Ah, the humble potluck. As someone who loves to have friends over, but is too lazy to take on the task of feeding a group of people any larger than my immediate family, it's pretty much my go-to when it comes to entertaining. And I love going to other people's potlucks; perusing the variety of dishes on hand, determining what to have for my first and second (and sometimes third) course, and invariably overeating are all part of the fun for me. I enjoy finding out how each dish was prepared and, provided I'm on my game that day, showcasing one of my favorite recipes.
The problem with potlucks is that they often fall victim to conventional expectations. Green salad and mac and cheese are almost de rigueur and, while there's nothing wrong with these old standbys, they don't necessarily take advantage of the best the season has to offer. So, always eager for a green challenge to foist upon my friends, I decided to host my own "sustainable" potluck this past April. The rules were simple: Dishes should be made with local, in-season ingredients (pantry items like flour, olive oil, etc., excepted). Fortunately for all of us, spring in SoCal provides a bounty of fresh ingredients -- artichokes, asparagus, lettuce, snap peas, wild mushrooms, scallions, along with many items you wouldn't get until summer in other parts of the country -- so I knew we'd have plenty to work with. I also requested that the food be brought in reusable containers. Besides taking on dessert and drinks myself, I didn't assign main dishes, sides, appetizers, etc., figuring that we'd end up with an assortment of good stuff and the categories didn't much matter.
I ended up with a smallish group of adults and kids, and the following menu: Black bean, corn, avocado and red pepper salad with lime dressing, purple cabbage and carrot salad with crumbled almonds, fresh bread and cheese with raw pistachio pesto, and my own sweet potato pudding cake (sweet potatoes aren't really in season by spring, but I still had some in the back of the crisper drawer, where they keep well). We ate, drank, complimented each other's culinary skills and shared recipes. Grown-ups and tykes alike chowed down and leftovers were scarce -- a sure sign of success. And despite the lack of a traditional "main dish" (i.e. meat), everyone left with a full belly.
If you decide to host your own sustainable dinner party or potluck this time of year, some great recipe options include green garlic aioli with roasted new potatoes, herb and ricotta cheese souffle, strawberry salsa and black beans, and cherimoya smoothies.