Side Dish (R)evolution: Four Evolved Potato Salads for the Fourth
There is no North Carolina statute requiring that potato salad be glued with mayonnaise or limiting additions to celery, hard-boiled eggs and pickles.
In fact the National Institutes of Health confirms that this very combination, insufficiently refrigerated, breeds bacteria that have sickened picnickers.
Revolt! Start over, from spud one. Seek ingredients reflecting America's ethnic heritage and nutritional commitment. Then, prepare a day in advance so flavors mingle, and salad has time to chill thoroughly.
Safety rule: After refrigerating, stir potato, chicken or egg salad containing mayonnaise several times to facilitate chilling.
Success rests on the potato, which should be firm, new and respected, given the price of boutique varieties. Mealy old baking potatoes make substandard salad. Thin-skinned waxy whites or reds work well.
Choose potatoes of similar size; scrub them, cook whole and unpeeled for that wonderful earthy flavor. Cover potatoes with cold water, bring to a simmer and cook until still quite firm when pierced with knife tip. Remove pot from burner and let sit until water cools. Potatoes will finish cooking without turning mushy. Remove from water and slip skins off (or not). Let potatoes cool and dry completely before cutting into irregular chunks (diced potatoes look so mechanical).
The French also had a revolution: To about 3 pounds of cooked potatoes add cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (use scissors), with some of the oil, two 6 oz. jars of marinated artichokes with some of the marinade, 2 tablespoons capers, cup chopped red onion, a dash of thyme, sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Mix gently with a wooden spoon to avoid breaking the potatoes, adding extra virgin olive oil and a few sprinkles of white balsamic vinegar as needed. The boldly inclined might crumble bleu or goat cheese over the salad. Chill overnight, but serve near room temperature.
Without Italian-born Christopher Columbus, there would be no America, therefore no Independence Day. Spray a pint of cherry tomatoes and a yellow bell pepper (cut into squares) with olive oil and broil until soft and slightly blackened. Cut six or more thin slices of Genoa salami into matchsticks. Halve a handful of seeded kalamata or other spicy black olives. Press two cloves of garlic over about 3 pounds cooked cut-up potatoes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Fold in the tomatoes, peppers, salami, olives and some fresh basil leaves along with just enough olive oil to make everything glisten.
The Latino vote: Chop fine the pale innermost ribs of celery, with leaves. Grill or broil two large green peppers until blackened; slip off skins and chop. Fold celery, pepper and a handful of cilantro leaves into potatoes. Puree equal parts medium-hot chunky salsa and light mayonnaise in food processor or blender. Stir into potato salad and chill. Just before serving, chop a ripe avocado and fold into salad.
Beta Sweet Potato Salad: This jewel-colored salad oozes beta carotene. Peel and dice three large North Carolina sweet potatoes. Saute sweet potato cubes until barely tender in large non-stick skillet filmed with oil adding a tablespoon of chopped ginger during the last few minutes. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle with teaspoon ground cumin. Wipe out skillet. Rinse and drain on paper towels a can of beets (preferably whole or quartered). Cut beets into cubes, saut briefly in hot oil in same skillet. Mix sweet potatoes and beets gently with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of sugar. Serve at room temperature.
If you must do the classic Southern version, at least add a bit of curry powder or Dijon mustard to reduced-fat mayo -- and make the pickles tiny gherkins. Any extra attention will be appreciated by vegetarian guests for whom potato salad may be the main course.
Temperature is crucial. The best picnic coolers are still the inexpensive polystyrene ones with tight-fitting lids. Place an ice pack on bottom of cooler; divide chilled potato salad among several shallow rectangular containers that fit snugly on top of ice pack. If there's room, place another ice pack over the containers. Secure top with bungee cords. Open one container at a time and use contents before removing another from the cooler.
Now, let the fireworks begin!
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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