores carry only dried noodles you’ll need to cook them first) and you can swap out the veg with whatever you have on hand (slivered carrots/celery/green beans, chopped choy sum, mushrooms, whatever). My recipe has shoyu, garlic powder, and I think a TBSP or so of peanut oil in the sauce along with the oyster sauce and sesame oil — you mix it all together and pour it over the noodles in the baking pan. And I bake at more like 350 for 15-20 minutes, which means no need to stir fry the vegetables separately b/c they cook in the pan, and also the noodles get crispy at the edges which is nice.

    So, the basic steps are: (1) put the noodles in the pan, (2) dump in your chopped veg and char siu, (3) pour over the sauce and toss it all a bit with tongs, (3) bake, (4) toss it again with tongs and serve.

  25. On FB, one of my friends in Australia is discussing beetroot sandwiches. Evidently it is an Aussie thing. OK.

  26. MM, we do pizza-filled manapua here (what you would call char siu bao, except they’d be pizza bao). Also, we bake our manapua half the time and they’re big and fat. So the baked gon lo mein is the least of it. Chinese and other food traditions have had a long time to evolve here.

  27. We often take Caesar salad for potlucks. We just googled a recipe for the dressing, and whenever we make dressing, we make a whole bunch. If the dressing’s already make, putting the salad together is very easy.

    Most people, including kids, like it. We usually don’t have leftovers.

  28. If we’re doing a main course, I like dishes that allow us to dump a bunch of stuff in a pot and let it cook. Chili and shoyu chicken both meet that criterion.

  29. HM– Isn’t that a “P” on that manapua, indicating a Pizza manapua from Aiea Manapua and Snacks?

  30. I highly recommend ssk’s hashbrown casserole. We make the same recipe, but with only one bag of hashbrowns, 1/2 carton of sour cream, and only 1/3 stick of butter. We add roasted veggies to make it more substantial. Others can add ham or sausage. Yum!

  31. Is that like a char siu bao, or is the surrounding roll different?

    I was going to have a bao for breakfast but the baby took it out of the fridge and jumped on it. :(

  32. Finn, it appears you’re absolutely correct, as indeed the filepath shows if I had looked at it. Too funny. I grabbed the first Google image result for baked manapua that looked right, but it wasn’t!

    Here’s a char siu version:

    Sky, the outside part theoretically is the same but I think the typical manapua version is less dry and slightly sweeter than what you would get at, say, a dim sum place.

  33. The typical manapua is also a lot bigger than the typical char siu bao at a dim sum place. Think of something with about the same diameter as a Whopper.

  34. OK – I have to make a trip to Hawaii to try all these exotic to me dishes. The closet version to this that I have tried are the Chinese pork buns that are steamed. Are these the same things ? We have a barbeque filling here.

  35. Finn/HM – I suppose manapua is available everywhere plate lunches are sold and at Chinese bakeries?

  36. Louise– Yes, the basic steamed manapua (it also comes baked at some, but not all, manapua places, as well with a variety of fillings) is pretty much a big char siu bao.

    Fred– No, manapua is not typically sold at plate lunch places. However, it is sold at most 7-Eleven locations, and you can get them frozen at Costco. IMO what they sell there is definitely a cut below what you’d get at the better manapua shops.

  37. Louise — a brief manapua history, second food item down (after malasada).

    (Fred, your family would also enjoy malasadas. Champion is my favorite but Leonard’s has tradition on its side.)

  38. I believe the proper spelling is malassadas; Leonard’s uses the spelling HM used above, which I believe is why a lot of people use that spelling.

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