Sassi Saucier and the Potluck Revelation (Two Summer Salads, Good for Potluck)

Originally posted as a Note on Facebook, June 7, 2014. (I’m gradually moving my oeuvre from there to here as other life priorities and the material tolerances of my arm tendons permit.)

TL;DR: Don’t make boring things for potluck.
Skip to the recipes:
Watermelon, Feta, Watercress
Vaguely Southwestern Roasted Vegetable Salad

We had a potluck at work recently. I signed up to make a salad, and then I specified: “Watermelon, watercress, feta cheese, red onion.”

I had a moment of nervousness about that. In my 20s, I thought potluck food had to be “safe”—something I could count on most people being OK with. I think I underestimated other people’s palates, or undervalued my own. I would bring basic salads, or interesting but not terribly challenging cheeses.

At some point I realized that I should just make something I like. If I like it, other people might enjoy it—and if not, I can bring home a few portions of something I will be happy to eat, instead of something boring. I think it was a vaguely Southwestern roasted vegetable salad that did it, circa 2004. My coworkers ate it all. There was none to bring home. The watermelon salad last week would have all been eaten if I had brought a different serving utensil; tongs weren’t the best. A pair of salad servers, one of which is spoon-like and one more runcible, would have worked better. (And word-nerd bonus: I just realized that a runcible spoon could accurately be called “a serving spork”.)

Two Summer Salads, Good for Potluck

I don’t know how many servings either of these make. Maybe 8? 12? Or 20? Depends on how many other things are on the potluck table.

I. Watermelon, Feta, Watercress

Prep time: 20-30 minutes depending on your knife skills


  • A chef knife that you like
  • A paring knife that you like
  • A cutting board
  • Colander
  • Tea towel
  • Measuring implements
  • A small covered one-cup container (like a single-serve yogurt container)
  • Salad bowl (4 qt)


  • ¼ of a smallish seedless watermelon–the kind that’s the size of a slightly squashed playground ball. Not the size that would take up a whole front seat of your car. I’ll take a picture. (In the picture, the cottage cheese container is there for scale.)

    A quarter of a smallish watermelon, a red onion, a lemon, and a lobe of shallot sitting pertly on a cutting board.
    A quarter of a smallish watermelon, a red onion, a lemon, and a lobe of shallot sitting pertly on a cutting board.
  • ½ a normal-sized red onion, sliced very thin
  • 1 lb of feta cheese (I buy it as a single block, in brine)
  • 3 bunches of watercress (on Thursday I only used two, and the watercress all got eaten, leaving unfulfilled watermelon and feta at the bottom of the bowl…)
  • Juice of 2 lemons (They were small somewhat wizened ones that had been in my crisper drawer for a while. I didn’t measure, but I imagine they yielded about 1/4 cup of juice between them.)
  • 1/3 cup? Lots of glugs of decent extra-virgin olive oil. (I used my second-best.)
  • OPTIONAL: Drizzle of super-fancy olive oil (my fanciest olive oil is the most grassy/peppery I could find.).
  • Salt
  • Pepper (do I have to say “freshly ground pepper”? When I say “pepper,” I always mean “freshly ground black pepper” unless otherwise specified. I use tellicherry peppercorns, usually.)
  • Dried herbs that you like. I used pinches of oregano, herbes de Provence, savory, chervil, and shallot pepper (all from Penzeys). You could probably get away with 1/2 tsp of “mixed herbs” and 1/2 tsp of oregano, if your spice collection isn’t so fancy.
  • Half a shallot (one whole lobe—see picture), minced as finely as you can stand.
  • 1 T finely minced mint stems (I realize this is a weird ingredient, so you could use a small sprig of mint—stem + 3 leaves. I had the mint stems because I was using the leaves in another recipe, but thought the stems might add some spriteliness to the salad without being all “MINTY!”, which they did.)


  1. Slice the onion as thinly as you can stand, and put it in a salad bowl.
  2. Dice the feta, and put it on top of the onion.
  3. (Optional: Drizzle a little bit of your fanciest olive oil over the feta, and season with a little pepper and a pinch of oregano.)
  4. Dice the watermelon into 3/4-inch(ish) dice, and put it on top of the feta.
  5. Make dressing in a little covered container (I used a Pyrex ramekin with a lid; an empty yogurt container would work fine): Squeeze the lemons, pick out the seeds; add the mint stems and shallot; add the oil and all the herbs you like. Put the cover on and nestle the container down into the watermelon.
  6. Twist most of the stems off the watercress, wash it, and wrap it in a tea towel. Put that on top of the watermelon.
  7. You can cover the whole thing with plastic wrap (or a lid, or a waxed cloth, or what have you) and put it in the fridge overnight if your potluck isn’t until the next day.
  8. At potluck-time, tear the watercress up (just twist the bunches in half), shake up the dressing and pour it over, and toss well.

