Sunday, October 26, 2008

Potluck Panic

Ahhhh, Sunday afternoon... Both boys are napping and I'm recovering from the morning. For the past year we've been getting together with a group of other expatriates on Sundays. We used to go to a Vietnamese church every week, but then baby number two arrived and that became impractical. Caleb was too old for the "cry room" but not quite ready to be left alone in a non-English speaking Sunday School class. It ended up that neither Daniel nor I sat through a service. We went in every direction but the sanctuary.

For the most part we've been glad to change things up and to get to know a few more of the expatriates living in Vietnam. The group meets in one or two homes each week depending on who is available to host. We find out via e-mail where we will be. We also find out via e-mail about any special events or other announcements. It's not a bad system except that Daniel gets the e-mails and I don't. He often remembers to forward them to me, but there is an exception to every rule.

Yesterday morning Daniel innocently asked me if I'd gotten the latest church e-mail. Of course I hadn't, which meant that I didn't know there was a potluck scheduled for today. Keep in mind that we are in the last week of October. I don't know about you, but when I reach the last week of any month I am counting my pennies and praying that neither boy needs a new package of diapers in the next few days. I had just made my last major trip to the supermarket for the month and came home with 392.000 dong ($23.40) in my wallet. This was designated for fresh vegetables and extra milk if we run out. It didn't leave a lot of room for emergency potluck ingredients.

Normally when this happens (this was the third potluck I didn't know about until less than 24 hours in advance), we use the boys' naps as an excuse to ditch the meal. Today's festivities, however, were at the home of a very nice family who always go out of their way to make the place kid-friendly. We just couldn't ditch again.

I had no choice but to be creative. The request was that we bring a salad, so I rummaged the cupboards and laid ingredients out on the counter in categories: Mexican/Southwestern, Mediterranean, Asian, generic American, etc. The biggest pile hands-down was Mexican/Southwestern. I had beans, cilantro, peppers, half a packet of taco seasoning, and a few other random things that roughly qualified for the category. In the end I came up with a salad that was surprisingly...passable. I swore Daniel to secrecy and told him exactly what to say if questioned. "It's called Fiesta Salad. Very easy. Old family recipe."

If you're interested, here is the recipe. (I don't recommend that you follow it since it reveals more about my manner of cooking than the method of making Fiesta Salad.)

Fiesta Salad (aka. Heather's Potluck Surprise)

Salad Ingredients:
  • 1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded (defrost in the microwave if necessary, just be careful not to let the ends turn white and rubbery)
  • 2 green bell peppers (wrinkly is okay but avoid the mushy spots)
  • 1 red bell pepper (ditto)
  • 1.5 cans of beans (2 cans is optimal, but I had one in the back of the cupboard and half of another opened in the fridge. I used Canellini beans because white adds so much color to the dish. Not really--they were all I could find. Black beans or kidney beans would probably be better. If you're really pressed, throw in a combination of whatever you have on hand. Avoid baked beans and pork & beans unless you're feeling really adventurous. In that case, do whatever blows your hair back.)
  • 1 cup of cooked couscous (This isn't really Mexican or Southwestern, but it was left over in the fridge from Caleb's lunch on Thursday and I needed something to add a little bulk to the salad.)
  • handful of chopped cilantro (Be generous but don't overdo it.)
  • smaller handful of chopped green onion (Use your nose. If you start wiping your eyes on your sleeve and wondering where the last of the Kleenex went, you've probably got more than enough.)
Chop the peppers and rinse the beans. (If you're in Vietnam remember to use bottled water for the final rinse. You never know who will come to an expat potluck. Some poor soul may not have adjusted to even low doses of the local water yet. Hotel bathrooms are nice, but no one wants to spend the bulk of their holiday there.) Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl.

Dressing Ingredients:
  • 1/2 or 1/3 packet of taco mix (I'm not sure how much was actually in the packet. I found it crumpled up in the back of my spice cupboard. It was kind of hard and sticky, so there was probably more there than I first suspected. It was just concentrated.)
  • juice from two Asian limes (We get a lemon/lime cross breed here that is smaller than the green limes we use in the States. One green lime would probably do the trick.)
  • a slosh of vegetable oil (Just pour until it looks about right. Maybe 1/4 cup.)
  • enough sugar to keep you from flinching when you do the fingertip taste test.
Add all the dressing ingredients to a spill-proof container and shake over the sink (since "spill-proof" is almost always false advertising). Taste the dressing several times to get it right. It should make you think of taco salad--tangy and a little spicy. Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and toss to coat.

  • coarse black pepper
  • shredded Cheddar cheese (Be sparing, cheese is expensive these days.)
  • a few sprigs of cilantro for a garnish (If the leaves are free of brown spots)
These toppings are optional. I added them mostly because I was out of main ingredients and the volume looked a little skimpy for a crowd.


  1. Awesome recipe! I wish I hadn't just cleaned out my fridge. . .

  2. Good advice about the final rinse. If only Kim and I had remembered that when we went to Honduras to visit her sister and then went to a Honduran potluck...

  3. You keep me laughing. Keep up the good work on this blog!