What to make & bring at the last minute
The weather turned from iffy to glorious this weekend and with it re-emerged the Impromptu Backyard Gathering (or Deck Potlucks). In our little hamlet, the hum came back to the street as neighbors met on front lawns to discuss whose grill was ready to fire up to make an eclectic communal meal. (It wasn’t mine, it’s still housing spiders and covered in cobwebs in the garage).
We were all engaged in our busy spring afternoons – parents rushing kids off to soccer, others turning over the dirt in their gardens readying beds for spring planting, some less glamorously cleaning out the garage or pumping up flat bike tires – when a fabulous neighbor volunteered her deck and grill. In all fairness, there was no real time to plan ahead and shop for a well-considered dish to bring, so we all had to see what we could pull together to contribute.
Sound familiar? This situation (happily) happens in our town pretty frequently when the weather warms up. And we’ve learned it’s not a time to panic. This is when we look deep into our pantries and fridges to see what we can pull off on the fly. A can of this, a morsel of that, we look for the key-player ingredients that will rise to the occasion. Things like citrus, briny olives or anchovies that are full of flavor, staples like beans and spices and neutral starches like quinoa, rice and couscous and versatile veggies like lettuce or zucchini can be the building blocks of something good.
Coincidentally or not, Stacy and I were both invited to impromptu potlucks on our respective streets this past weekend. And we both found treasures on our shelves to pull off surprisingly delicious and EASY post-hibernation salads. These are simple, versatile and forgiving recipes. And we nearly always have ingredients for at least one of them on hand.
This is a staple, made with hearty black beans and vegetables you’ve probably got hanging around like bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and corn (frozen is fine). Use some or all and add fresh herbs, if you have them. Dressed with citrus, olive oil, and seasoned well, it’s ridiculously tasty in it’s basic simplicity.
- 2 cans (15 ounce) black beans, rinsed and drained
- ½ bell pepper, chopped
- 1 roma tomato, chopped
- ½ cup frozen corn (thawed) or kernals zipped from 1-2 cobs
- ½ onion, chopped
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or ½ teaspoon dried
- juice of 1 lemon or lime
- a glug of extra virgin olive oil (about 1 tablespoon)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Toss everything together in a large bowl.
- Stick a spoon in it and walk across the street to the party.
Quinoa Salad with Olives & Orange
This one is a play on one of our favorite combos: olives and oranges. A nod to Spain, or to Morocco, even Sicily. It’s a combination that is at once salty and briny, yet sweet and rounded from the orange. We like to cook our quinoa with aromatic bay leaf and fresh thyme (if we’ve got it) to build in a little more flavor. Another shortcut is to stir in the chopped shallot and olive oil while the quinoa is still hot. It will steam a little and infuse it’s flavor throughout without having to sauté the shallot – a timesaver – ’cause you’re in a hurry here! Finally the last tip is to use both the orange juice and the zest. They compliment each other and bring out the true flavor of the orange. Make this and you’ll hear rave reviews.
- 2 cups of dry quinoa (cooked with bay leaf and/or thyme sprigs according to directions on box)
- ½ shallot, chopped finely
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Zest of one orange
- Juice of 2 oranges (you can also throw in orange segments - no rules!)
- 1 cup chopped olives (any kind)
- ⅓ cup chopped herbs (any kind)
- salt & pepper to taste
- Rinse quinoa, add a bay leaf and/or a few sprigs of thyme and cook according to directions on package (covered, over low heat until dry.)
- Stir shallot and olive oil into quinoa while it's still steaming in the pot.
- Toss with everything else in a large bowl.
- Add a spoon and take it to your friend's house.
Here are some snaps of fun and delicious eats our friends brought to share:
Snacks and a giant Caesar salad with all the fixings (above.)
Our black bean salad next to a spinach salad with cannellini beans (above) and ribs pulled right off the grill (yay!). Below, some finger food – chicken salad stuffed in endive (brilliant!) with a plate of grilled lamb chops (yum!). Well hello there spring.