The Etiquette Do's And Don'ts Of Bringing Veggies To A Potluck

Potlucks: They can simultaneously inspire delight and dread in those invited. There's the alluring promise of a buffet filled with an eclectic range of food (assuming enough of the attendees are capable cooks, or at least have good taste in store-bought items). On the flip side, potlucks come with an array of potential drawbacks and embarrassments. What if you bring a dish that no one likes, or that some can't eat? What if you're maligned as lazy for bringing an overly easy-to-prepare dish?

The obvious solution is to rely on potluck standards. But look at lists of the "best" or "most popular" potluck dishes, and you'll often find hearty, meat- or cheese-filled dishes like casseroles, chili, mac and cheese, or desserts. They're crowd-pleasers, for sure, but some guests may desire balance in the form of fresh veggies (and organized hosts might even assign attendees to bring salads, or vegetarian and vegan dishes). If you're going to bring vegetables to the potluck, make sure to prepare them in a way that helps them stand out among the more exciting and substantial dishes. Don't just throw in the towel and bring a vegetable platter that no one even looks at. 

What not to do when bringing veggies

It can be harder to impress a potluck crowd with veggies, because many people will gravitate to flashier dishes like lasagna or cake. So, be careful not to bring bland, unappetizing fare to share — a perfect example of which would be crudités. No matter how lovingly you chop those veggies, few will leap at the chance to nosh on raw broccoli, celery, and carrots (unless your friend circle has a large number of raw vegans). Including a dip might make your crudités more appealing, but unless you prepare a spectacular dip, you're really just adding a silver lining to a bad idea.

On a similar note, avoid bringing anything too lazy, like a store-bought salad. It's certainly possible to please potluck guests with food that requires little-to-no preparation — for example, a thoughtfully-chosen cheese platter — but it gets tougher when the base ingredients hold less appeal. A store-bought green salad mix is simply going to be a yawn. Similarly, the gloopy, mass-produced potato salad sold in grocery stores is rarely appetizing. Stuffed olives may be tasty, but they are also lazy: Why not go for a full antipasto platter instead? Store-bought may be okay if you're going for a fancy, all-singing, all-dancing salad from a premium store, but the standard supermarket refrigerator fare is generally a potluck no-no. 

What veggies to bring instead

If you're committed to bringing veggies to the potluck, make them sing. Go for salads that will catch guests' attention — something more elaborate, like a Cobb or Caesar salad, could be winners. Well-rounded dishes are better, such as a colorful salad with hearty grains. Your exact approach should depend on the crowd. While unique ingredients may delight some audiences, if there's going to be kids or less-adventurous eaters around, prepare accordingly. Perhaps a hearty ratatouille, which would strike a balance between casserole and vegetables, could work instead.

On that note, you don't have to stick to salads. A tomato tart or an eggplant parm are other fun ideas. To keep it simpler, roasting up veggies in an enticing way could work, especially if you go beyond obvious ideas like potatoes. For example, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower caramelize superbly in the oven; just be sure to add garlic and herbs or spices to enhance the flavor.

It may be wise to keep your veggie dishes vegetarian or vegan, unless you're certain that nobody has any dietary restrictions. If you're bringing a veggie dish that has a little meat — such as a salad with bacon — consider putting the meat on the side for people to add themselves. It may be wise to keep dressings on the side, too. Even if there's no dietary issues, it'll help prevent your dish from becoming a soggy mess, especially if you're working with vegetables prone to wilting.