Volunteer to make a party dish, and you can almost feel the anxiety kick in. How many guests are coming? Are there any dietary restrictions? And how about getting the food from the car to the buffet table?
Over the years, I’ve developed a handful of recipes that satisfy these requirements: entrees that feed both vegan and omnivore; meals that are welcoming to the gluten-intolerant, the dairy-sensitive and the nut-allergic. The secret, I’ve found, is in the toppings. Make a solid central recipe and offer garnishes to satisfy everybody.
When you’re asked to contribute to a large menu, making the right quantity can be a challenge. Remember, no host wants to have gallons of anything left over. When I’m bringing an entree or a side dish, I aim to make enough for half the number of people attending. For a buffet, few people will eat an entire “serving” — at least as far as a serving is defined in a recipe. If there will be 25 at the party, I make enough for 12. Once the toppings come into play, that’s going to be more than enough.
But when I’m assigned dessert, I’ll make enough for everyone. Because . . . it’s dessert. (If they play their cards right, it could be slab pie.)
Beyond responding to food preferences and making the right amount, the best party foods also should be ready to dispense. Arriving with bags of food in need of a platter, the oven, a saute pan or serving spoons is not party-friendly. I always bring my contribution in a serving dish, with utensils. (Just remember to take them home!)
A slow-cooker might be the answer. It provides a terrific way to carry and serve hot dishes such as soups, stews and chilies — even if they aren’t cooked in the appliance. If you’re worried about spillage, stretch plastic wrap over the ceramic insert’s opening before you secure the lid.
I appreciate a recipe that can be made ahead or has elements that can be put together here and there throughout the week. That way, the day of assembly is quick and straightforward — even better when the dish benefits from resting for a day or two to meld the flavors. If it freezes and reheats readily, I’m in.
This green chili hits all the marks. It combines lively poblano, Anaheim and jalapeño peppers with a tangy salsa verde of tomatillos, white onion and garlic. The mix is mildly spicy and flavorful enough to spark the interest of nearly every partygoer. But chili peppers can be tricky and inconsistently spicy; when you cook with them, tasting along the way is imperative. Err on the side of not too incendiary, to tempt everyone, and put hot sauce and extra jalapeños on the side to tip the Scoville index for fire eaters.
White beans make this dish hearty, and mashing some of them in the pot helps transform the chili from soupy to stew-y. Once the chili’s flavor has bubbled to life on the stove, summer squash, roasted corn and another hit of sweet white onion provide body and even more layers of flavor. The chili is robust and textural and intoxicatingly aromatic. It is also vegan and free of gluten, dairy and nuts.
Omnivores are not left out here; I serve the chili with a side of small turkey meatballs flavored with ancho and chipotle. Guests can toss three or four of them into a bowlful, then slide on over to the condiments: cotija cheese, sliced fresh or pickled jalapeños, chopped cilantro, cream or sour cream, avocado, tomato, toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and hot sauce.
No party? This recipe still works. Serve half to the family for dinner, then pack up leftovers, suitably garnished, for an envy-producing lunch at the office. There might be enough to share.
Barrow is a Washington cookbook author. She’ll join Wednesday’s Free Range chat at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.