By Kathryn Streeter
Pulling a "Hail Mary" one night after a hectic day that ended with a sporting event, I threw together the traditional French Salade Niçoise to quickly satisfy the hungry kids circling the kitchen. But I made one change. Rather than tossing together the ingredients in a salad bowl, I displayed them in neat rows on one of my rectangular, white ceramic platters. It was love at first sight, eliciting Oohs and Aahs from the family and garnering a five-star rating based on presentation alone. With each ingredient arranged tidily, the colors, shapes, and textures seemed to be at their showiest.
It has grown to be a staple around our home, a go-to meal when I have no idea what I'm going to make for dinner. I've tried variations, too, liberally adding anything and everything but the kitchen sink, so to speak. It always ends up being a colorful, heart-healthy dinner entrée. And since it allows the pickiest eaters to avoid any single ingredient, it's one of the most customizable dinners out there.
Make your own Platter of Plenty using ingredients from each of these categories:
Meat or Fish Do you have a lonely steak, chicken breast, salmon fillet, or some kielbasa sausage in the refrigerator needing attention? Grill and slice or flake, as is the case. Ta-da.
Maybe you have cans of chicken or tuna in the pantry? Drain well and season.
Or perhaps you have deli meat on hand. Salami? Prosciutto? Smoked salmon? Wonderful, you can't lose!
Veggies and Legumes I'm truly an opportunist here. I dive into my produce drawers and pull out whatever I have. Drizzle some olive oil on Brussels sprouts or a handful of red potatoes and cook them under the broiler. Pull out some raw carrots or fresh yellow and red pepper slices to add color to your platter.
Cans of beans provide additional nutrients to this interesting meal. Kidney, garbanzo, or black beans--whatever you have. Just open, drain, and rinse.
Eggs Because, why not add more protein to the mix? Boil and slice.
Condiments This is where you can go crazy. What do you have in the door of your refrigerator? I often have olives, artichoke hearts, capers, and pickled peppers.
Greens Use what you have on hand. Romaine? Spinach? Iceberg lettuce? Lightly toss with your favorite dressing, or try mine (see sidebar). I drizzle it over not only the greens, but also everything on the assembled platter.
In any home filled with kids comes the crush of crazy busyness, challenging the most organized of moms. Sometimes, the very last thing on my mind is what I'm going to serve the family for dinner. I suspect I'm not alone. This dinnertime hack made all the difference in my home. Maybe it'll do the same in yours.
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon garlic powder
2-4 pinches of red pepper flakes
Kathryn Streeter's work has appeared in publications such as the Washington Post, SheKnows, the Week, and Paste Magazine. Find her on Twitter, @streeterkathryn.