Potluck Power

by Terese Allen, Food Editor

Nothing brings people together like a potluck, and nothing gets them talking together like the subject of food. Just watch and listen while a buffet table fills up with salads, casseroles, pastas, and desserts and you'll know what I mean. All that anticipation and choice sets a crowd abuzz; it even can get a roomful of strangers chatting happily: "Yay, lasagna! That's my favorite!" "What's that yummy looking chocolate thing?" "Who made those little biscuit sandwiches? " Would you give me the recipe for your rice pilaf?"

Every potluck dish has a history, so every contributor has a story to tell. There's the chicken with apricots and capers recipe that your neighbors acquired on a trip to Spain; it gets them sharing their travel experiences. There's a strawberry dessert that brings back youthful memories of berry picking, and a seasonal vegetable tray that starts a conversation about favorite stands at the farmers' market. There's Aunt Karen's famous wild rice hot dish, your brother's prize-winning chili, and a colleague's "guess the secret ingredient" deviled eggs.

The "food talk" at a potluck can teach us a lot about each other and the world around us, which is why having one is the perfect way to host an Earth Dinner.

What's an Earth Dinner? It's part holiday, part meal, part conversation game, a gathering of family or friends that highlights the amazing and important role food plays in our lives. Participants at an Earth Dinner potluck not only eat great food, they hear great stories about how what we eat is connected to practically everything: health, culture, environment, local economics, farming, family history, and so much more. Through food, an Earth Dinner connects us to each other, and to the larger world.

But whether your potluck is a plan-ahead Earth Dinner or a spur-of-the-moment smorgasbord, it's a lively, easy way to make a party happen. Hosts may choose a theme or keep the event free-form; either way, there's an element of surprise and delight when many hands make the meal. The darlings of today's potluck buffets are foods with international themes (think foccacia, enchiladas, potstickers) but American classics like brownies and potato salad will always be welcome, too.

Potlucks are the people's party, the place where everyone belongs and everything is shared--the bounty, the workload, the banter and companionship. We're happy to offer the following "potluck" of recipes to consider for your next gathering.

Earth Dinner Recipes

Enchilada Strata

A layered casserole or "strata" of tortillas, ground meat, salsa and cheese is a convenient make-ahead dish because it can be covered and refrigerated until you're ready to bake it. Chipotle peppers add a mysterious, smoky kick and can trigger a "guess the secret ingredient" taste education game.

Chicken Andalucia

Food is a window on the world and a delicious way to share your travel experiences with friends and family. Inspired by a trip to southern Spain, this presentation features the local flavors of sun-drenched Andalucia--apricots, capers, rosemary, sherry and olives.

Lowcountry Rice Pilau with Ham, Bacon, and Peas

Pilau, a famous party dish in Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry is as adaptable (and debated) as Louisiana's jambalaya, a regional classic that lets the cook express herself with any number of seasonal additions.

Russian Vegetable Salad Deluxe

Think of this lusty salad when you want to show friends how to "eat local" when the summer harvest is months away. It makes excellent use of off-season storage vegetables and is satisfying enough to be a main course.

Sour Cream Cornmeal Mini-Biscuit Sandwiches

Biscuits don't always have to be the side bread at mealtime; they can be split and layered with thin-sliced deli meats or cheese to make mini-sandwiches--a guaranteed conversation piece among the casseroles at a potluck.

Kugelis

This Lithuanian-American casserole of grated potatoes, eggs, and bacon bits is so robust and dense that you can actually slice it. A very rich, very delicious special-occasion side dish, it holds up well on the buffet table.

Orange Pecan Brownies

Brownies are a potluck favorite that never go out of style. And, unlike apple pie, chili and other American food icons--which can trigger debates about the best way to make them--brownies are beloved in all their variations. This one is a dressed-up version that's dense and fudgy.

Chocolate Strawberry Cream Cheese Torte

You can give red-ripe flavor to desserts anytime if you've frozen some of the harvest from a pick-your-own operation or backyard patch. Bring this to a gathering and when someone asks for this recipe, tell them "First, you pick the berries…"

Copyright by Terese Allen for Organic Valley

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