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How to Assemble an Awesome Vegetable Platter

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee, unless otherwise indicated]

A good vegetable platter is a staple of any finger-food based buffet, but how often do you hit a graduation party or a concert reception only to find the same old stale, sorry-looking, dried-out carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumbers, and if you're lucky, bell pepper strips all sitting listlessly around a tub of store-bought Ranch dressing?

No wonder nobody likes to eat vegetables. Imagine instead, if you will, a world in which vegetable platters were actually made from fresh, seasonal vegetables. Crisp pink radishes frolicking through Elysian fields with bright green stalks of fresh-from-the-earth asparagus. Bitter endives make merry with sweet, vine-ripened cherry tomatoes under the vigilant but beneficent eyes of a baby zucchini. Baby romaine lettuce leaves shed their inhibitions, say "f*ck it," and dive bottoms first into the homemade dip, skinny dipping alongside the tender young heirloom carrots who were in the process of doing some very naughty things indeed.

Now is the time for you to upgrade your carrot-and-celery plate into a veritable orgy of hedonistic vegetal delights. All of this can be yours. All it takes is a trip to a good vegetable market, and just a bit of effort.

Tip #1: Get In The Right Frame of Mind.

Stop thinking of vegetable platters as the default table-space-taker-upper and start thinking of them as the centerpiece of a spring or summer buffet table. Once you start taking them seriously, then perhaps they will start taking you seriously as well.

Tip #2: Don't Make a Shopping List.

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It's sad but true: spring and summer produce are ephemeral beasts. The asparagus that was perfectly sweet and crisp two days ago may be wilted and woody by the time you make your way to the market. The best way to shop for a vegetable platter is to go with a certain amount of vegetables you'd like in mind—say, an eight to a quarter pound per guest—then buy what looks best. Use your nose and your eyes to guide you around the produce section (or better yet, the farm stand or farmers' market). With few exception, there are no spring or summer vegetables that won't work on a vegetable platter provided you treat them right. We'll get to that in a moment.

Tip #3: Can't Make A Decision? Then Don't.

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Those white asparagus look so fresh and crisp, but so do those baby zucchini, and wow—what about those tight-blossomed baby purply artichokes? Or hey, those juicy looking easter egg radishes, how about them? The good news is that you don't have to decide between one or another. The most surefire way to make sure that your vegetable platter is memorable is to put as many different things as you can on it.

Show off the bounty of the season. Go for as many different colors, textures, and shapes as you can.

Tip #4: Go Shopping The Day Of (Or At The Earliest, The Day Before).

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All vegetables lose quality as time goes by. For the most striking vegetable platter, make sure your vegetables are utterly fresh by buying them the morning you plan on serving them. If you must store them overnight, here are a few tips:

Tip #5: Make A Good Sauce

It should go without saying, but how many times have you seen a crudité platter beautifully prepared and laid out, only to find a jar of gloopy, gloppy, artificial flavoring-packed dip-from-a-can in the center of the spread?

Just don't do it! You're putting in the effort to get great vegetables, they deserve a great dip do go with them!

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My favorite is the classic Green Goddess Dressing, a mayonnaise and herb-based dip flavored with anchovies that was the most popular dressing in the West up until Ranch came and took it over. You say you like Ranch? Well OK, we can help you out on that front as well. Here's our recipe.

Is Blue Cheese your thing? (It's my thing, quite often), if so this three-minute, five-ingredient Blue Cheese Dressing should do the trick. Potato chips aren't the only thing that go well with Real French Onion Dip, though I'm sure guests wouldn't kill you if you added a side of chips to your veg platter.

Another five-ingredient dip that takes a Greek twist is our Tyrokafteri, made with whipped feta and hot peppers. Even a classic garlicky aïoli would make the perfect dipper for fresh spring vegetables.

Tip #6: Style!

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You can go a few different routes with laying out your platter. Sometimes I feel like compartmentalizing by color, arranging my vegetables the way I'd put crayons back into a box of Crayolas, creating an even spectrum from one end to the other (yes, I'm anal about putting crayons and markers back in the right order). This can be particularly striking when you have a huge assortment of vegetables of all different shades and can really create a strong spectrum from the red tomatoes through the pink radishes, through to the bright orange carrots, to the yellow endives to the green broccoli, all the way to the purple asparagus or radicchio.

That said, more often then not these days I prefer the "overflowing cornucopia" approach. That is, jam everything possible onto the plate, using a bit of care to make sure that colors are spaced out and that all the vegetables are showing their best side.

Either of these approaches works better than the dried-carrot-in-a-plastic-clamshell method.

My 18 Favorite Vegetable Platter Vegetables And How To Prepare Them

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There's no way I could ever get through every possible vegetable you can put on a crudité platter, but here are the ones you are most likely to find, along with tips on the best way to prepare them. The key is to remember that folks are going to be eating with their hands, so vegetables have to be pick-upable, as well as dip-able in shape.

What are your favorite vegetables and dips for entertaining?

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

Printed from http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/06/how-to-put-together-an-awesome-vegetable-platter.html

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