Trifles are terrific. They don’t require hard-to-find ingredients and draw lots of accolades for barely any work. They look the part whether it’s a laid-back family get-together or a soirée on the patio decked with string lights.
We are not just talking about the sweet British import with layers of boozy spongy cake, jelly (flavored gelatin), fruits and custard. There also is the savory trifle, which has more oomph than a mere layered salad of lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and grated cheddar cheese. The bread at the bottom makes the salad a lot heartier, too.
A mixed veggie trifle is more about construction than cooking. It will embrace just about any type of raw summer vegetable, which is sliced, diced or grated and assembled in a clear glass bowl over a layer of bread and drizzled with a delicious dressing.
The bread is the Atlas of the trifle, shouldering the multiple layers above it. It can be homemade croutons tossed in butter or flavored with garlic and herbs. Or you can tear flatbreads like focaccia, naan or pita into pieces to cover the bottom of the bowl. My favorite is a Southern-style cornbread made with yellow cornmeal and eggs. It can have a wee bit of sugar or be studded with jalapeños for a more punchy note.
There is no set formula for the vegetables, but it’s good to have a range of colors and textures. Any sort of greens will work, but I prefer something crisp like shredded romaine or iceberg or peppery baby arugula.
To make an elegant and pretty trifle, layer the greens with kernels from freshly boiled corn, thinly sliced radishes and cucumbers, pitted olives, juicy cherry tomatoes, and red, yellow and orange peppers. Mix in herbs like cilantro, dill or basil, and no one will call it boring.
For protein, add halved hard-boiled eggs, pancetta cubes, sliced salami or cooked bacon strips between vegetable layers. But if you want to continue on a vegetarian route, use canned pinto, garbanzo or black beans that are drained, rinsed and tossed gently with salt and ground cumin. You also could add a layer of crumbled feta or goat cheese or cubes of mozzarella or grated cheddar or Monterey Jack if you are a cheese fanatic.
A vegetable trifle without dressing would be like a fruit trifle without custard. It’s just not right. Unlike custard, the dressing should not be thick and sit on the top or even between the layers. Instead, it should be slightly runny so it can dribble down through the layers to the bread at the bottom. Herb-laden green dressings are wonderful, and so are the orangish ones that get their kick from paprika or Sriracha. But creamy white or colorless olive oil–lemon juice dressings are fine, too.
So pull out that glass bowl, add layers of bread and vegetables, and drizzle the dressing on top or serve it on the side. Now wait for the applause as you have the ta-da moment.
Dress it up
- Buttermilk dressing: Whisk together 3/4 cup of buttermilk, 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese, 3 tablespoons of mayo, 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon of hot sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon onion powder and 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped chives. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Chipotle cream sauce: In a blender, combine 4 or 5 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (from a 7-ounce can), 1/4 cup whole milk, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1/2 teaspoon paprika. Blend until the peppers are puréed. Add 1 tablespoon and 2 plus teaspoons fresh lemon juice and 2 cups sour cream, salt to taste and blend until smooth.
- Garlic mayo dressing: Smash 3 garlic cloves with a knife and finely mince them. Transfer to a bowl and whisk together with 1/3 cup mayonnaise and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice. Slowly add 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup Canola oil and whisk again. Add 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese and combine. Season with salt.
- Balsamic vinaigrette: Whisk together 1/2 cup avocado oil or any other neutral oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon garlic powder. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Basil–dill cream sauce: Add 1 cup of chopped basil leaves and 1/4 cup of chopped dill in a blender. Add 1/3 cup yogurt, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons ground white pepper and 1 smashed garlic. Add salt to taste and blend until smooth.
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