Nina’s Tips & Techniques: Speedy-Delicious Meals for a Crowd

speedypastasaladWhether you love to be in your kitchen or could think of 10 things better to do, EVERYONE has a place in their busy lives for simple, quick, and easy-to-execute meals. Here are my tips and techniques for creating all things delicious and FAST!

I was invited to a Memorial Day potluck but I have NO time to make anything. I hate being that person who just brings a bag of chips. What can I quickly whip together that will also be delicious?

Sometimes the simplest things are the most delicious. There’s no need to spend hours in the kitchen. A potluck is not a competition, it’s a celebration. Any veggie salad that only has a few ingredients is fast ’n’ easy and is sure to satisfy lots of people. Try making a simple cucumber salad: chopped cukes, sliced red onion, some mint or parsley, maybe some feta cheese, drizzled with red wine vinegar and olive oil. That’s it! It takes no more than 15 minutes and is a refreshing option on a table full of chips, dips, cheese, and burgers. Also, when I’m strapped for time, I’ll often combine the prepping of ingredients with whatever I’m cooking the night before a party. For example, let’s say you’re grilling chicken and vegetables for dinner the night before your potluck, just grill a bunch more vegetables than you need and . . . Ta-da! You’ve just made everything for a grilled veggie tray to bring to tomorrow’s potluck. If you’re already grilling and cooking, adding volume doesn’t really add much more time.

Sometimes I make an awesome dish for a potluck the night before, or the morning of; but by the time I served it up it’s all soggy. What am I doing wrong?

Some salads—like potato salad—benefit from marinating a while before serving. Others do not! Fresh vegetables start to break down in the presence of fat, vinegar, and salt. They tend to release a lot of water, making your dish one big soggy mess. The best way to avoid this is to keep certain elements of your dish separate until you arrive at your potluck, and then mix them together before putting your dish out. Any dressing should be kept separate until serving time, and any high water content ingredient, like tomatoes or watermelon, should remain in their own container until the last minute. I also sometimes wait to season my dish until I’m ready to mix it at the party—everyone has salt and pepper at their house, so you don’t need to pack it up.

Recipe – Greek Pasta Salad

1 lb pasta
1/2 cup chopped roasted red peppers or fresh red pepper
1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup diced red onion
½ cup thinly sliced cucumber
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Zest and juice of one lemon
3-4 Tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper
Cook pasta in salted, boiling water. Drain and cool. Combine the pasta, peppers, olives, feta, onion, cucumber, parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest and olive oil and mix until combined. Add the vinegar one Tbsp at a time until the pasta salad tastes appropriately tart. If it has too much vinegar, add some more olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.