Lately, when I am asked to bring something to accompany a main dish at a gathering, I turn to a classic: the terrine. Sounds fancy, yet it’s nothing more than a dressed-up side or a seven-layer dip, neatly molded.

A slice of a layered terrine makes for pretty party fare. Sure, there are long-cooked meaty terrines, like pâtés, with ingredients precisely placed. Gaze into 17th century paintings of luxurious feasts and you’ll spy ceramic terrine molds there, with carved covers sporting a hare or chicken. But I’m dialing it back here — basically delivering a composed salad with style.

My loaf layers of sauteed eggplant, whipped feta, herbs and tender roasted peppers combine to tuck in next to any roasted meat (hello, holiday turkey or ham) or serve as a hearty offering for the vegetarians at the party.

I first met these ingredients on a delicious plate at an Ottolenghi takeaway in London. Slabs of grilled eggplant, a pile of salty, herbed feta and a deep commitment to lemony sumac made the clouds part and sunshine stream in through the windows. I couldn’t wait to re-create this dish at home and bring it to every potluck I attended. Soon, I learned that bringing this particular salad required a kitchen takeover to compose each plate. No host has ever appreciated that behavior. That’s when I turned to the terrine, which is potluck friendly for host and guests.

[Make the recipe: Kalamata Dressing]

Along the way, I learned some things about putting terrines together. Any food served cold or at room temperature must be seasoned with a strong hand, and this is especially true for any terrine with layers of cheese. A handful of fresh herbs surrounding the cheese brightens everything. The eggplant, when tasted separately, is salty and the sumac very forward. But once it joins the other elements, flavor balance is achieved. A bold dressing is a requirement, and this one, laced with kalamata olives, brings a burst of umami to the palate, bouncing off the salty feta and cutting through the rich eggplant with a sharp sherry vinegar finish.

Cut or cube the terrine components into small bite-size pieces, which will make for easier slicing. Place slim slivers of roasted pepper horizontally across the terrine; you’ll follow that same line when slicing. Speaking of slicing, tackle that with a sharp knife dipped in hot water and wiped clean between cuts.

Form the terrines in mini-loaf pans (they can be disposable) lined with that modern kitchen tool called plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap overhang to lever the terrine out of the pan before flipping it over for serving. Even if you own a company-worthy long ceramic terrine, using two short pans is the way to go for this recipe. In testing, I found the larger version collapsed into indistinct layers because there’s no gelatin “I beam” to provide structure. A couple of eight-ounce ramekins can work instead of mini loaf pans; there is no law that requires a terrine to have corners.

Inspired by the crispy feta appetizer at the District's Iron Gate restaurant, I began the layering with a mix of black and white sesame seeds — not only because they are pretty, but also because such a garnish can help camouflage a less-than-perfect presentation.

Inverting the terrine onto a serving platter successfully is worthy of an audience, so feel free to invite folks around. On the other hand, if calamity strikes and the terrine fails to hold together, pair the spread with a basket of pita chips and call the offering an appetizer, encouraging everyone to dig in.

With modern flavors and not much cooking, this terrine makes sense. The next time you’re asked to bring a salad, think layers and unmold this composition. No kitchen takeover required.

Barrow is a Washington cookbook author. She'll join Wednesday's Free Range chat at noon: