I need recommendations for tasty side dishes
August 25, 2012 2:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for 2 recipes for side dishes that are: unique, okay to be served cold, and will bowl over a potluck dinner crowd full of foodies.

I'm not 100% confident on my cooking skills, but I do okay. Also there is a girl in attendance I'd like to impress ;) I typically like making food of the Lebanese / Moroccan / Mediterranean variety. I think for this crowd, something delicate and light, but unique, would be great.

Are there any side dishes you've made for a group of people that blew them away?
posted by deern the headlice to Home & Garden (32 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
Gazpacho is always a hit. Make It with extremely fresh ingredients and it's absolutely amazing.
posted by phunniemee at 2:07 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This harissa carrot salad is pretty amazing.
posted by punchtothehead at 2:07 PM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Seasonally - watermelon salad. If you want to be simple, watermelon, feta, and basil or mint is a great combo. For a little more filling, add some of the following:

-choose one: quinoa, couscous, orzo
-red onion, thinly sliced
-thinly sliced bell peppers
-choose a green (I like arugula)

Dress with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
posted by quadrilaterals at 2:08 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're going about this all wrong. Peel a can of garbanzos and make hummus. Then you tell the girl that it's the first time you ever made it and does she have any suggestions?
posted by rhizome at 2:10 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

If this is a summer thing and you're making gazpacho, be sure to bring paper cups to serve in, rather than bowls and spoons. It's a lot easier and more considerate at a potluck.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:16 PM on August 25, 2012

What about some dolmas? I think people are impressed by these when they're homemade, and you could always do something novel with the filling if they're not foodie enough.
posted by itsamermaid at 2:18 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Japchae (chap-cheh) is a korean noodle dish. It's made from sweet potato noodles, stirfried in sesame oil and soy and slightly sweetened. You can do veggie or meat and serve hot or cold. I like them cold!
posted by Iteki at 2:22 PM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Definitely seconding the watermelon salad. I discovered it this summer and it's the best. I make mine with watermelon, feta, mint and basil, and if it's going to be extra fancy, I use a combo of yellow and pink watermelon. It's beautiful, and so good.
posted by Grandysaur at 2:27 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Strawberry-basil salad: Take a pack of strawberries; halve them; add about 1/3 cup of torn basil, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar; mix and chill for at least an hour to let the flavors marry. You can also add some quartered stone fruit (pluots work well) if you like. If you want to make it a little less sweet, you can add a cucumber, cut up into small cubes.
posted by heisenberg at 2:32 PM on August 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Bruschetta made with chard (or dinosaur kale) instead of tomatoes. It's a revelation. It's also easy to make, if a tiny bit time consuming your first time.

1) Buy and clean way way way more chard than you think you'll need. No, more than that.

2) Pile the clean chard into a huge pot, the biggest you've got because there is so much of it. If you can't fit it all, add more as it cooks down.

3) Cook it on low heat with a bit of water until it is mostly tender, but still has a bit of bite. Do not cook the hell out of it, and don't try to use something like spinach which will get too soft. You want something with a bit of "tooth" to it in the end.

4) At the same time, take a big loaf of good bread, slice it moderately thickly, and broil the slices on both sides until it's just turning tan. You don't want toasted bread exactly, just bread where the surface is hard and where there's a bit of color.

5) Peel a bunch of cloves of garlic.

6) Cool the chard, and squeeze it out in small handfuls until it's dry as you can get it. Fluff it a bit after you've squeezed the hell out of it, but don't worry about damaging it. I'm a pretty strong guy, and I squeeze literally as hard as I can. The drier the chard, the better the bruschetta.

That's it for preparation. A lot of that can be done at once, but when you make it the first time it's hard to get it all going.

To serve: Buy some really good olive oil, not the stuff you use for regular cooking, something better. It will come in a small bottle and make you weep with the expense, but you need a good "finishing" extra-virgin oil in your kitchen, and now is the time to get it. Also get yourself some kosher salt and put it in a little bowl.

Each eater takes a piece of bread, and a naked garlic clove. Rub the garlic clove all over the bread. A little goes a long way, but more is better, and those who do not partake will regret it later while those who do may also regret it later but will have the memories of such goodness to call on that they will not care.

