Solving the Potato Salad Problem / by Anne

potato.saladPotato salad does not turn my crank.  Too many times it comes to the plate a bland, light-colored afterthought, even after many loving attempts to bring it to life.   I’ve had good potato salad, but not as often as sadder versions, so oftentimes I opt for other salads to avoid disappointment.   How can this beloved vegetable turn into such a flavor vortex in a salad?  Is it just me who feels this way, or do you see this potato salad problem, too?  Whatever that problem is, keep it in mind when I tell you that we were invited to a great barbeque on the 4th of July.  I was excited to go.  However, when my friend emailed me about other people’s contributions—including barbequed ribs and cole slaw—it became clear to me that a potato salad was in order.  No gettin’ around it, I was destined to bring The Flavor Vortex to the party.  Maybe you are thinking, “Really? No, Anne, you can always fight destiny.  You could have brought baked beans.”  But it was hot.  And we Americans love our potatoes.  What else could I do?   

My best Saturday solution to the potato salad conundrum was to pack it with powerful flavors and balance the potatoes evenly with other ingredients.  Cherry tomatoes, green beans, and new potatoes made a pretty, crunchy, and juicy triad, and for flavor I called in the help of many capers, fresh herbs, and orange juice, among other boosters. 

The combination was tangy and tasty.  It tasted more alive and fresh than a standard potato salad.  I even enjoyed it enough to have seconds.  I’ll be honest, though:  I loved other salads more that day.  I didn’t want to stop eating my friend Jen’s awesome coleslaw with chipotle peppers and her mom’s green salad with mangos, mint, basil, avocados and honey.  Those were the salads I was thinking about on the way home.  Even so, I felt good about the “potato” (and other things) salad.  It has crank-turning potential.  However, is it really a potato salad if it only plays a role in an ensemble cast?  If you happen to know a way out of the Flavor Vortex, please tell me about it.  I really do want to be a better person and learn how to make—and enjoy—a mean potato salad, if there truly is such a thing.  It’s not over yet, potato.

Potato Salad with Green Beans and Cherry Tomatoes

Modified from Bon Appetit, June 2001

  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 t minced fresh thyme and/or fresh oregano (tarragon or chives would also work nicely).
  • 6 tablespoons drained capers
  • ¼ tsp (or more) salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 pounds new potatoes, quartered
  • 1 1/4 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into one-inch pieces
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 1-pint basket cherry or teardrop tomatoes, halved.  Choose a variety of colors, if available.
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Directions

  1. Stir together two T each of the vinegar and orange juice in a small bowl. 
  2. In a separate bowl, make dressing: stir together the remaining orange juice and vinegar, along with the oregano, capers, salt, and pepper.  Let these flavors meld while preparing other ingredients.  (Later, when the salad is ready for dressing, you can whisk in the olive oil for pouring over the salad).
  3. Boil potatoes in well-salted water for about 8 minutes, or until tender, and transfer to a bowl immediately.  Pour the first orange juice-vinegar combination over potatoes and coat well.  Cool potatoes, stirring occasionally to re-coat with the liquid.
  4. Boil green beans in well-salted water for about 4 minutes, or until bright green and still crisp.  Drain and add the green beans to the potatoes, along with the onion. 
  5. Whisk olive oil into the rest of the dressing, and pour dressing over salad, and mix gently but thoroughly (try using clean, bare hands for maximum gentleness and coating potential).  Add tomatoes and Italian parsley, and mix gently a final time.  Adjust seasonings, if necessary.  This dish is best enjoyed within a couple hours of making it.

 Makes 6 side-dish servings or about 10 polite potluck servings