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Need Potluck Ideas?

9 side-dish recipes to make you a popular guest

Zucchini Salad summer side dishes

Keep summer potlucks simple with easy make-ahead side dishes. — Photo by: Mark Lund/the food passionates/Corbis

Summer potlucks are a great way to get together for a meal. A potluck gives all attendees a chance to share their specialties and prevents responsibility for an entire multicourse meal from falling to the host. Here are a few things to keep in mind, whether you're organizing or contributing to a potluck menu.

See also: Avoid safety risks eating outdoors.

Be a Great Guest

Portability: Choose a dish that can be mostly or entirely assembled before transport, that travels well and that doesn't require much tending once it reaches its destination.

Temperature: Don't count on refrigerator or oven space once you arrive. Choose a room-temperature offering, or let your host know in advance if you will need a stovetop, oven, fridge or freezer space.

Theme: Is this a sit-down dinner for 12 or a 3-year-old's birthday party? Is consistency of cuisine origin expected? Know your audience and plan accordingly.

Quantity: How many people are you expected to cook for? Will this be a communal meal where everyone gets a taste of multiple hors d'oeuvres, sides and desserts, or will you be the only guest bringing a dish in a particular category?

Be a Great Host

Keep track of what your guests have offered to bring or of the dishes you've assigned to make sure you have all the courses covered. While a party with eight desserts could be fun, a balanced menu is the ultimate goal here.

Ask guests whether they'll need to do kitchen prep once they arrive so you can factor cooking and cooling time into the scheduling of the meal.

Have extra serving dishes and utensils on hand, and make sure your serving area has room for all the dishes.

Be inclusive of guests who don't cook by suggesting that they bring wine, bread, cheese or chocolate.

Have a plan for leftovers. If you don't want to be stuck with a fridge full of food, have some disposable containers and bags on hand for guests to take home extras; also have plastic wrap and tinfoil.

Double Squash and Bean Salad by Nigella Lawson: This colorful, flavorful side dish is excellent served at room temperature, the fresh basil, parsley and lemon juice permeating the olive oil that dresses the yellow squash, zucchini, fava and green beans.

Green Bean and Walnut Salad by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman: Fulfilling all the requirements of a great potluck dish to bring, this salad can be served chilled or at room temperature and can be made the day before to allow the garlicky, tangy flavors to combine. 

Next: More summer side-dish recipes. >>

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