Four-Ingredient Salads! Succulent Side Dishes for the Lazy Potlucker

The sweet ‘n’ savory flavors of Watermelon Feta salad are so good, I drink the brine from the bottom of the bowl. (Photos by Meredith Siemsen)

I was never destined to be the world’s greatest chef. I’ve got friends and family members whose favorite place on earth is the kitchen, but as much as I love a thoughtfully prepared meal, I’ve got three jobs, two of them are spent on my feet, and any time I have left I prefer to fritter away in the garden or with my British buddies on PBS Masterpiece Classic.

Sadly, unless the cat learns to cook, I will forever be throwing my meals together precisely at the point of starvation. Some days I don’t notice I’m hungry until my gas gauge is well below “E” and the tank is on fire. If I’ve crossed over into being offensively hangry (hungry + angry), please know I don’t mean to be rude, I just need some food.

Perhaps preparing meals as an afterthought is a consequence of having never had any kiddos. I can fly by the seat of my pants, as it were, fairly content to scrounge last-minute for scraps in the pantry without anyone whining. Or judging. Whatever the cause of my culinary laziness, when I’m asked to bring a dish to a summer potluck, instead of giving myself a hernia—or heaven forbid lighting the oven—I lean heavily on dishes that practically make themselves.

Just Four Ingredients? Yep.

Next time you head to a summer shindig involving potluck food, join me in hitting the “easy” button. I hope you will love this trio of truly delicious but ridonculously simple side salads, using no more than four ingredients apiece. Toss the fixings together wistfully, sprinkle the seasonings on with a casual flourish, and serve chilled beside a nice juicy steak grilled by somebody else, muahhahaaaahaaaaaa!

These flavorful recipes—that only taste like you slaved in the kitchen for hours—all make 5 or 6 scrumptious servings. Double the recipes for larger parties.

Mango Jicama Salad

1 large mango, cut into bite-sized cubes
1 lb. jicama, cut into bite-sized cube
Juice of 2 limes
A few dashes of cayenne
Salt to taste (optional)

Beloved Chicago neighbors Grace and Flavio brought this dish to my sister’s house 17 years ago. I’d never before eaten jicama (“hee-ka-ma”), the lightly sweet turnip-shaped root vegetable used in Mexican and Japanese cuisines. Crunchy, light, and mild, it makes for a refreshing mouthful, and the lime and chili (and maybe a hint of salt) give it just the right zhuzh. Tip: Ideally, choose a small or medium-sized jicama with thin, smooth skin that’s not cracked, bruised, or shriveled. Store it in a cool, dry spot, but not in the fridge.

Watermelon Feta Salad

5 c. watermelon, cut bite-size
6 oz. feta cheese
¼ c. loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Classic summer tastes, or “mana from heaven,” as my mother might say. No way to mess this up unless you buy a bum watermelon. Tip: For a melon that is sweet and fully ripe, look for a nice round one that has a yellow “field spot” (not white), a duller sheen (not too glossy), and a stem that’s dry and yellowish or brown. Spots, veining, and distinctive yellow striping can also be signs of ripeness.

Red Roots Salad

1 large red beet, peeled and grated
4 carrots, peeled and grated
Juice of 1 large lemon
Salt & pepper to taste

This is a variation of a digestion-boosting dish I learned to make in an Ayurvedic cooking class. What I was doing in an Ayurvedic cooking class I’ll never know, but this one stuck. It’s zippy, it’s incredibly healthy, and its juices are the most gorgeous shade of hot pink. Be warned: it’s messy as sin, so put your apron on and do your grating in a deep bowl. I suppose you could use a food processor, but I prefer to avoid such contraptions. Too many parts to clean. Tip: You could try this salad with a little grated ginger, but eesh, that would mean five ingredients. Eaaaaasy, tiger.

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Let’s face it. I’m never going to be a person who spends the entire morning in the kitchen—unless it’s because I’m working a puzzle in there on the breakfast table.

Meredith Siemsen

Meredith, an Iowa native, was baffled when she earned her high school's writing award in 1993. It wasn't until twenty years later that she discovered she actually enjoyed wordcraft. (Too bad she's still a two-fingered typist.) Thanks for reading, friends!