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Summer Potluck Dishes To Withstand The Heat And Please Crowds

Say you're headed to a summer cookout or barbecue or a family reunion but you don't want to show up empty-handed. What do you bring that can withstand the heat outdoors and make people happy?

We asked three chefs for their suggestions for dishes that will stand out from all the beans and burgers and slaw and dips sure to be on the table. The goal is to go home with nothing but a clean serving dish.

Charred Cauliflower: Tahini Vinaigrette With Hot Pepper Jelly, Crispy Garlic, Mint

Chefs need to go to summer summer social gatherings, too — often ones where other chefs will be in attendance. Chef James Rigato, owner of Mable Gray restaurant in Hazel Park, Mich., keeps this go-to recipe in his pocket for those times when he needs to whip something together that is simple to prepare and will please the palate.

Serves: 4-8

Start to Finish: 1 hour

13 garlic cloves

2 cups blended oil

1 ¼ cup fresh lemon juice, plus extra for seasoning

½ cup miso

One 16-ounce jar tahini (2 cups)


1 pound hot peppers (Fresno, jalapeño, serrano, cherry bombs)

½ cup sugar

¼ cup grapefruit juice

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup rice wine vinegar

2 heads cauliflower

20 mint leaves

salt to taste

Directions: To make the garlic, thinly slice 10 garlic cloves on a mandolin. Add oil. Place over medium high heat and bring to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Add garlic and stir until golden and crispy, about a minute. Remove with sieve. Be careful not to burn the garlic.

Set aside. Let oil cool and reserve to make vinaigrette.

To make the tahini vinaigrette, combine one cup lemon juice, three cloves garlic, miso and garlic oil in a blender. Combine until blended. Add tahini and blend until completely mixed. Add in salt, Tabasco and extra lemon to taste. Set aside. (This makes a large amount of dressing — probably more than you need for just this one usage. Feel free to cut the dressing by half — using 1 cup of oil and 1 cup of tahini. But the dressing lasts a while and it's nice to use generously.)

To make the hot pepper jelly, rinse the peppers and remove stems. Cut each pepper in half and, if desired, remove the seeds. Coarsely chop, place in food processor and puree. Remove puree and place in sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add sugar, grapefruit juice, orange juice, remaining ¼ cup lemon juice, vinegar and salt to taste. Bring to simmer and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes until mixture is a syrupy consistency and sticks to the back of the spoon. You can purchase a hot pepper jelly if you like.

For the cauliflower, cut into large florets at the natural breaks. Should get about 10-12 florets per head. Season with salt and pepper. Lightly coat with olive oil. When charcoal is at its hottest point after lighting briquettes, add cauliflower on grate, turning often to caramelize each piece, about 5 minutes. Remove from grill.

Place mint leaves in ice cold water for about 10 minutes until they plump up.

To serve, lay cauliflower flat on a plate. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Add dollops of hot pepper jelly around the plate. Sprinkle with garlic and mint leaves.

Swiss Chard Baklava

Baklava is usually a rich desert but in this version, it's a savory pie with the crunch of crisp filo layers, nuts and a hint of sweetness. Amy Thielen, chef, food writer and author of a memoir, Give a Girl a Knife, suggests a simplified technique that makes working with filo easy: Rather than painstakingly lifting and placing the thin dough, sheet by sheet, to form a layer, grab a clump of filo to make the layer of dough.

10 tablespoons butter

1 extra-large Vidalia onion, diced

1/2 teaspoon, plus 1/4 teaspoon, plus a pinch of fine sea salt

1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

/ Courtesy of Amy Thielen
Courtesy of Amy Thielen

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons ras el hanout *, garam masala or curry powder

2 bunches Swiss chard (1 1/2 pounds), greens stripped from the stem, washed

12 ounces toasted almonds

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 cylinder filo dough, thawed

3 tablespoons light honey

Directions: First, clarify the butter. Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat until it foams, remove from the heat and let it sit a minute. Tilt the skillet, and scrape off the foamy top with a spoon, removing it to a small bowl. Pour the clear butter into another bowl, and pour the milky bottom liquid into the bowl of foam. The clear yellow butter is your clarified butter. (The foamy caramelized solids are glorious when added to scrambled eggs at the last minute, by the way.)

