When it comes to at-home dinner parties, it’s not uncommon for friends and family alike to go down the potluck path. These social gatherings require each guest to bring a dish or two for the entire party; in this way the onus of the food preparation – and its corresponding expenses – does not fall on one individual.
I personally love potlucks, because they are so communal in nature. They also work especially well in a country like the UAE, as the collective effort of cooking and the excitement of trying various foods from different cultures creates an atmosphere where everyone is committed to having a wonderful time together. They are also the perfect way to organise a casual get-together relatively quickly.
The host will normally divide the meal into different categories, such as appetisers, salads, mains and desserts, to make it easier for guests to contribute to, no matter their budget and time allowances.
One basic social rule to follow for potlucks is that a bag of potato chips or a bucket of KFC is not a suitable contribution, unless your host specifically asks for these. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that not everyone has culinary leanings and, most often, people are tied for time.
For situations such as this, here are three recipes that are quick and economical. They can all be prepped a day in advance, too.
Deli salmon salad
Serves 8 to 10
Supermarket delicatessens are places where dreams are made. Well, dreams of ease and craftiness, anyway, thanks to pre-cooked staples. Another bonus is that you can whip this salad up with no cooking involved if you want.
3 pre-cooked salmon fillets (about 430g)
450g to 480g roast potatoes
250g roast sweet potato
8-10 cherry tomatoes
150g red leaf lettuce
150g Greek yoghurt
½ tsp salt
1 tsp chopped dill
½ tsp dried parsley (can be replaced with dried mint)
Zest of 1 lemon (can be replaced with sumac)
12-15 peppercorns (regular or pink), crushed
14g fresh dill fronds
Sprinkle of nigella seeds
Flake the salmon with a fork into bite-sized chunks.
Cut the roast potatoes into large quarters if they are whole (the skins can be left on, if you prefer).
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, then saute them (optional) for less than a minute in olive oil in a hot pan.
Wash and dry the lettuce leaves.
Whisk together the yoghurt, laban, salt, parsley, chopped dill, lemon zest and crushed peppercorns. Taste and adjust the salt. Dress the salad right before serving, with any extra dressing on the side. Serve cold.
To assemble, layer a flat dish first with the lettuce, then space out the potatoes, next the sweet potatoes, then the tomatoes and finally fill up the spaces generously with the salmon.
Drizzle on the dressing, sprinkle the nigella seeds and garnish heavily with long dill fronds. You could also add heat with chilli or paprika.
Pro tip: Assemble the lettuce, potatoes and tomatoes at home, cling-film and refrigerate. Add in the salmon, dressing and garnish at the venue.
Pao bhaji chickpeas
Serves 6 to 8
It’s pao and not pav here because I introduce Portuguese flavours with the boxed spice mix for the popular Mumbai street food pav bhaji.
2-3 red peppers, sliced in half
7 tbsp olive oil and 4 tbsp virgin olive oil
3 x 400g cans of chickpeas
2 tbsp pav bhaji masala
2 tsp smoked paprika
⅛ tsp cinnamon powder
½ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp cumin powder
¼ tsp chilli powder
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp honey, warmed
30g-40g red onion, diced
2 tsp sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
30g-35g Saudi feta
¼ cup parsley, chopped
Deseed the peppers, then rub them with two spoons of olive oil. Set on a sheet pan and roast in the oven at 200°C with the grill on for about 45 to 60 minutes until the skins are wrinkly and easy to remove.
In the meantime, drain and rinse the chickpeas, and set them in a colander to drain.
Mix all the spices together with the pav bhaji masala, five spoons of olive oil, salt and honey.
Introduce the chickpeas and coat them well with the spice-oil mix.
On a lined baking sheet, set the chickpeas in a single layer and cook them in the oven at 200°C for 15 to 20 minutes.
Set the diced onions into the mixture of lemon juice and sugar for 30 minutes to pickle quickly. Skin the peppers, cut them into strips and then in half. Mix the peppers and chickpeas together gently.
Drain and add the onions, virgin olive oil and chopped parsley. Mix well and serve hot or cold with the feta crumbled on the top.
Pro tip: This is a robust main, and the trick is to get the chickpeas slightly crispy outside, yet creamy on the inside. You can achieve this by turning the chickpeas with a spatula about 10 minutes after you put them in the oven.
Kokomo Eton mess
Serves 10 to 20
Here’s an escapist fruit-based dessert that pays homage both to The Beach Boys’ classic song and to mangoes, the king of fruits, plus comes with a crunch of meringue and the sharpness of yoghurt. To deliberately alter the lyrics of Kokomo: “There’s a dessert called Kokomo, that’s what you wanna eat to get away from it all…”.
1½ kilo Sindri or Badami mangoes (to yield about 1kg of mango pulp)
250ml whipping cream
3-4 tbsp white sugar
250g Greek yoghurt
1 tsp almond essence
8 large meringues (store-bought)
8 passion fruits
1 tin sliced pineapples or chunks (about 565g)
Cut the mangoes and spoon the flesh into a blender; also squeeze the seed over the blender to get all the remaining flesh and juice. Blend with sugar for two minutes intermittently until smooth. Taste to check if it needs more sugar.
Set about half a cup of the mango pulp aside. Add the whipping cream and blend with the rest of the mango puree for 90 seconds until smooth, thick and almost fluffy. Decant into a container with a lid and refrigerate.
Whip the Greek yoghurt and almond essence with a fork and refrigerate. Prep your fruit by cutting the kiwis and pineapples into bite-sized pieces, and remove the passion fruit pulp and set into a container.
Crush the meringues into pieces of varying sizes and put them in an airtight container.
To pre-assemble, place about 100g of mango cream in each serving followed by 25g of the yoghurt, some crushed meringue and a drizzle of the reserved mango pulp. At the venue, top with kiwi and pineapple pieces, add more meringue, then spoon some passion fruit pulp and finish with mint leaves.
Pro tip: If other desserts are present at the potluck, you can size these down to tiny cups, making about 20 servings instead of 10. Also, the mango cream can be prepped up to two days in advance.