My son’s day school hosted a potluck a few months ago. The kids would put on a show in groups to showcase what they had been learning about the continents, and the parents of the children in each group would bring potluck dishes to represent that continent. Twenty kids under four years old and all their parents, plus the four- and five-year-old class and their parents–what could go wrong? We showed up with some pollo a la brasa in the crock pot (South America represent!) and high hopes.
The event took place in a nearby elementary school, not the day school itself. When a wandering two-and-a-half-year-old sees such a structure, doors opened, unoccupied, the results do not lend themselves to watching a show and sampling the cuisines of the world. He ran and we took turns chasing, right through the show and the dinner. But I did have a chance to peruse the offerings–everything from spiced Moroccan couscous on the African table to a Pizza Hut dinner box in the North American section.
What do you bring to a potluck anyway, especially when there will be guests you don’t know? While the Pizza Hut route seemed pedestrian at first blush, I can respect it. There will always be parents who don’t exactly know what couscous is and descend like sharks on anything they recognize. Plus, you don’t need to go through a lot of effort to produce something you don’t know if anyone else will eat. And maybe showing up with Pizza Hut is on the verge of cool again, the same way showing up to a party with a six-pack of PBR instead of a good mirco used to be. But sometimes you want to walk in with something more interesting, something that might generate a little bit of conversation or pleasantly surprise someone with bold flavors. I love to be the guy who shows up with green Thai curry, full of pig offal so tender and tasty that people suspect that “offal” is a joke and that I’ve just used pork. But be careful with such things–I would never bring to a potluck something I’d never tried to make before unless I had a backup plan. I’ve made that curry many times; I know how it should look and taste at every stage of the process, and I know how to right the ship if it starts to go off course. Then again, a lot of people just don’t want curry. Most of the time I choose a potluck path somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
I find that the key is subtlety. You want a food without powerful aromas, something that lacks heat and that people will recognize. Enter that all-American classic: potato salad.
a generous 3½ pounds of golden or yellow potatoes
½ large yellow bell pepper, finely diced
½ large red bell pepper, finely diced
5 green onions, finely diced
3 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
5 tablespoons grapeseed oil vegenaise
salt and pepper to taste
- Cut the potatoes into ½ bite-size cubes.
- Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender but still firm.
- Strain the potatoes, rinse under cold water, and chill in the refrigerator until they are at least as cool as room temperature.
- Place the potatoes in a bowl with the remaining ingredients and mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve room temperature or chill and serve at your convenience.