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 3 tablespoons of clarified butter, the diced onions, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn golden at the edges and are soft and sweet. Add the ginger and red pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon of the ras el hanout*, garam masala or curry powder. Cook one more minute and reserve.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanch the Swiss chard until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze most of the moisture from the greens and chop roughly. Add the greens to the onion mixture, reheat for a minute, stirring to incorporate, and season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Preheat the oven to 350º F. In a food processor, combine the almonds, the remaining 1 teaspoon ras el hanout*, garam masala or curry powder, the sugar, and a pinch of salt, and pulse to medium-coarseness.

Brush a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with clarified butter. (Assembly is key: two layers of filo-and-almonds on the bottom, a central layer of Swiss chard, and two layers of filo-and-almonds on top.) If your filo dough doesn't fit the dish, trim the entire stack to fit. Lay one-fifth of the stacked filo into the dish. Brush the top with clarified butter and sprinkle with one-quarter of the almond mixture. Top with another fifth of the stacked filo dough, brush with more butter, and sprinkle with another quarter of the almond mixture. Add another fifth of the filo dough, sprinkle with another thin layer of almond mixture, and then add the Swiss chard mixture, spreading it out evenly. Add another fifth of the filo dough, brush with butter, and sprinkle with the rest of the almonds. Top with the final layer of stacked filo dough.

With a sharp knife, cut the baklava into 24 squares — 6 rows by 4 rows —cutting carefully all the way down to the bottom. Melt the remaining clarified butter again if it has cooled, and pour over the baklava, drizzling it off your brush onto the top and down into the cracks.

Bake the baklava at 350º Fahrenheit until it turns dark amber brown, about 50 minutes. Combine the honey and 1 tablespoon water in a small dish and warm until liquid. When the baklava comes out of the oven, drizzle it with the honey mixture. Serve the baklava at room temperature.

* Ras el Hanout Spice Mix (makes 3 tablespoons)

15 green cardamom pods, cracked and hulled

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

12 whole allspice berries

3 whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon anise seed

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a small skillet, combine the first six ingredients — the cardamom seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, allspice berries, cloves and anise seed. Toast lightly over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Let cool.

Transfer the spices to a spice-dedicated coffee grinder and process until finely ground. Pour into a bowl and add the ground ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and nutmeg. Store in a clean, dry glass jar at room temperature.

Krispy Kreme & Sweet Potato Pudding with Orange & Meringue

Chef Edward Lee from 610 Magnolia restaurant in Louisville, Ky., offers a sweet finish for any barbecue, a bread pudding using glazed donuts in lieu of stale bread. Combine that with the vegetable tang of sweet potatoes and you have a unique combo that will have guests scrapping the dish for the last bits. Serve it in rounds as above, or leave it in the baking dish topped with toasted marshmallows instead of meringue.

1 Dozen Krispy Kreme Glazed Donuts, torn into 1 inch pieces

2 pounds sweet potato

1 ½ cups of roasted sweet potato puree (see directions for details)

3 eggs, lightly beaten

/ Courtesy of Edward Lee
Courtesy of Edward Lee

1 cup whole milk

1 ½ cup heavy cream

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup maple syrup

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 ½ cup gingersnap cookies, ground up in food processor

2 ounces melted butter

orange segments from 1 orange


fresh mint

Directions: Grind up gingersnap cookies in food processor and then add 2 ounces of melted butter. Add to the bottom of a casserole pan and using the bottom of a cup, pack firmly down. Bake in oven for 5 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wrap sweet potatoes in aluminum foil and roast at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until they are soft, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes and scoop out the flesh. You should have about 1 ½ cups of sweet potato puree.

Transfer sweet potato mash to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Whisk in eggs, milk, heavy cream, sugar, maple syrup, salt, vanilla and nutmeg. Mix until smooth.

Add the doughnut pieces to the casserole pan. Pour the custard over the doughnuts and let sit for 20 minutes and press lightly before baking. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.

Before serving, either:

Cut portions after cooling slightly, using a 4-inch ring mold to punch out four rounds of bread pudding. Pipe out a little meringue over the top of the bread pudding. Using a torch, heat the meringue until the edges are browned.


Top with marshmallows and brown them briefly in the oven. Garnish with orange segments and fresh mint.

For the Meringue (Optional)

6 egg whites, beaten into peaks

1 zest of lemon

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 zest of lemon

Directions: Add ingredients to a mixer and whisk on high until soft peaks form. Make this right before using.

