An Updated Relish Tray for the Holidays

Serving up a modern spin on the old favorite.
Pickled produce, olives and other vegetables on display.

Relish Tray

A modern relish tray using fresh produce, exotic dips and homemade pickles of all shapes and sizes.

Photo by: Mick Telkamp

Mick Telkamp

Most of us remember the classic relish tray. At holiday gatherings it would appear, that enormous glass platter, divided into compartments brimming with carrot sticks, gherkins, canned olives, radishes and maybe some pepperoncini, all meeting in the middle, where you might find a bowl of ranch dressing. They were nice enough. We’d have missed them if they weren’t there, but no one ever went home raving about that stunning relish tray. We’re going to fix that.

We’re ditching the divided tray in favor of a more casual format. Using a large ceramic, glass or terra cotta tile and a few smaller plates or bowls, the austere relish tray of the past becomes warm and welcoming. Merging the old standbys with a melange of delectables including homemade pickles, elegant olives and dips from around the world, the relish tray becomes something more. Irresistible foods presented in an inviting way. A variety of flavors dished up using fork, chopsticks or fingers moves the modern relish tray to the front of the hors d'oeuvre table.


Differentiating a relish tray from a plain old veggie tray, a variety of pickles spice things up and gives home canners a chance to share what they did on their summer vacation. Classic dill, bread and butter chips, dilly beans, beets, asparagus, pearl onion or garlic pickles are all favorites. Less common pickled fare like grapes, watermelon rinds or green tomatoes can be head-turners. If you don’t have a pantry full of homemade pickles on hand, you can still make your own in a flash using a basic “quick pickling” recipe.  


Try celery and carrot sticks, bell pepper spears, radishes, mushrooms, cucumbers, heirloom tomato wedges, grape tomatoes, broccoli florets, cauliflower and sugar snap peas.


An essential on any relish tray. Thanks to grocery store olive bars, olive options now go beyond green or black. Consider including blue cheese, feta or garlic stuffed olives.


Although dips aren’t strictly required on a relish tray, a good dip or two is always welcome when raw vegetables are offered. Ranch and blue cheese are common, but more exotic choices like hummus, pimento cheese, anchoïade or tahini add flair and flavor.


Keep it simple. The produce is the star of this plate, but a crisp palate cleanser has its place here. Flatbread, rye crackers, whole grain crackers, water crackers or pita chips are all familiar choices that will get the job done.

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