Seeking holiday pot luck ideas, tailored to my needs
November 21, 2022 7:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to a pot luck. Usually, these events are full of inexpensive carbs and baked goods. I can afford to spend some cash on protein. But I also want it to be easy — I'm a decent but not terribly disciplined or exacting cook, and a lot of folks might be vegetarian.

I could just marinate a rack of ribs and bring that. But that would be messy. So, a meatloaf? Roughly half of the attendees are vegetarian too. What's easy and unusual, costs aside? A brisket or roast chicken and a giant dish of broccoli rabe? Veggie and not-veggie meatballs?
posted by Roy Batty to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Vegetarian chili or soup and a side of optional cooked meat to add to it, like ground beef or shredded chicken.
posted by corey flood at 7:07 PM on November 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

Enchiladas, in both vegetarian (e.g. black bean) and beef (or chicken or shrimp) versions would be good. Using some high quality bottled sauce, they'd be easy to make and are generally crowd-pleasing. You could also make pinwheel sandwiches in both meat & cheese and all-cheese versions. Pinwheels are always popular.
posted by DrGail at 7:20 PM on November 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

posted by Toddles at 7:20 PM on November 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

When I’ve been to potlucks with chicken fingers, no one was sad (who ate meat). You can pick up trays from grocery stores or places like Cane’s or Popeye’s or your local equivalent. Not fancy but easy and delicious and convenient to combine on a plate with most pot luck foods (soups can be tough because you need to wrangle a bowl along with a plate).
posted by MadamM at 7:25 PM on November 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

Seconding enchiladas and vegetarian chili (they'll keep so well in a crock pot).

You might also find some great ideas over on or

Dips are also always a good way to go - here are the rough ideas of two of the more popular ones I made at a previous job:

- Tuscan White Bean: white beans, canellini preferred (drain, reserve liquid), garlic, lemon zest and juice, rosemary/Italian seasoning, pinch of salt. Play with ratios to your taste and use can liquid to get a nice smooth consistency in the blender.

- Brownie Batter Chickpea: 2 cans chickpeas (drain, reserve liquid), 1/3 cup dark cocoa powder (regular is ok but dark helps sell the color), 1 tsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp vanilla, 2-3 Tbsp honey/maple syrup, pinch of salt. Blend as above, check seasoning. Fold in 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips or walnut pieces as allergies allow.

The students devoured the chocolate one, and I know I are a whole can's worth in 3 days when I started WFH this spring.

Both of these recipes are considered "universal", that is vegan and top 9 allergen free. Of course, you'd have to find an allergy free chocolate chip like Lily's or Nestle Simple to make the brownie one universal but those are becoming more common.

Here's more info on Universal Meals.
posted by OhHaieThere at 8:44 PM on November 21, 2022

Southern Pineapple Cheese Casserole

See my comment on this previous Thanksgiving side dish post
posted by TimHare at 8:59 PM on November 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm personally a fan of charcuterie plate ingredients as potluck contributions. Easy to prepare, and can be presented beautifully on a nice platter.

Meats: Salami, proscuitto, pepperoni, Spanish jamon, other cured meats.
Cheeses: I'm not a huge cheese fan, but I'm sure this'd be easy to find.

Vegetarian/vegan friendly proteins: Roasted nuts, roasted seeds, hummus, Tuscan white bean dip.

Non protein options that would be nice: Baba ghannouj, grapes/berries, olives, pickles/cornichons.

Serve with a nice vegetable tray, if you know that the rest of the potluck is going to be carb heavy. Otherwise, bring some nice crackers or bread to go with it all.

