..they call me ‘Tater Salad’
|August 24, 2010||Posted by Cheeks under Recipe, Vegetarian|
Potato salad, what is it about you that I can’t get enough of? Most times I run into you, you’re gloppy, mushy, and sadly stuffed into a deli counter bin. Seeing you so disrespected–cold, overcooked potatoes drowned in mayonnaise and mustard with no discernible flavor or texture–makes me sad. You see, it’s so, so easy to make potato salad that’s infinitely better than these gloppy messes (although, really, I’ll still eat them). Why are so many potato salads so bad, when they can be so, so good? Let’s discuss.
First, behold the humble potato. Revered, and rightly so, for its versatility, alone a potato is not exactly the most flavorful of vegetables. Some try to remedy the relative blandness of the potato by mixing them with excessive amounts of mayo, mustard, and god knows what else. This kinda works, but do you really want to eat spoonfuls of mayonnaise? And the potatoes themselves are still as potatoey as ever. Why not season the potatoes themselves before mixing with the dressing? A hot potato is like a sponge–it will readily absorb flavors, especially those in liquid form. After boiling my cubed tubers in salted water until done, I drain them and then immediately toss them with a few tablespoons of something acidic–anything from white vinegar to pickle brine to vinaigrette. Let them cool, then taste one. The potato is slightly seasoned and tangy from the salted water and the acid bath. Step one to a better potato salad complete!
The second issue with many potato salads is the thick, gloppy texture–all mush, all the time. I like a little more variety in each bite, something crunchy, something to sink your teeth into. And what better than veggies to fill this textural void! Celery is the obvious choice, but OH are there more. Red peppers are a big favorite, as are green onions, and cucumbers provide a nice cool counterpart (especially in a dilled potato salad, like this one from Smitten Kitchen…mmm). Plus, these crunchy nuggets also bring a lot of color and visual appeal with ‘em.
Now let’s talk dressing. Mayo, mustard, I hear your entirely valid call and recognize that you bring a great deal to the plate. But let’s not forget about vinaigrette, sour cream, yogurt, and salad dressing–or even a softly poached egg–as contributes to the salad as well. Before you dump in a cup of the white stuff, think about what type of salad you want, what flavors you’re seeking, and think about more creative options. Or mix something into the mayo to up the flavor and give it more interest.
In the hard boiled egg and pickle debate–to include or not to include–I say yes. But not always, not always both, and sometimes neither. Try new things, try other things, try more things.
Like this little trick: including a small amount of vinegar in the potatoes’ cooking water. Something chemical happens, I guess, and it makes the potatoes keep their shape and not break down, although they don’t get quite as tender as they would cooked without vinegar. For a creamier salad, don’t use it, because you want some of the ‘taters to mash up into the dressing. But if you want them to retain their structural integrity, then go for it.
The recipe after the jump is one of, say, 100+ potato salads I’ve made in the last few years. I’ll post a few more recipes this week, both my own and borrowed, for those interested in stepping outside the deli container.
Garlic-Mustard Potato Salad
I really like all the circle-segment shapes created by the veggies here–whole circles by the carrots, half-circles in the potatoes, and quarter-rounds in the zucchinis. Any shape is fine, but larger pieces like these work better in a less saucy salad, while dices are better in a creamier version. If you’re not as neurotic, or don’t enjoy the therapeutic quality of precisely chopping numerous veggies, by all means, do whatever feels right to you.
1 lb waxy or new potatoes, scrubbed, halved lengthwise, and sliced
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic, minced and ground to a paste with a pinch of kosher salt
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
2-3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 a large summer squash or zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1 cup carrots, scrubbed (or peeled, if you desire) and thinly sliced into rounds
2 Tbsp low-fat mayo, optional
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Fresh ground pepper
1. Place cubed potatoes in saucepan and cover with cold water, then add salt & vinegar. Bring to a boil and cook until a fork pierces them easily–10-15 minutes. While potatoes cook, whisk together the garlic, mustard, rice vinegar, and olive oil. Drain the cooked potatoes, then toss them with 1/2 the mustard vinaigrette; allow to cool.
2. While potatoes cool, toss the zucchini/squash slices with a few pinches of salt and set aside in a colander to drain:
3. When potatoes have cooled, mix them with drained zucchini slices and carrots. Mix in enough reserved vinaigrette and, if desired, mayo until salad is held together and slightly creamy. Mix in parsley, salt & pepper to taste.