After the garlic, each eater heaps the room temp greens on the garliced bread. Then takes the special olive oil and pours more than is healthy, but less than they want, on top of the greens. Finally, the salivating lucky person should put a bit of kosher salt on top of their mound of oliy greens.

Then: Eat!

This is truly a great recipe. It's simple, should be served room temperature, and is so much better than the crappy tomato based versions of this dish that you will come to regret all your years of not eating this all the time.

But, seriously, buy more greens than that. They really cook down!
posted by OmieWise at 2:34 PM on August 25, 2012 [29 favorites]

Oh, one thing to keep in mind is that in a humid environment the bread should not be broiled too far in advance of serving as it will go soft. This is not the worst thing in the world from a taste standpoint, but you actually want to toasted surface of the bread to be rough enough to pick up a lot of the garlic.
posted by OmieWise at 2:43 PM on August 25, 2012

On second thought, chicken-fennel salad might be more in line with the types of food you mentioned liking to make: Cut a cooked chicken breast into 1/2-inch cubes; cut two fennel bulbs into slightly smaller pieces; toss with a tablespoon of olive oil, the juice of one lemon, and two tablespoons of cumin seeds (whole not crushed); salt and pepper to taste. Serve cold. Yum.
posted by heisenberg at 2:46 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I confess that I haven't tried this yet, but I made it for my potluck tonight:

Hungarian Cucumber Salad
posted by jvilter at 2:54 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is awesome!
posted by cecic at 2:59 PM on August 25, 2012

came back to add that the Cucumber salad is very tasty.
posted by jvilter at 3:02 PM on August 25, 2012

Best answer: I came in to recommend the same harissa carrot salad that punchtothehead suggested. You can swap out some of the carrots with beets for extra color too.

This couscous and artichoke salad is delicious. I like to add green beans which I cut into 1 inch pieces, boil for 3-4 minutes, shock, then saute in butter, and finish with a tablespoon of balsamic.

Green bean, cherry tomato, and polenta salad with pesto is really good too:
  • Make stiff polenta, pour it on the counter to cool for about 40 minutes, and then cut it into 1 inch squares. Put the sqaures on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and roast for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees. You want them to get a nice crust on the outside – the inside will stay tender.
  • Make pesto (I use basil, but you use add cilantro and mint for something a little different).
  • Chop the green beans into 1 inch pieces, boil for 3-4 minutes, and shock. Saute them in olive oil for a few minutes (I like them to still have a lot of crunch, you can boil them longer or saute them longer per your preference).
  • Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (or quarters if they're large).
  • Gently mix everything together in a large bowl. You can also add chunks of goat cheese or really good fresh ricotta.
  • Substitutions: You can swap out or add pretty much any vegetable for the green beans. I wouldn't take out the tomatoes because they add acidity and color, but you could put some lemon juice in to make up for them. I use ricotta gnocchi instead of polenta sometimes. This is a great gnocchi recipe.
This tomato goat cheese tart is amazing; I've been making it for lunch every week. You could make adorable individual tarts by pressing the crust into a mini muffin pan and cutting up the tomatoes.
posted by (Over) Thinking at 3:26 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's a few to take a look at:
Chickpea and Carrot salad
Shrimp, Avocado and Edamame salad
Quinoa, Radish and Avocado salad

All of these are good cold and not very difficult.
posted by mjcon at 3:31 PM on August 25, 2012

Quinoa salad with black beans and lime

Super Slaw! (lots of chopping but worth the effort)

Sesame asparagus (recipe says serve it hot but it is equally good cold)

Fire and ice tomatoes (an oldie but goodie)

Spinach salad with strawberry champagne vinaigrette (even better with candied walnuts)
posted by caryatid at 3:42 PM on August 25, 2012

Almost forgot: Sultan'ssalad
posted by caryatid at 3:44 PM on August 25, 2012

OmieWise, your recipe is poetry.

