Turn Off the Stove

The Marinated Raw Zucchini Salad That Lit Up My Potluck

August 24, 2018

We're in the dog days of summer, when all you want to do is sit by the A/C with a pint of ice cream. But don't sweat! We've got the best no-cook recipes to beat the heat in our newest series, Turn Off the Stove (A/C optional, ice cream included).

I had never brought an unprepared dish to a party before. But that’s exactly what the invitation said to do.

"This is a participatory cooking party," the Facebook event said. "Everyone brings the ingredients for one dish and then cooks together in the space. All recipes must be finished and space returned to original condition by the end of the event, while everyone is socializing, enjoying drinks, and eating tasty dishes."

So there I was, five minutes from the host’s Bushwick apartment—one bag stuffed with zucchini, feta, lemons, and olives, another heavy with beer—sweating profusely. It could have been the oppressively humid August afternoon, or that I still had to, you know, make the recipe. But if I’m being honest, it was because I wouldn’t know anyone there.

A salad to help me win friends/influence people? Photo by Alpha Smoot

I’m not in the habit of joining unfamiliar groups. But the host was a coworker I occasionally bumped into while heating up my lunch. I was drawn to her chattiness and happy energy, and when she invited me to a potluck, I said yes without thinking twice.

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Top Comment:
“Really sweet story, Katie! Thanks for sharing.”
— Eric K.

Jump to two weeks later: My roommate and backup guest fell through, and I stood in the midst of cooking chaos feeling completely alone. Everyone seemed to have something to do—a couple chopped cucumbers and carrots for spring rolls in the dining room, three people bumped elbows over the stove, one woman pinched perfect dumplings on the porch. My stomach filled with butterflies, I tried to find the host to let her know I’d made it. And also, to see where I could find a cutting board.

But with 30 people buzzing about, my coworker was nowhere to be found. I pulled off to a quieter corner and focused on making my salad like my life depended on it.

Unfortunately, the recipe was not the kind that demands undivided attention. I just cut the zucchini into ribbons with a vegetable peeler, put them in a bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice, and let them marinate for 30 minutes.

As I peeled, a kind soul came up to me and asked what I was making. I explained that it was a recipe from a publication where I worked, and the conversation started to flow (we were at a cooking event, after all), progressing to neighborhoods and favorite restaurants and what makes the perfect cookie. Before I knew it, it was time to add the olives, basil, and cheese (I chose feta instead of mozzarella).

I placed my creation on the overflowing table and joined the serving line. As I munched on those dumplings and continued my conversation, the host finally appeared.

"Oh my gosh! I'm so glad you came!" she said, hugging me. "How's everything going? Have you tasted this? It’s so amazing?"

She held out a plate piled with my salad. And as my new friend went in for another bite, somehow I didn't feel so alone anymore.

A real party mixer

What's an easy dish you bring to potlucks? Share recipes in the comments below.

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Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.


Eric K. August 26, 2018
Really sweet story, Katie! Thanks for sharing.
meg August 26, 2018
Please invite me to this party
tia August 26, 2018
Hah! I was thinking the same thing! But my kitchen is nowhere near big enough for 30 people. Three is a stretch. I might be able to pull off 10 if people were able to prep on the patio. Hmmm.