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The Modern Potluck

You probably have a mental image of the quintessential potluck — folding tables dressed in gingham, groaning under the weight of covered platters and dishes, the aromas of cheesy gratin, creamed corn, and green-bean casserole topped with fried onions wafting about.

Maybe you’ve always loved potlucks and have your own favorite recipes. Or maybe you think potlucks are a bit passé — or at least a little too heavy on the canned soup.

I grew up with potlucks. I had nine aunts and uncles and 15 cousins who lived within a half-hour’s drive of our home, and for me, family potlucks were about being part of something large and wonderful. When I became a food-magazine editor, however, I became more inspired by perfect dinner parties, carefully chosen guest lists, and flawlessly timed courses. For a while, that’s how I entertained.

Then I had a baby. Suddenly, I had neither time nor energy for elaborate affairs. I feared my social life would crumble — until I remembered potlucks.

In these recipes, I’ve combined the best of both worlds: the one with artisan dishes and the other with oven-to-table favorites. My family and friends love this modern take on the potluck, and I think yours will, too.


Vegetarian Borscht Salad

Inspired by vibrant and flavorful borscht soup, this salad features the same roasted vegetables — beets, carrots, and onions — and is dressed with plenty of vinegar and dill.

The Modern Potluck

Makes six to 12 servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes


  • 1/2 lb. carrots (8 to 10 medium), cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 medium onions, each cut into 10 wedges
  • 1 1/2 lbs. beets (about 4 large), peeled and each cut into 8 wedges
  • 3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tsp. red-wine or sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
  • Sour cream, for serving


  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the carrots with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the carrots in one section of one of the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with the onions, followed by the beet wedges, arranging each of the vegetables in their own sections of a baking sheet. Cover with foil.
  3. Roast the vegetables for about 20 minutes, until nearly tender. Remove the foil and rotate the baking sheets. Roast for 10 to 20 minutes longer, until the vegetables are nicely tender and browned in spots. Let cool slightly.
  4. Return the vegetables to the bowl and toss with the vinegar. Let stand for five minutes. Add the 1/4 cup dill and toss again. Spread the salad out on a platter or in individual bowls. Dollop sour cream on top, garnish with more dill, and serve. (Note: If you don’t want the colors of the vegetables to bleed, keep them separated by color when you toss with vinegar. Plate and add the sour cream and dill just before serving.)

Slow-Roasted Lemon-Soy-Honey Pork Shoulder

A bone-in pork shoulder (also known as a pork butt) is so big and cooks for so long that it holds its heat for at least an hour after cooking. This recipe is inspired by pernil, a Puerto Rican roast pork, but the lemon-soy-honey glaze gives this an Asian flavor.

The Modern Potluck

Serves 12 to 20
Prep time: 30 minutes plus time to marinate and return to room temperature
Cook time: Six to seven hours


  • 1 bone-in pork butt (8- to 9-lb.)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbs. kosher salt
  • 3 tbs. low-sodium soy sauce (tamari is a good gluten-free alternative)
  • 2 tbs. olive or grapeseed oil
  • 2 tbs. honey


  1. Arrange the pork in an enamel, glass, clay, or stainless-steel baking dish, fat-side up. Using the tip of a sharp knife, score the fat in a crosshatch pattern.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice and orange juice with the garlic, salt, 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce, and the oil until the salt dissolves. Pour the marinade over the pork and rub it into the meat.
  3. Refrigerate 24 to 36 hours, turning the pork a few times. Bring the pork to room temperature for one to two hours, and then preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  4. Wipe marinade and garlic bits off the pork and discard any excess marinade. Set the pork in a roasting pan fat-side up.
  5. Roast for three hours; use a spoon to baste the pork with its juices. Roast for another three to four hours, basting every hour or so, until the pork pulls apart easily and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers at least 180 degrees F.
  6. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. In a small bowl, mix the honey with the remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and brush it all over the pork. Roast for about five minutes. Brush the pork again and roast for five to seven more minutes, until the fat is deeply browned and crisp.
  7. Let the roast stand for 30 minutes before serving, covered loosely with foil. Slice or use tongs to pull the meat to serve.

Healthy Root-Vegetable Gratin

This is a great dish to prepare ahead. The assembled gratin can be refrigerated overnight; to keep the nuts from getting soft, sprinkle them on just before serving. You can transport this gratin in an insulated carrier and serve it hot, but it’s also terrific served at room temperature.

