A couple of months ago, in my post Stone Soup and Salad, I wrote about the benefits of eating together with friends. Last night I hosted another meal based on those principles. A friend and I co-hosted a meal, providing the base ingredients and asking the others who were invited to bring things to supplement that base.
The theme was taco salad. The base consisted of beans, rice, seasoned ground beef, and an avocado salsa thin enough to use as dressing. Others provided things like leafy greens, tomatoes, onion, cheese, and chips.
Setting up the meal this way made the gathering beautifully flexible. There was more than one invitee who wasn't sure if she would make it, but it didn't matter what she decided at the last minute since what she was bringing wasn't vital to the meal. Maybe we wouldn't have tomatoes, and we would certainly miss her company, but without them the meal would still go on.
On the other hand, having a theme provided some parameters that made our small gathering predictable. If I had simply planned a "normal" potluck, we may have ended up with clashing flavors or too many desserts. With the taco salad theme, every element of the meal fit together and everyone knew what to expect.
My favorite part of hosting this sort of themed potluck is how simple it makes everyone's preparations. I cooked up a crockpot full of beans and browned a pound of meat. My co-host cooked a pot of rice. Each attendee was able to bring an ingredient that wasn't demanding on her time or energy, whether something she already had on hand or an item she could pick up from the store on the way. We ended up enjoying a beautifully dynamic meal even with no one person stressing over all the various elements.
What other "themes" lend themselves to this sort of casual potluck?
Next time I think I'll try a Baked Potato Bar. Leave any suggestions you come up with in the comments below!