II. Southwestern-ish Roasted Vegetable Salad

Prep time: 45 minutes? + at least 4 hours of chilling-time

You probably want to make this a day before your event, because it needs to chill. I just realized this is vegan-friendly. (I don’t often cook in a vegan way on purpose, as you might have guessed from my obsession with duck fat.)


  • A chef knife that you like
  • A paring knife that you like
  • A cutting board
  • Large prep bowl (3-4 quart)
  • Whisk
  • Roasting pan or baking sheet
  • Measuring implements
  • A small covered container (like a single-serve yogurt container)
  • Garlic press (unless, like Anthony Bourdain, you hate them, in which case employ your raw-garlic-puree-technique of choice)
  • Salad bowl (4 qt)


  • 3 zucchini (6-7″)
  • 3 yellow squash (6-7″)
  • 1 red bell pepper (or a couple of roasted red peppers from a jar)
  • 1/2 a red onion
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed and dried on paper towels (I guess you could use fresh corn, but you don’t need to)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 T ground cumin, divided
  • 2 tsp dried oregano, divided
  • 2 T olive or other vegetable oil (doesn’t have to be extra-virgin)—I’m calling this the “neutral oil” below.)
  • 1/4 c apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic–pressed, or minced/mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt. (I use a garlic press, but I understand there are people who consider that an abomination.)
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • Optional: Chopped fresh cilantro and lime wedges


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Dice the onion into 1/4 inch dice. In a small sauté pan, cook the onion over medium-high heat in 1/2 T of neutrally-flavored oil for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle on a pinch of salt, some pepper, and 1 tsp of cumin. Cook 5-10 more minutes, until it’s dizzyingly fragrant and starting to be brown on the edges (a tiny bit of char is not the worst thing ever at this point.) Scrape out into a salad bowl.
  3. In the same pan with the other 1/2 T of neutral oil, cook the corn over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until it’s brown and a tiny bit sticky. This takes a while, maybe 15-20 minutes?
  4. Multitasking: While the corn is on the stove, you’ll cut and roast squash, and roast the pepper.
  5. Optional/use your own judgment: If there’s fond (sticky brown stuff) in the pan when the corn is done, use the 1/4 c cider vinegar to deglaze the pan real quick (take the pan off heat, avert your face*, pour vinegar in, swish around and scrape up the bits); pour that into the salad bowl with the onion. [*You do not want to get a faceful of vaporized vinegar. It’s not nice.]
  6. Cut the squash into bite sized pieces and put them in a large bowl. Drizzle 1 T of neutral oil over them, and toss with your hands. Sprinkle on 2 tsp of the cumin and 1 tsp of the oregano. Spread out on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and pop in the oven for about 20 minutes (? maybe 15, maybe 30, depends on the squash and your oven…) It’s done when you can pierce it with a fork without a lot of effort.
  7. If you’re roasting your own pepper, do that while the squash is in the oven: I like to put the pepper straight on a gas burner and turn it with tongs until it’s black all over, and then stick it in a paper bag to cool for a while—then the skin just rubs off. Or you can do this on a grill outside, or under a broiler (maybe?). Or just use roasted peppers from a jar. Either way, cut into 1/3-inch strips and set aside.
  8. In the salad bowl (where the sautéed onion has been waiting): Add the vinegar (unless you used it to deglaze the pan in optional-step-5, above, in which case it’s already in the bowl…). Whisk in the oil, the garlic, and the rest of the cumin and oregano. Taste for seasoning (and most likely add some salt and pepper).
  9. Put your roasted squash, red pepper, browned corn, and rinsed black beans all in the salad bowl. Toss so the dressing coats everything.
  10. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
  11. Optional: Add a handful of chopped fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice right before serving. For potluck, it’s thoughtful to leave these on the side and let people add their own—there’s that “soap-tasting” cilantro problem for some people. (You can’t please/accommodate all the people’s food preferences/allergies all the time; just don’t be mean.)