Saturday, May 06, 2006

Posh Potato Salad

Since I'm walking down a culinary version of Memory Lane this week, let's linger a little while on the subject of potatoes.

I often claim broccoli as my favorite vegetable, but I think that's because I tend to think of potatoes as being something more than simply a vegetable -- it also has the satisfying density of starchy grains, a pleasing mild sweetness, and the heartiness of a main dish.

Sort of an über-vegetable, you might say, ranking right up there with bread as the staff of life.

Growing up, I loved my potatoes way more than meat in my meat-and-potatoes family. I thrilled to see those special occasions when creamy mashed potatoes appeared at the dinner table so that I could build up a big mound on my plate, create a lake of butter at the top, cover it up, and then eat my way through a "volcano" of mashed spuds with a succulent butter lava flow.

The only reason I liked seeing roast beef on the Sunday menu was because it meant beef and potato hash come Monday night, and I loved those pan-fried potatoes.

And when the Chef Mother made twice-baked potatoes, with the potato pulp whipped with butter and cream cheese and sprinkled with Cheddar? Sheer bliss, I'm telling you. (It's a wonder my cholesterol level is as blessedly low as it is.)

But let's be absolutely clear on one thing: I was not a fan of potato salad.

Covered in a yellow-tinged mayonnaise dressing, loaded with celery and onions and sometimes hard-boiled eggs, potato salad disgusted me. I simply could not stand it.

It wasn't until I was out on my own that I realized that potato salad did not have to be like that. In fact, with a light olive oil vinaigrette and a sprinkling of scallions, it could be quite tasty. What a revelation!

Since that discovery, I've taken to experimenting with the simple base of steamed red potatoes and a vinaigrette. Like it spicy? Go Southwestern and add chili powder, kidney or pinto beans, chopped bell peppers, and maybe some corn. How about a garden fresh flavor with dill and borage added? Or why not an Indian version with sweet potatoes, curry spices, cilantro, and a splash of lime or dollop of chutney?

The possibilities are endless, based on what's in the fridge. And this week, I had lots to choose from. I ended up tossing local red potatoes with asparagus, some of my oven-dried tomatoes, a handful of local walnuts, crumbled blue cheese, a simple balsamic vinaigrette, and some fresh dill from the garden.

Simple but elegant, this potato salad looks and tastes gourmet but is just as satisfying (if not more so!) than any other. Serve it on a bed of mixed greens, and you have a whole meal.

I love potato salad now -- when it's done my way.

Posh Potato Salad

Do you really need a recipe for this? If you know how to prep and steam vegetables, and you know how to use a spoon, you're pretty much set. Vary this in any way you like, using the suggested themes above or your own inclination, and use different vegetables, seasonings, nuts, and/or cheeses.

6-8 red potatoes, scrubbed, cubed, steamed
1 c asparagus, trimmed and steamed (other green vegetables work, too)
1 T oven-dried or sun-dried tomatoes)
1/4 c chopped walnuts
1/4 c crumbled blue cheese
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
black pepper to taste
freshly snipped dill

Once the vegetables are cooked, all you have to do is toss everything together. Really. And if you're not quite sure how to wield a spoon, throw everything into a large plastic container with a tight, leakproof lid, and dance around with it, give it a really good shake or a few acrobatic tosses into the air, and get your exercise, too. Why are you expecting anything more in the way of instructions?

Serves 4


At 5/10/2006 2:24 PM, Blogger Tina said...

Much like you, I find traditional potato salad disgusting. I don't like mustard, or eggs, and my mom puts both in her potato salad. She's tried making it sans mustard and egg, and I'm still not a fan, I think the combo of mayo and potatoes, which I like individually, doesn't appeal to me. (I do, however, like German potato salad, which like yours, has a vinaigrette base.)

Your potato salad recipe sounds fabulous, and I plan to give it a try sometime soon!:-)

At 5/10/2006 3:02 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Y'know, I never really got into German potato salad either, but maybe now that I've gotten used to this method, I might. Who knows? This was good warm or cold, so enjoy it either way!


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