The Modern Potluck

Makes eight to 12 servings
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 90 minutes


  • 2 1/2 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 large celery root (2 lb.), peeled with a sharp knife and halved lengthwise
  • 1 medium rutabaga (2 lb.), peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 tbs. unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pan
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1 tsp. roughly chopped fresh thyme leaves


  1. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice the potatoes lengthwise into slabs that are about 1⁄8-inch thick. Halve the celery root and the rutabaga, and slice each into 1⁄8-inch-thick slabs, as well.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9-x-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Arrange one-third of the sweet potatoes in the dish, overlapping them slightly; season with salt and pepper. Top with half the rutabaga and then half the celery root, seasoning each layer.
  3. Repeat the layering, ending with a third layer of sweet potatoes. Pour the broth over and around the vegetables. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil.
  4. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the vegetables feel almost tender when pierced. Pour the cream over the gratin. Bake for 30 minutes, until the liquid has thickened.
  5. Meanwhile, spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about four minutes, until fragrant. Let cool, and then coarsely chop. Return the chopped walnuts to the baking sheet, toss with the 1/2 tablespoon of butter and the thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Toast the nuts until nicely browned, about two minutes.
  6. Remove the gratin from the oven and top with the walnuts. Let stand for 10 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Middle Eastern Seven-Layer Salad

This variation takes its inspiration from the Middle East, with a layer of herbs, a sprinkling of toasted spices, and a yogurt dressing.

The Modern Potluck

Makes 10 servings
Prep time: 40 minutes

For the salad

  • 2 cups quinoa, rinsed
  • 5 cups water
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium head iceberg lettuce, cored and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 4 cups fresh herb leaves, such as mint, parsley, cilantro, tarragon, and dill, roughly chopped (the more variety, the better)
  • 1 bunch red radishes (about 10), halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 lb. seedless cucumbers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

For the dressing

  • 1/2 tsp. each cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt (preferably full-fat or 2 percent)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbs. white-wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt


  1. In a large, heavy pot, cover the quinoa with the water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the quinoa is tender and the water is absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes.
  2. Remove from the stovetop, then uncover the pot, top with a clean kitchen towel or a layer of paper towels, and cover the pot again; let stand five minutes. This will ensure the quinoa is dry and fluffy.
  3. In a large glass serving bowl, spread the lettuce in a single layer and season lightly with salt and pepper. Arrange the herbs on top, followed by the quinoa. Spread the radishes on next, followed by the cucumbers, pushing them toward the edge of the bowl.

For the dressing

  1. In a dry skillet, toast the spices over moderate heat until fragrant, about one minute. Transfer to a mortar or a bowl and let cool. Use a pestle or the bottom of an ice-cream scoop to lightly crush the spices. In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt with the mayonnaise, lemon juice, and vinegar. Season with salt.
  2. Spread the dressing over the salad, sprinkle with the spices, and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving to make sure it’s chilled through.

Triple Coconut Rice Pudding

This vegan, gluten-free dessert is inspired by one of my favorite treats: Thai sticky rice and mango. To keep the pudding creamy even when chilled, mix in some of the liquid after the pudding has cooled.

The Modern Potluck
Makes six to 12 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

For the rice pudding

  • 4 cups coconut water
  • 1 14-oz. can coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup sushi rice or arborio rice

For the mango topping

  • 4 large mangos, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
  • Zest from 1 lime
  • 1 tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbs. sugar


  1. Toasted unsweetened coconut flakes, for serving (optional)
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut water, coconut milk, sugar, and salt. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the coconut milk melts. Ladle about 1 cup of the liquid into a measuring cup and reserve.
  3. Rinse the rice well in a strainer. Add rice to the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat; simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender and the pudding is thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool until it’s just above room temperature (about 30 minutes). Stir in the reserved liquid.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the mango topping. In a medium bowl, toss the mango with the lime zest, lime juice, and sugar; let stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes.
  5. Serve the pudding at room temperature or refrigerate until lightly chilled (about two hours). Serve with the mango and toasted coconut flakes.

Tip: You can substitute quinoa for the rice — and for a deeper flavor, use brown sugar.

Tip: The pudding and topping can be refrigerated overnight. Let the pudding stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Recipes reprinted from Modern Potluck: Beautiful Food to Share. Copyright © 2016 by Kristin Donnelly. Photography copyright © 2016 by Yossy Arefi. Published by Clarkson Potter / Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Why No Numbers? Readers sometimes ask us why we don’t publish nutrition information with our recipes. We believe that (barring specific medical advice to the contrary) if you’re eating primarily whole, healthy foods — an array of sustainably raised vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, meats, fish, eggs, whole-kernel grains, and healthy fats and oils — you probably don’t need to stress about the numbers. We prefer to focus on food quality and trust our bodies to tell us what we need.  — The Editors

This article originally appeared as “Modern Potluck” in the January/February 2017 issue of Experience Life.

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