Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Haute Potatoes (Herbed Potato Salad)

One of my favorite parts of summer is the cookouts and barbecues, but options to do so in Harvard Square are more limited. I can still enjoy some of my favorite cookout foods, though, like potato salad. Rather than watch that mayonnaise sit all day in the hot sun, I favor less creamy versions, made with extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, mustard, and lots of green herbs. A pared-down variation of my grandmother's recipe, still featuring a hot shower in oil and vinegar, this offers something fresh and bright to cut through rich foods and is light and cool for hot summer days.

Fresh & Bright

Given their prevalence in modern European cuisine, I think it's fascinating to contemplate how corn, peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes were unknown to Europe prior to contact with the Americas. Following the provenance of potatoes, potato salad is perhaps more American than apple pie. While traveling in Peru, we were served potatoes with every meal and discovered they come in endless varieties of yellow, red, blue, and purple. Bags of "rainbow potatoes" should be readily available in most groceries. In addition to adding variety of color, different varieties of potatoes offer different tastes and textures, too. If you can only find one color of potato, the salad will still be good, but try a blend even if the shades aren't exactly kaleidoscopic.

Taste the rainbow
Also called a French potato salad, with its fresh herbs and Dijon dressing, this is a great preparation to please vegans and omnivores alike. The salad gets away with relatively few ingredients because they all bring big flavors to the table and because of the specific method. Simmering the potatoes in stock and seasoning them while hot helps infuse them with flavor. Go for an olive oil that's bright green, grassy in flavor, and buttery on your tongue - the kind that makes you want to lick the spoon. Vinegar and mustard add tang and the herbs keep it fresh and bright. According to On Food and Cooking, tarragon, parsley, and thyme are the sovereign herbs of French cuisine, but I swapped in peppermint for its cool, clear flavor. 

Using smaller potatoes (and smaller cuts) means the only cook time is a quick simmer and the only hands-on time is mostly chopping herbs and some light tossing, so you're ready for summer. This is a great side dish to throw together for last minute barbecues or getaways. For groups, I recommend individual takeout containers, which give everything a special finishing touch, but this is tasty and haute cuisine enough for fancy dinners, too.

Fancy is as fancy garnishes
Herbed potato salad

A keeps-all-day picnic version, this potato salad forgoes creamy concoctions. If you insist, forgo the oil and vinegar in the final dressing and substitute 3 tablespoons each of mayonnaise, sour cream, and whole-fat Greek yogurt.

3 pounds one-bite multi-colored potatoes
4 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

For the dressing:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 tablespoon fresh peppermint leaves, minced 

Slice the potatoes and place them in a heavy saucepan, covered with stock, over medium heat. Bring to a low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until just fork-tender, 18-20 minutes.

Drain the potatoes (you can reserve the stock for potato soup) and, while they're still hot, toss in the pan with vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper. Allow to cool.

Whisk together dressing ingredients (it'll be kind of thick and pasty, like crude pesto), then toss with the potatoes. Chill.

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