You could also do Deviled eggs; those are always a huge hit wherever I go.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:34 PM on November 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

Some sort of halloumi based dish? Maybe halloumi and chickpea salad for a double vegetarian protein option
posted by piyushnz at 10:00 PM on November 21, 2022

Let me give an example of what happens when people carefully plan food for (e.g.) vegetarians as though eating vegetarian is a special category. Say it's a party with 10 omnivores and 2 vegetarians. They buy (I have no idea how much pizza people buy) 5 pizzas with meat on top and 1 pizza with just cheese. The omnivores eat all the cheese pizza, the 2 vegetarians each get one sad slice of cheese pizza, and there's plenty of leftover pepperoni ("can't you just remove the pepperoni off the top?"). The person who is actually vegan or didn't want to bother anyone with being wheat-free (etc.) "isn't hungry", pays for it later, compromises their values, etc.

Do half and half. Vegetarian and vegan.

Vegetarian: organic pasture raised cheese from the fancy cheese department or a thick yogurt dip (strained whole fat organic pasture raised yogurt with mint and garlic and salt)

Vegan: hummus or baba ganouj or falafel or guacamole or a good nut-based trail mix and so forth.
posted by aniola at 10:13 PM on November 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

You can bake anything with chickpea flour and sub the sugar for, like, actual fruit and then you have a dish that looks like dessert but fills like dinner.
posted by aniola at 10:20 PM on November 21, 2022

If it's pot luck, the vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal, etc. guests will bring food appropriate to their needs. Seriously, without a catering poll or something and a perfect recipe with ingredients that are OK and prepared OK, they're not going to eat it. Otherwise you're basically stuck with fruits and vegetables maybe roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper. It takes a vetarian/etc. to know what to make past just best effort. Especially for a "decent but not terribly disciplined or exacting cook".

Just do whatever and make a recipe note of what's in it. If there are a lot of vegetarians, they'll bring lots of vegetarian food. It is a pot-luck right?
posted by zengargoyle at 10:43 PM on November 21, 2022

I'd go veggie chili if I ever join in. I've been told those BeyondMeat stuff, combined with canned beans, a can or two of V8 juice (original, of course), and some spices and whatnot, makes a pretty decent chili. ;)
posted by kschang at 1:33 AM on November 22, 2022

Lasagne Bolognese. There are carbs in there, but it is so delicious and comforting and everyone loves lasagne. If you want to do a vegetarian version, substitute finely chopped egg-plant for the meats, this version is perhaps better than the traditional one. If you have a pressure cooker (Instant Pot), you can make the meat/eggplant sauce much faster.

For a vegan centerpiece protein meal, do a garden pie -- a shepherd's pie with lentils instead of meat.
Sauter your aromatics: carrot, onion, celery. When they are soft, add in green, brown or black lentils, you can use tins or dry lentils. If using dry lentils, pour over vegan stock or water and crushed tomatoes, to cover + 1.5 cm of liquid. If from a tin, just liquid to cover (again a mix of tomatoes and water or stock). Season with pepper, bay leaf and thyme, bring to a simmer, and let simmer for 15 minutes if from a tin, 30 minutes if from dry. Stir from time to time, to make sure you are not burning the bottom of the pot.
Meanwhile, turn on the oven to high heat.
Boil and mash potatoes using vegan butter.
When the lentil stew is ready, (taste), season with salt and perhaps more pepper, and add in some frozen peas (and sweet corn, if you like). Pour the stew into a casserole dish, and cover with mashed potatoes, smooth the mash so it is as horizontal as possible, and then make little grooves in the top with a fork. Then spread on little pieces of vegan butter, and bake till the stew is bubbling up in places, and the top is golden with brown spots.

Both the vegetarian and vegan options here are so tasty that omnivores will take a lot. (I agree with the pizza example above). So either just make one for all, or make a big vegetarian or vegan casserole and a small meat version for those who really need meat in their dinner.

Another thing you could do is Mark Bittmann's easiest roast chicken, and this salad with kale, walnuts and pomengrates. It is a very pretty salad, and tasty, and easy to make. This solution is obviously easier, and also has the advantage that it is good at room temperature.
When I make this roast chicken, I make a sauce with the drippings in the pan: I put the cast-iron pan on the stovetop over medium heat, and pour over a glass of either white wine, sherry or Marsala. When the smell of alcohol has evaporated, I add a cup of chicken stock, and let it reduce for 10 minutes or so. You can add cream and reduce again a bit, but often, I just stir in some butter. Season to taste, it may be perfect already. Of course, this will need reheating at the party.
posted by mumimor at 1:33 AM on November 22, 2022

In my experience, the hosts will usually provide the main protein, and vegetarians will bring stuff they can eat.

