Healthy potluck dishes can be even more delicious than unhealthy ones. Whether you make a main course, salad or side, healthy versions of favorites can be prepared with minimum effort.
A healthy salad can be tasty--just combine a lot of healthy ingredients for a lot of flavors and textures and avoid creamy and high-fat salad dressings. A layered salad in a big clear bowl looks inviting and can be prepared a little in advance. Start with a deep layer of shredded lettuce--tear it by hand to delay browning--and add layers of healthy salad ingredients one at a time. You can use any of your favorites, including chopped tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, corn, mushrooms, baby corn and grilled chicken breast for the layers. Pay attention to the color contrasts of the layers to make the salad eye-catching. Don't add any dressing but offer a homemade olive oil vinaigrette on the side so everyone can choose how much they want.
Hot and cold pasta dishes are popular at potlucks, but are some of the unhealthiest. Make a healthier alternative by avoiding cheesy and creamy sauces and sticking with a tomato-based pasta sauce. You can either use skinned fresh or canned tomatoes; both work well for a homemade sauce. Store-bought tomato sauces often have extra fats and sugars; making your own means you control the ingredients. Make a basic sauce by sauteing chopped onions and garlic, adding the tomatoes and simmering for 20-30 minutes. The base can be customized to make any number of variations: you could make a spicy sauce with chopped chili peppers and green peppers; add lots of fresh basil and some olives for a Mediterranean flavor; or add lots of chopped mushrooms to the sauce. Lean proteins like grilled chicken breast, canned tuna, turkey sausage and shrimp make the dish special without making it unhealthy.
For an unusual and healthy potluck dish, try making Indian "dal," a thick and full-flavored dip. It is easy to make, tasty, low in fat and high in protein. To make a basic red-lentil dal, cover a pan of split red lentils with water and add some turmeric. Simmer the lentils until they are cooked and the liquid is absorbed. Heat either a tablespoon of bought curry paste in a pan, or fry some chopped garlic and some whole Indian spices (e.g. cardamom, cloves, coriander seeds, chili flakes) in a little vegetable oil. Add the hot ingredients to the dal and stir them in. You can mash the dal or blend it in a food processor if you want a smoother texture. Serve it with Indian breads like nan and chapatis if you can find them, otherwise just use pita bread or crackers.