Holiday Potluck Recipes Guaranteed to Please Picky Eaters

The element of surprise can entice a crowd to your dish at the potluck.

Melissa Rayworth is a regular contributor to TakePart. She has also written for the Associated Press, Salon and Babble.

It’s probably going to happen: This holiday season, someone will invite you to a party and ask you to bring a dish to share. Or maybe you’ll be hosting relatives or friends, and you’ll stare into your refrigerator wondering how exactly you can please the entire crowd.

Filling a holiday buffet table can be tougher than it seems: Maybe your cousin is vegan, and your best friend has gone gluten-free. Maybe your sister’s husband avoids pork and shellfish, and your mom has now ditched dairy.

What can you serve that will please just about everybody?

Chef and cookbook author Ching-He Huang, host of the Cooking Channel’s “Restaurant Redemption” and “Easy Chinese,” says simple Asian recipes are the best way to please a crowd of potentially picky eaters.

Chinese dishes such as cold pickled vegetables or broccoli with soy, sesame, and chili oil “are simple healthy dishes that would satisfy everyone's palate,” she says. And they’re “so delicious that people may not even notice they are veggie dishes.”

Bonus: They're nothing like the old standbys of stuffing and ham that everyone will get their fill of at most holiday events. Twists on a sweet potato preparation and nods to Chinese food—which gets gobbled up every Christmas Day in Chinatowns all over the country—are a great way to go.

Lightly stir-fried veggie dishes and cold noodle salads are easy-to-make, inexpensive, and filling crowd-pleasers. “You can lay on all the freshest ingredients,” she says, like crisp veggies and crunchy sesame seeds. And you can skip particular meats (or leave out meat altogether) and use gluten-free noodles. You can also double these recipes for a large crowd, perhaps making half the batch with meat and the other without.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

(Photo courtesy of The Cooking Channel/ Food Network)

Step away from the marshmallows. Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet, so try offsetting that sweetness with the sizzle of crushed Szechuan peppercorns. Vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free, this classic holiday side dish gets a totally unexpected makeover with a new mix of spices. (Time saver: You can toast and crush the spices in advance, then sprinkle on your sweet potatoes when it’s time for baking.)

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 teaspoon whole Szechuan peppercorns

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl. In a wok or sauté pan, toast the cumin and Szechuan peppercorns for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant. Transfer to mortar and pestle or spice grinder, and grind. Sprinkle the spices and salt over the sweet potatoes, drizzle with oil, and toss to coat. Transfer to a baking sheet, and roast until tender, 30 minutes.

Vegetable Lo Mein

(Photo courtesy of The Cooking Channel/Food Network)

Great for a crowd (double or triple the ingredients, the recipe multiplies to fill any pot), this noodle dish can be made with any combination of mushrooms and other vegetables. If you’ve got houseguests, let them pick some of the veggies you’ll include. And if black sesame seeds aren’t available (or are super-expensive) at your usual supermarket, try an Asian grocery store. (Note: Do all your veggie slicing before you begin stir-frying. Once the oil is hot, things move pretty fast.)

Serves 4.

INGREDIENTS

8 ounces dried Chinese egg noodles

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups mixed fresh mushrooms (shiitake, king trumpet, cremini), sliced

Pinch Chinese five-spice powder

1 six-ounce bag baby spinach

1 to 2 tablespoons light soy sauce

Pinch salt

2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

1/2 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon toasted black sesame seeds

Fill a wok or medium saucepan with water. Bring to a boil, and cook the egg noodles until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain, then coat with the toasted sesame oil to prevent the noodles from sticking together, and set aside.

Heat a wok over high heat and add the vegetable oil. When the wok is smoking, add the garlic and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the mushrooms, and cook until starting to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Season the mushrooms with the Chinese five-spice powder. Stir-fry for 1 minute more, then add the spinach and stir-fry for another minute until wilted (add a few tablespoons of water to create steam to cook the spinach if necessary). Toss in the cooked egg noodles, and season with the light soy sauce and salt. Garnish with sliced scallions and toasted black and white sesame seeds, and serve immediately.

Ginger, Carrot, and Sesame Green Beans

(Photo courtesy of The Cooking Channel/Food Network)

Forget the overcooked green beans of your childhood holidays (even if you do miss those fried onion bits sprinkled on top). Huang’s stir-fried recipe preserves all the fresh veggie crunch and adds the tangy kick of rice vinegar. This vegetarian/vegan dish can be made without gluten if you use gluten-free soy sauce, and it’s naturally dairy-free.

Serves 4.

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon peeled and grated ginger

1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into thin rounds

12 ounces haricots verts or standard green beans, trimmed

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

Toasted sesame oil, for drizzling

Toasted white sesame seeds and black sesame seeds, for garnish

Heat a wok over high heat, and then add the vegetable oil. Add the ginger, and cook for 30 seconds. Add the carrots and green beans, and stir-fry for 2 minutes (adding a splash of water if necessary to facilitate cooking). Season the vegetables with the light soy, rice vinegar, and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Garnish with a sprinkling of the toasted white and black sesame seeds.

 

Sweet Mango Spring Rolls

(Photo: Calvert Byam/Getty)

Maple and mango? It totally works, especially with a dash of toasted coconut. One key to this crunchy, cool dessert is that it’s best served relatively quickly after the rolls are fried. So serve this one at your own party or dinner, rather than bringing to a potluck.

Serves 4.

INGREDIENTS

12 small spring roll wrappers

Maple syrup, for brushing and drizzling

12 slices mango, about 1 inch long and 1/2 inch thick

1 tablespoon cornstarch blended with 1 tablespoon warm water

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

Honey, for brushing

1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes, toasted

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Place a spring roll wrapper on a flat surface with the corner pointed toward you. Lightly brush the center of the wrapper with maple syrup. Lay a slice of mango across the wrapper from corner to corner. Fold in the side corners of the wrapper toward the middle, fold up the bottom corner, and then roll up. Seal the top of the wrapper by brushing some of the cornstarch mixture along the edges of the wrapper, and then close. Put on a plate seam side down. Prepare the remaining spring rolls.

Heat a wok or small skillet over medium-high heat, and add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Add the rolls a few at a time, and shallow-fry, turning them as they become golden brown. Do not fry too many at one time and overcrowd the wok. Remove from the wok, and drain on paper towels. Repeat with all of the rolls.

Brush the fried rolls with honey, and roll in toasted coconut. Serve immediately with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

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