Q: How Do You Make Crudités Less Boring?

A: I get really bummed every time I go to a party and see a sad vegetable platter consisting of precut baby carrots and tired celery sticks. It doesn't have to be that way. With a little effort, the veggie platter can be the star of your spread.

The first rule: Throw out the shopping list. I walk the produce aisle and let my eyes and nose guide me based on what looks best. Does that fresh asparagus look especially enticing? Grab a bunch. What about those perfect baby zucchini? Those'll work, too.

The next rule: Use at least four types of veggies, with a nice contrast of colors. A vegetable platter should be gorgeous to look at. Here are some of my favorite vegetables to use: carrots, bell peppers, jicama (cut into sticks or disks), radishes (left whole with a couple of leaves attached), sliced fennel bulb, cucumbers (I like the small Persian variety), zucchini, and summer squash, all raw.

Green vegetables like asparagus, snap peas, broccoli, and string beans should be blanched quickly in boiling water, brightening their color yet leaving them crunchy-sweet. Small, crisp lettuces like endive and radicchio are also great additions to the platter: Separate the heads into individual leaves for scoop-sized cups.

Finally, freshness is key. Buy your vegetables at most a day or two ahead, and wait to cut them until you're within hours of party time.

Kenji Lopez-Alt is the chief creative officer of Serious Eats, where he writes The Food Lab, unraveling the science of home cooking.