If not, and you want to bring a big protein, you can do shredded barbecue pork in a crock pot that has a keep warm setting.

The easiest version is root beer pork, which you can get down to three ingredients (a Boston Butt, bottle of barbecue sauce, can of root beer). You can hunt around online for various versions in different sauces (I'm partial to NC vinegar).

Dump the butt in the crock first thing in the morning, cook it, shred it, take it over, plug it in. Serve with rolls. If you're ambitious you can whip up coleslaw.

If all that feels like a bother, I like the charcuterie/snack platter idea. You can include my favorite easy appetizer. Take 8 oz cream cheese, softened, 4 oz smoked salmon, chopped, a few tablespoons of fresh dill, a tablespoon of horseradish, stir, serve on fancy crackers. It's fancy but easy.
posted by champers at 2:05 AM on November 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

A spiral ham is exceedingly easy and goes over well.
posted by Sukey Says at 2:35 AM on November 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

I have never been sad about a big old platter of shrimp with cocktail sauce. Feels fancy, involves practically no work, easy to plate, no red meat. You can make three dips - spicy with hot sauce and old bay, classic cocktail sauce, and creamy tartar, for variety.

Nuts also feel fancy and involve very little work but pack a bunch of protein and good fats in a small package. A particularly festive combo would be hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews, and pecans, which you could toss in a couple different seasoning blends and roast. A cumin garlic lime one maybe, and a cinnamon nutmeg black pepper one? The possibilities abound. A nice selection of nuts and olives with some lovely winter fruits like persimmons, Bosc pears, or satsumas, and some hardy crunchy veggies like fennel slices, carrots, and celery stalks, would be an amazing vegan platter.
posted by Mizu at 2:35 AM on November 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Hear me out on this first.

It's a pot luck, so a lot of people are going to bring big trays of lasagna or baked ziti because they make big quantities, they're easy, and they want to bring something impressive. Very few people are going to be bringing simple salads or simple vegetable dishes. And so you're going to get there and everyone is going to think the big fancy stuff looks nice and tasty, but they're going to deep down want a little balance. They may not be able to articulate that, but they will somehow know something's missing.

So I would go with a very simple, but big, batch of a vegetable side dish. I once went to a pot luck bringing a very simple veggie dish made of nothing but lima beans, peas, and string beans, all simply cooked and dressed with a very simple dressing of mint and a faint bit of butter. It was an unusually busy point for me and that was all I could throw together. But I put that on the table next to like six lasagnas and trays of chicken fingers and macaroni and cheese, and people devoured it, and some of them even came up to thank me because "thank God you brought something that's a green vegetable alongside all that other stuff!"

So go with something like that - a big tray of a simple vegetable dish. Let everyone else do the carbs and the protein, because don't worry, they will.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:13 AM on November 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

If you want to be beloved of the vegetarians, buy some Beyond Meat meatballs and bring them in a crockpot with barbecue sauce. Or do the same with shredded jackfruit - maybe with some buns so people can make sliders. I totally agree that the omnivores often will eat the vegetarian dishes, leaving nothing for the vegetarians. (I'm vegan, and I vividly remember a work event with a huge spread of all kinds of tasty dishes plus a small dish of hummus because of me - and yeah, the omnivores all went for the hummus.)
posted by FencingGal at 4:19 AM on November 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

If it's pot luck, the vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal, etc. guests will bring food appropriate to their needs. Seriously, without a catering poll or something and a perfect recipe with ingredients that are OK and prepared OK, they're not going to eat it.

