Crudites are the boring, oft-ignored platters that most hosts put out on the holiday table because they feel like they should (and then end up tossing later). It’s a shame, because they’re also often the healthiest offering amid cheese boards and desserts of all stripes and could help add some balance to your party noshing.
“It’s not that people don’t like raw vegetables—it’s that they don’t like bad raw vegetables,” says Helen Rosner, the foodie editor of Saveur.com, who recently counted the ways she loved crudites in a story titled “In the Raw.” “Of course the crudites will go untouched if the selection is hairy, dried-out carrot sticks, raw broccoli florets, and soft, unappetizing zucchini spears—and tragically, that’s what you tend to get with a pre-packaged grocery-store tray or a thoughtless caterer.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way, she says. The key to making crudites sexy is paying special attention to vegetable selection, arrangement, and pairings. And there’s good news. “The silver lining is that the bar for great crudites is now really low,” she reasons. “If you make a show of how totally, crazily, life-alteringly delicious these raw vegetables are—and set them off with flavorful, homemade dips—your guests will be thrilled.”
Here are Rosner’s three tips for making crudites sexy. Follow them while prepping for your New Year’s guests:
1. Tap your inner artist. “Vegetables come in such an array of colors, textures, sizes, and shapes, and it’s a great opportunity to think about food from an almost entirely visual perspective,” she says. So when you’re choosing them, think about what they’ll look like just as much as what they’ll taste like—and get creative. “Do you want to do a play on the color green, with everything from pale celery to almost-black kale? Do you want to run everything in a gradient rainbow, starting with red peppers and going all the way down to purple cabbage? Do you want to go minimal, just alternating one or two contrasting veggies like radishes and cucumbers?”
2. Think seasonal. No, carrots and celery are not required. “It’s a great time to use lettuces and other leafy vegetables: Purple and yellow endives are beautiful on the plate and so texturally interesting, and I love to slice small, tight heads of red cabbage into thin wedges (keeping the core intact so they hold together) to add something with a fiery bite, and they look beautiful arranged with tightly bundled romaine hearts. Lightly blanched cauliflower and broccoli are staples year-round, but are particularly great in winter,” says Rosner.
3. Pick a killer dip. You don’t need to satisfy every palette with different creamy offerings. Instead, focus on one amazing homemade dip that will pair well with what’s on the platter. “I have fun thinking about the entire thing, veggies and dip together, as part of a package that makes sense as a whole,” Rosner explains. “I love doing a very tight selection of seasonal vegetables—in winter weather, I love things with a bit of bite, like radish, turnip, and fennel, alongside a creamy, herbaceous dip like Green Goddess. —Lisa Elaine Held