Foodies tend to be impressed by deceptively simple things that are kind of perfect just as they are. The ingredients are key, freshness, ripeness and/or quality will make or break something simple. The watermelon/feta salad mentioned above is a good example, as is OmieWise's bruschetta. My favorite simple & amazing treat for potlucks is this:

- Ripe strawberries, washed but with the hulls still on
- Really good sour cream or creme fraiche in a bowl
- Soft brown sugar in another bowl

Pick up a strawberry by its hull. Dip in sour cream. Roll in brown sugar. Place in mouth, and chew with evident pleasure. Repeat. For bonus points, serve with a nice rosé.
posted by cali at 3:49 PM on August 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

None of these are really Lebanese/Moroccan/Mediterranean, but they are all pretty simple and reliably nice.

I've recently started making this lemon/dill carrot salad. But you must be either willing to grate many carrots by hand, or able to get access to a food processor.

Orangette's French-style warm lentil salad is always a crowd pleaser, and can be served cold too.

This Polish cold beet soup is a bit more complicated than the salads, but is stunning visually and also super tasty. Make sure you let it cool to lukewarm before adding yoghurt. I have never served it with potatoes and eggs as suggested, just by itself as soup.
posted by snorkmaiden at 5:02 PM on August 25, 2012

I made this cauliflower caprese salad today as a side dish for dinner and really enjoyed it. I think what made it really pop for me was that I drizzled specialty vinegar on it (blood orange-flavored balsamic vinegar) which gave it a nice sweet (not overpowering) taste. I have a feeling, though, that regular balsamic would be just fine.

Also, the cauliflower was cooled down a lot by the tomatoes and mozzarella, so I think the dish would be fine as cold, per your request.
posted by lea724 at 6:13 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Som Tam is super easy and super awesome, and has that lovely sweet/sour/salty/spicy balance that makes foodies flip.
posted by Mil at 3:13 AM on August 26, 2012

I had a party recently and the big seller was a plate with cold grabbable things that were slightly less than common but far from unrecognisable: pickled asparagus, marinated mushrooms, feta-stuffed jalapenos, dolmades, bocconcini, that sort of stuff. No meat as I'm vegetarian and no olives as I am not a huge fan and question my ability to select great ones; either or both would've gone well and been appreciated, I'm sure, but... Antipasto plates are always a nice thing to have, and with picks and little plates and napkins, easy for people to eat standing.
posted by kmennie at 4:28 AM on August 26, 2012

Deviled eggs. Top half with with capers the other half with pickled onions for a mildly foodie touch. Hardly anybody makes them anymore, but they're usually wildly popular. Unless you're a good cook, it's hard to impress foodies with cuisine, so a retro favorite is a good choice.
posted by theora55 at 10:11 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hot or cold, Richard’s Sweet Potato & Carmelized Onion Salad is fantastic. Very simple and always all gone by the end of a meal. People rave.

And, I suppose if you yearned for an ethnic twist, you could add your herb and spice preferences to suit.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:26 AM on August 27, 2012

Try muhamarra with some bruschetta or even crackers. Unexpected, easy to make, and surprisingly delciious.
posted by Mayor West at 4:15 AM on August 27, 2012

Oddly enough, roasted cauliflower never fails to disappoint. If you have a favorite veggie dip already, then put that on the side, but seriously, just some olive oil and salt on a chopped up head of cauliflower, roast at about 300 or so until it gets lightly brown. People love it!
posted by freezer cake at 4:49 PM on August 27, 2012

A dijon chickpea salad is really nice and has nice fresh flavors. If you're feeling adventurous, cook dried chickpeas rather than using canned ones.
posted by cnc at 3:42 PM on August 31, 2012

One other things - you know what's nice together? Peaches diced tiny small (and not too watery) with mint. Simple, easy, tasty, uncommon.
posted by cnc at 3:45 PM on August 31, 2012

This Green (Unripe) Peach Salad with Basil from Melissa Clark is stupidly good, far better than it has any right to be considering it's pretty much just the shittiest, hardest supermarket peaches you can find, a lime-oil dressing with some black pepper, and basil. That's it. Yet somehow it trumps the zillions of fancier peach salads I've had--the one with fennel infused oil, the many with super ripe summer tomatoes, whatever. It is super cooling and refreshing and sweet without being cloying. We love it. And I love that it doesn't require you get lucky at the farmer's market with perfect peach specimens; the majority of the year peaches suck, and this is what that salad can handle.
posted by ifjuly at 7:09 PM on September 4, 2012

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