Just for another perspective - it sucks to be at an event where you can eat only a small minority of the dishes, or only what you yourself bring. And I think most people in these categories certainly would eat almost any labeled vegetarian or vegan dish, unless they have specific allergies or are so religious they require official seals of approval on their food. I belong to a supposedly tricky category and that's how it is for me.

So yeah - another vote for universal/vegan.
posted by trig at 4:34 AM on November 22, 2022 [9 favorites]

If half the attendees are vegetarian, I would do something like all vegetarian meatballs in a sauce (soy-ginger or something like that). Low-effort, travels well, easy to portion out. With a good saucy potluck "meat"ball recipe, the fact that they are vegetarian/vegan fades into the background so I wouldn't bother doing two different kinds.
posted by drlith at 5:29 AM on November 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

Another vote for the vegan "meat"balls dish - that's always a huge hit where I'm at. If you have/can borrow a large slow cooker, you can prepare and then heat it up wherever you can plug it in.

A non-vegetarian friendly also very popular option is wings - I've been where people have just ordered them in for the event and they go quickly.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:26 AM on November 22, 2022

Homemade baked beans
Deviled eggs
Meatballs in sauce - someone brought in a crockpot of store bought meatballs in jarred tomato sauce, with some small soft bread rolls to make little meatball sandwiches. Tasty and easy; we all gobbled them up. If you can make meatloaf, you can make meatballs. Alternate sauces - sweet-n-sour, barbecue. Sliced kielbasa does well, or lil smilies mini sausages. You can find vegan non-meatballs.
Sloppy joes and small buns. Vegan recipe.
posted by theora55 at 6:40 AM on November 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Spinach balls. You can make them ahead of time, and they can be served at room temperature. I THINK this is the recipe I usually use, with some crushed red pepper added.
posted by BekahVee at 8:00 AM on November 22, 2022

Bring a Customize Your Own Hummus bar. Big thing or two of hummus, various toppings and mixins (jalapeno, red peppers, caramelized onions)
posted by Meagan at 8:00 AM on November 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

meatballs are always happily received. in this case I would buy vegetarian "meatballs" and present them in the crock pot in bbq sauce (or that classic gross-sounding yet always-pleasing jelly and chili sauce mix.) If you have two crock pots, maybe do one vegetarian and one meat.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:20 AM on November 22, 2022

I've made Smitten Kitchen's pizza beans for this scenario. (Occasionally I'll add Italian sausage, if I know the audience is all omnivores.) You can either cook the beans as directed, or I sometimes just buy the 9-oz cans of giant lima/cannellini beans marinated in marinara to save a step. Trader Joe's sells these as "giant baked beans in tomato sauce," or I grab "gigantes" in the Greek aisle of my local grocery store.

Easy to pre-assemble/transport/reheat, delicious, and a hit every time I've made it.
posted by writermcwriterson at 9:55 AM on November 22, 2022

There are vegetarians/ vegans out there who find "fake" meat unsuitable (e.g. allergies, desire to eat less processed food, taste, etc.) Therefore, I would suggest bringing a dish that is vegan by design instead of trying to use meat substitutes.
posted by oceano at 1:14 PM on November 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Two things that I've done; yam (ie., potato) salad and carbonara (not really suitable for hotluck) - made without guanciale (or bacon - but guanciale is better for these purposes as it's dry cured so you can fry it crispy and it'll keep it's crispiness much better than bacon) on the side for people to add.

Guanciale is spendy/ fancy, right? That it holds up better when mixed into salad or carbonara is unusual, right?
posted by porpoise at 3:41 PM on November 22, 2022

A tub of really good humus (you can buy Israeli humus where I live and it's amazing) plus a selection of cheese, would be great, and most people would be able to eat some.

Or alternatively something like meatballs, if you know there will be substantial numbers of meat eaters. Or mini sausages? I would make it perhaps with a coating sauce, but not swimming in sauce if you know what I mean.

The other thing I've seen go down spectacularly well is fruit kebabs, with melon, pineapple and kiwi.
posted by plonkee at 6:51 AM on November 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

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