How to Impress Everyone At Your Potluck With Salad

July 17, 2017

You’ve been invited to a cookout and, like any guest who expects to be invited back, you’ve offered to contribute something to the meal. But what to make? Someone else is probably bringing potato salad or coleslaw, plus they’re kind of boring (though they don’t always have to be!). You want to up your potluck game—but how?

Photo by Luisa Brimble

Lucky for you, Hetty McKinnon is a bit of a potluck expert. In 2011, McKinnon started Sydney salad delivery business Arthur Street Kitchen (which she continues as a Brooklyn-based website), which means if there’s anyone who knows her way around a dish to pass, it’s her. In her new cookbook, Neighborhood, she shares recipes that follow her basic salad success formula, with plenty of global influences from her travels around the world. Sound good yet?

McKinnon starts with a “core seasonal vegetable,” and goes from there: “Add a grain for heartiness,” she writes, “inject some herbs for freshness, incorporate some spice for intrigue, and finish with a nut for crunch.” The possibilities, she notes, are endless.

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Now it's your turn. Start with what’s in season. It’s summer and you’ve got more than a few options, so swing by the farmers’ market and see what looks good and plentiful (and inexpensive, McKinnon notes). She’s a big fan of shredded collards this time of year, but eggplant, green beans, or summer squash are all good options, too.

Next, add some heft. McKinnon makes a lot of salads that incorporate grains, beans, and lentils, but also plenty that don’t. It's completely up to you.

Photo by Luisa Brimble

Then consider flavors. Fresh herbs, like dill, basil, or parsley, are often forgotten when it comes to salads, but they're unexpected and add a ton of flavor. McKinnon sometimes combines them to make a sauce like pesto or chimichurri. She also taps other countries for her salads: agrodolce from Sicily, or Mexican-influenced chipotle lime dressing, or vegetables roasted in Middle Eastern sumac. Often flavor is added in the form of a dressing, like one made with hoisin and sesame, or yogurt spiked with herbs and chilis.

Finally, conquer textures. Nuts, as noted above, add crunch, but fruit like pomegranate seeds do as well. Or add creaminess: McKinnon looks to anything from labneh to feta to blue cheese adds lovely texture and flavor. And, of course, a good drizzle of olive oil is always welcome.

Of course, Neighborhoods includes specific recipes to take your salad game to new, previously unheard of levels, like Basil Olive Tapenade with Potatoes, Pasta, Green Beans and Capers, or Roasted Red Peppers and Cherry Tomatoes with Pearl Barley, Cumin, and Sherry Vinegar. But these rough guidelines will get you started—and definitely get you an invite back to the next cookout.

The above photos are from Neighborhood by Hetty McKinnon © 2016 by Hetty McKinnon. Photography © 2016 by Luisa Brimble. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.

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Paula Forbes has reviewed cookbooks for nearly a decade for sites like Epicurious, Eater, Eat Me Daily, and now Food52. She's currently working on a cookbook about the foods and restaurants of Austin, Texas.