As summer breezes in so do barbecues, picnics, and iconic potato salads. The eggy, mayo-based version is a relative newbie on the potato salad spectrum.
Spanish explorers lay a solid claim as any to the first potato salad recipe after their conquest of South America in the late 1400s. The Spaniards discovered the exciting root vegetable, then quickly adapted it to their Mediterranean/Andalusian cuisine, concocting a dish blending cooked potatoes with wine, vinegar and a variety of herbs and spices. This recipe soon trickled throughout Europe with each country putting its own culinary spin on the dish. Centuries later a flux of German immigrants brought their Bavarian version of the salad to the United States. Then in the 1950’s when mayonnaise became a household staple cooks began adding the luscious condiment to everything but the kitchen sink--including potato salad.
A friend of mine, who is about as useful in the kitchen as a pair of stilettos scaling Mount Everest, asked me to prepare a traditional potato salad for a Memorial Day gathering hosted by her new boss. Painstakingly prepared from scratch, including my homemade spicy mayonnaise, I then transferred the creamy mixture from the utilitarian working bowl to the pretty glass-cut serving bowl. Wanting to get the last drop from the spoon, I did a quick tattoo of taps on the lip of the bowl, spraying shards of glass into the potato salad. Alas, I had to whip up another batch before she arrived, and I had used my last drop of mayo. Thinking quickly, I whisked a vinaigrette dressing with Meyer lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, flat leaf parsley and Dijon mustard, then tossed some sun-dried tomatoes and assorted olives with the potatoes. As serendipity had it, the Mediterranean-inspired potato salad was a big hit at the shindig.
Now here’s a diverse and delicious line-up of potato salads to enjoy throughout summer and beyond:
• Swabian or German-style is a robust and hearty dish, the potatoes sometimes soaked in beef broth and vinegar, smothered in a grainy mustard sauce with bacon bits, capers and bell peppers, usually served warm.
• The Olivier salad is loaded with dill pickles, carrots, hard-boiled eggs, poached chicken or ham.
• Potato-less salads sub the spuds for other roots such as celeriac, yucca, kohlrabi, rutabaga or turnips.
• Sweden’s minimalist version called Farskpotatissald simply blends new potatoes with a mound of fresh dill and sour cream.
• Viva la France with tender potatoes tossed in a vibrant vinaigrette of white wine, champagne vinegar, Dijon mustard, olive oil, shallots and chives.
• Have a yen for Japan’s version with peas, carrots, apple slices, pickled cucumbers and scallions tossed in a creamy, umami-flavored Kewpie mayo made with rice vinegar, and dashi or seaweed stock.
• Ole with a southwest twist combining roasted corn and peppers in a spicy chipotle dressing.
• That’s Greek to me called Patatosalate with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, cucumbers, kalamata olives, and feta cheese.
• In honor of the tuber’s place of origin this Peruvian knock-your-socks-off potato salad includes ají Amarillo or hot yellow peppers, palillo, a local herb reminiscent of saffron or turmeric for its bright yellow hue, golden Peruvian potatoes, and queso fresco cheese.
While there are thousands of potato varieties sprouting around the world, the best ones for potato salads include creamy-fleshed reds with wax-like rosy skins, buttery delicate Yukon Golds, petite or creamers bursting with intense flavors, purple Peruvian potatoes with a pop of eye candy and antioxidant oomph, as well as mild-mannered, elegant Fingerlings of assorted Technicolors.
As an added boon the precious root once revered by Incans for healing wounds, easing childbirth, and even marking units of time contains a rich store of essential minerals and vitamins—both in the skin and the flesh. This fat- and gluten-free, high fiber tuber has more immune boosting vitamin C than a tomato, more fluid-balancing potassium than a banana, a load of B6 to ratchet up energy, along with magnesium, folate, iron, and resistant starch to amp up colon health. So spud up with this light, bright potato salad to enliven any summer soiree.
Recipe: Lemon Herb Summer Potato Salad
• Ingredients: 2-pounds redskin or creamer potatoes, cut in bite-size cubes; 1/2-cup extra virgin olive oil; juice from 2 Meyer lemons; 3-tablespoons sherry vinegar; 2-teaspoons Dijon mustard; pinch of brown sugar; 2-tablespoons each of fresh dill and Italian parsley, minced; 3 scallions, thinly sliced.
• Method: Boil potatoes until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and cool. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, juice, vinegar, herbs, scallions, mustard, sugar and seasonings. In a large bowl, add potatoes. Gently toss with desired amount of dressing. Chill.