There’s a problem with crudité platters as a party food. It’s one thing if you eat raw broccoli in private, but if I come to your home expecting food, a platter of raw baby carrots and celery sticks does not count. It’s not the vegetables (I love them for their nutrients, color, and texture). It’s their preparation—as in, there should be some. We should consider what’s going to taste good raw, what should be blanched, and what ingredients will pair well together—unlike Dr. Oz, who makes crudité platters by grabbing the first five items he sees next to each other in the produce section of an incorrectly identified grocery store before washing it all down with a warm glass of tequila.
(I can deal with the tequila; it’s the raw asparagus dipped in chunky salsa that I can’t get behind.)
Luckily, we can do better than Dr. Oz. There are a few ways to make crudité platters truly great, and it all starts with preparing your veggies thoughtfully. Too often, the crudité platter feels like a filler food someone tossed on a platter because there wasn’t time to make a proper salad, and there are always leftovers at the end of the party. It’s understood that there are raw vegetables involved (the root crudus meaning raw), but there should still be an element of planning that goes into the vegetables you choose.
Blanch your greenery
Raw greens are bitter. Broccoli, asparagus, green beans, and snap peas all benefit from a quick blanch to temper the bitter edge. Not only does it help with the flavor but it also boosts the natural color of the veggie to make them beautifully vibrant and eye-catching. Although this technique cooks the very outside of the vegetable or fruit, the inside will maintain its raw, crunchy texture. Additionally, if you’re worried about any organisms that might be roaming around, blanching will kill a fair amount of those off.
To blanch, boil a large pot of water over high heat and have an ice water bath ready, nearby. Add a tablespoon of salt just before you’re ready to drop in your vegetables (this assists in achieving a brighter color). Add the veggies to the boiling water for one minute or 30 seconds for thin, delicate greens. (You can also pour just-boiled water over delicate vegetables if you’re worried about overcooking.) Remove the vegetables using a sieve, tongs, or a colander if you’re not blanching anything else. Immediately plunge the vegetables into the water bath to shock them and stop the cooking. Cool completely. Dry them off before putting them on a platter.
Mix it up
Although raw celery is nature’s floss, just eliminate it from the platter. Use its absence to mix things up a bit. Now that you have a combo of raw vegetables and blanched vegetables, add some pickled ingredients to the presentation. Pickled green beans, peppers, and zucchini can be visually interesting but also improve the flavor profile. A salty, vinegary bite can be a welcome break from rich dips like hummus and prep the palate for more snacks. While we’re on the topic of hummus, mix up your dips, too. I know it seems hard to believe, but not everyone likes ranch. Offer two or three dips or toppings (like spicy, herbal zhoug, or olive tapenade) to play off of the flavors you’re rocking on the platter.
Let vegetables look like vegetables
If you’re presenting a stupendous harvest of vegetables, let them look like the glamour-shot version of themselves. The most beautiful crudité platters I’ve laid eyes on keep the plantiest parts attached. Instead of the bulk bag of baby carrots looking like giant orange Tic Tacs, grab a bundle of petite whole carrots with the greens still intact. You certainly don’t need to leave the whole strand of greens attached, but a little handle at the end is charming. Give the carrots a light peel to take off the dry skin, and you’ve got an irresistible veg right there. Trader Joe’s has a bag of prepared rainbow carrots that work well. The same goes for baby radishes; instead of slicing them up, leave them whole with a little remaining stem, and keep the tap root, if you can. Consider mini cucumbers or cocktail cucumbers that you can simply split in half instead of slicing up a larger cucumber.
Once finished, your crudité platter will look like the radiant centerpiece it was meant to be.