Collard Greens with Smoked Ham Hocks

Is there a better marriage of deliciousness than ham hock broth for collard greens? Todd Richards, chef and owner of Richards' Southern Fried in Atlanta, shares this dish that he says "takes you to a place of home." Despite cultural discussions relating to economic status, the history in this dish is more sophisticated and revolutionary than the credit given to it.

Richards says when you serve collard greens, you have to have cornbread with it. He offers this simple recipe, but suggests adding jalapeños or corn to it. He says the "rich creaminess" of this buttery cornbread "balances out the entire meal."

4 strips smoked bacon

3 bunches collard greens (4 1/2 to 6 lbs. total)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 small yellow onions, thinly sliced

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 lbs. smoked ham hocks, at room temperature

4 cups (1 quart) cold water

1 cup pure apple cider vinegar, 5 percent acidity (Note: only use pure cider vinegar, not flavored)

1 cup bourbon or whiskey

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

Pickled collard green stems

Directions: Place the bacon in a freezer for 25 minutes. Remove the bacon from the freezer and place it on a cutting board. Cut the bacon width-wise into 1/8-inch strips.

Fill a sink with cold water. Place a cutting board near sink. Lay 4 collard green leaves atop each other. Using a sharp knife, slice the collard greens, removing the stems completely. (Save the stems for another use, such as the Pickled Collard Green Stems.) Cut the collard green leaves into 2-inch squares. Wash the collard greens in cold water. Allow them to drain.

In a 4-quart stock pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Place the bacon in the pot and cook for 10 minutes or until crispy. Remove the pot from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked bacon from the pot. Place the bacon on paper towels. Reserve for garnish.

Place the pot back on the heat. Add the onions and garlic to the pot. Sauté for 2 minutes, stirring often. Place the ham hocks in the pot and cook for 5 minutes, turning every 45 seconds or so. Pour 1 quart of water over the ham hocks, followed by the cider vinegar and bourbon. Bring to a simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes.

Add 1/4 of the washed collard greens to the pot and stir. Continue adding the collards, 1/4 at a time, stirring after each addition. Simmer for 2 minutes.

Season the greens with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until the greens are tender.

Remove the greens from the heat. Add the crushed red pepper flakes. Stir and let the greens sit 30 minutes before serving.

While the greens sit, take the ham hocks out of the pot and place them on a cutting board. Let them cool, and then chop the meat or shred it with two forks. Return the meat to the pot with the greens and stir. Discard the bones.

Serve the collard greens, garnishing them with the reserved bacon bits and Pickled Collard Green Stems.


  • If you have leftover greens and potlikker, save them to make the Collard Green Sandwich.
  • A bunch of large collard greens is typically 8 to 10 large leaves, or 1 - 1/2 to 2 pounds. A bunch of baby collard greens is typically 12 to 16 leaves, and about 1 - 1/4 pounds. Don't use a bunch that's larger than two pounds.
  • Cornbread

    4 cups cornmeal

    4 cups all-purpose flour

    2 cups granulated sugar

    2 teaspoons baking soda

    2 teaspoons kosher salt

    4 cups buttermilk

    8 whole eggs

    2 cups melted butter

    1 teaspoon blended olive oil

    2 tablespoons room temperature butter

    Directions: Preheat oven to 325°F. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Place two 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillets on the stove and bring to medium heat.

    Heat oil and spread oil evenly around each pan. Pour cornbread batter evenly into the pans. Bake the cornbread for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Top with room temperature butter.

    Wheat Salad

    This curious suggestion comes from listener Abby Buchmiller of Bowdon, N.D.

    "It's a sweet dish, kind of like a cookie salad," she says, with the wheat berries standing in for the cookies. "The texture is what really sticks with people the most. ... Tapioca is probably what it's most similar to, just chewy, a little crunchy, they just burst into your mouth when you bite into them."

    While Buchmiller and her husband operate a 6,000-acre wheat farm (and have a lot of wheat on hand), the recipe is actually her mother's go-to bring-along dish: great for church functions, potlucks and family get-togethers.

    "You won't have any leftovers!" she promises. It's also simple to make.

    1 cup wheat berries

    1 (8 oz) container of cream cheese

    1 container of cool whip

    1 Box of Vanilla Instant Pudding mix

    1 can of crushed pineapple and/or mandarin oranges

    Directions: The wheat berry is cleaned and soaked in water overnight until soft and chewy. Then just mix together cream cheese, cool whip, vanilla pudding and fruit.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Jonathan Baer
    Melissa Gray is a senior producer for All Things Considered.