Potluck alternatives

Stumped for a side dish? Here are some of Henri’s favorites

NICE LOOKING AND EASY TO MAKE <br>No, it’s not your dream date, it’s a marinated bean salad, and the recipe is given below.

No, it’s not your dream date, it’s a marinated bean salad, and the recipe is given below.

Dear Henri:
This time of the year, we seem to get invited to a potluck barbecue at least once a week. Nice affairs generally, in friends’ or friends of friends’ back yards. There’s always good music and plenty to drink—seems margaritas are nearly de rigueur in Chico this time of year—and often, when there’s a pool or spa, the cocktails lead to late-night cavorting and morning-after regrets. But that’s another story.

The invitation is generally the same: Meat will be provided, and guests are to bring something to drink and a “side dish.” Sadly, most of the guests apparently lack any culinary creativity of even the most basic nature or are pressed for time, as are we. As a result serving tables are, well, without much flair at all, generally covered with six or more bags of tortilla chips set beside several jars of Safeway salsa or bean dip and eight or even 10 green salads that are virtually and embarrassingly indistinguishable from one another. What I want to know is, do you have any suggestions for side dishes that are relatively easy to prepare and that will add some variety to these otherwise lovely Chico parties?

Steven G. and Terry M.

Dear Steven and Terry:
As someone who spent much of his youth experimenting with side dishes—as well as someone who tires quickly from a lack of culinary variety—Henri understands your plight and is delighted you’ve taken the time to write. (He is also pleased to see your using “de rigueur” in your letter.) In fact, I happen to have several excellent suggestions that will not only liven up those serving tables, but should also get you invited back, despite any post-prandial saturnalian transgressions or subsequent regrets. The following dishes are all quick and inexpensive and can easily be modified according to individual tastes and ingredients on hand.

À tout à l’heure,

Couscous Salad
This is excellent with grilled fish and poultry or with vegetarian main dishes.

1 1/2 cups dry couscous

1/3 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped and drained

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup chopped olives (Kalamata or other brine-cured olives)

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

1/2 cup chopped basil

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 large garlic cloves

Cook couscous and transfer it to a large bowl. Add tomatoes, oil, vinegar and olives and toss together. Let stand until cool. Mix pine nuts, basil, Parmesan cheese and garlic into mixture and season with salt and pepper.

Marinated Bean Salad
A simple and tasty crowd-pleaser—excellent.

1 1/2 cups of each of the following (cooked and cut into 1-inch pieces): green beans, yellow wax beans, red kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans (or 1 can of each, well drained)

1 large onion, sliced

2/3 cup olive oil

2/3 cup wine or cider vinegar

2-3 tablespoons sugar

chopped pimiento, green pepper and fresh herbs (basil, mint, etc.)

Mix all the beans together in a large bowl. Mix the rest of the ingredients for the dressing and pour it over the beans. Toss until fully mixed. Refrigerate and serve cold.

Wild Rice Salad
Delightfully refreshing and crunchy—excellent with grilled chicken.

4 cups cooked wild rice

2 jars marinated artichoke hearts, finely chopped

1 can small (pitted) olives, quartered

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon Sierra Nevada Pale Ale mustard (or other Dijon-type mustard)

1/4 cup paprika

Combine wild rice, artichokes and olives in large serving bowl. Combine other ingredients in separate bowl to make vinaigrette. Pour vinaigrette over main ingredients. Season with salt and pepper and serve over bed of Romaine lettuce.

Mango Salsa
This is a personal favorite and is excellent as a topping for grilled fish, chicken and even red meat.

3 ripe mangoes chopped into half-inch pieces

1 minced green onion

1 minced jalapeño pepper

1 tablespoon minced red onion

1 bunch cilantro (chopped)

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

3 or 4 cloves minced garlic

1 can black beans, drained

Combine all ingredients and serve alongside main dishes. Note: The jalapeño pepper is very hot and may be omitted for a less spicy salsa.