Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Spring is Making an Appearance

I live far enough north that I know winter is not over yet. Still, these last few days, with the temps making their way into the 50s is like a little slice of heaven after the winter that has been unlike anything I have experienced in my 64 (almost) years. While yesterday may have just squeaked to about 50 degrees, it is a hefty difference from 24 below. Walking outside in just a light sweatshirt was such a wonderful feeling. With this spring feeling in the air, I decided to dust off the grill and make hamburgers. I also decided that I would make potato salad, since I am also tired of constant oven fries or mashed potatoes.
Mustard Potato Salad

I have been making my own potato salad - well it seems like forever. I changed my way of making it over the years, until I have pretty much settled on a method of my own. My husband is very pleased with my potato salad, so I relax, knowing what I can do in that regard. We both prefer the mustard style, so that has become a staple. I add a few things that might be different, such as a small amount of capers and olives. My husband will not eat capers or olives. However, if they are very finely minced in a dish, they add wonderful piquancy that would not ordinarily be there. Their flavors are indistinguishable in the finished potato salad, but add something wonderful to the bland potatoes. I also add one little carrot, very finely grated, just to get some little bit of carrot into his diet. He has been unhappy about this choice of mine, as he dislikes carrots. However, after a doctor consult one time, where he was urged to eat more of them, he has let up on that complaint. He may not like it, but...

Steps 1 & 2 basic ingredients for vinaigrette, with garlic
Another thing I have done over the years is to make a basic vinaigrette, which is a 3 to 1 ratio of oil to vinegar and/or lemon juice. Salt and pepper this mixture and there you have it - it doesn't get easier. Remember when making a vinaigrette, that in order to emulsify the mixture, the oil should be added slowly to the acid and whisked thoroughly before more is added (Steps 1 & 2). This vinaigrette is flavorful in spite of its simplicity, and I mix it into the hot, cooked potatoes. The potatoes absorb this vinaigrette while cooling. The basic vinaigrette would be enough, I am sure, but I am always trying things out to make something just that little bit better. And so, over time, I incorporated the mustard, a clove of garlic, the grated carrot and the capers and olives. You may be wondering about the mayo. For myself, I believe I would be happy with the potato salad as it stands. Not so with my husband, so I do add in mayonnaise, though far less than would be needed if I did not use the vinaigrette. 

If gluten-intolerance is an issue, this recipe can easily be made using vinegar and mayo that fit into your particular diet criteria. The eggs are an add-on, and if eggs cannot be part of your diet, Vegenase can be used for the Mayo part of the recipe. Or, there are many possible egg-free, gluten-free, or vegan recipes for mayonnaise out there. Some use flax as the basis, which sounds interesting to me. Flax becomes gooey and egg-like when soaked. It can be used as an egg substitute in some recipes. Another recipe I saw used sesame tahini as the base. 

All in all, though I did overcook the burgers while attending to something in the house, their flavors were heavenly, and the potato salad was just what I was craving.

Mustard Potato Salad

Makes about 8 or more servings

4 pounds russet potatoes (7 - 9 medium), peeled, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon salt
Steps 3 & 4 Capers and Olives, minced

1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced or through a garlic press

1 carrot, finely grated
2 - 3 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 teaspoon capers, finely minced
6 green olives, finely minced

1 cup mayonnaise, optional
Steps 5 & 6 Mixing in the additions
1 - 2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced, optional
Paprika for sprinkling

Place the cubed potatoes in a pan, just covered with water. Bring them to a boil, add in the tablespoon of salt and lower heat slightly. Cook the potatoes until just tender, about 5 minutes, depending on their size.

While the potatoes are cooking, make the vinaigrette (Steps 1 & 2). Read through these steps carefully before proceeding:

  1. In a large bowl, place the 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper, then ONE tablespoon of the vinegar. Add in ONE tablespoon of the oil and whisk to combine.
  2. Add in TWO more tablespoons of oil, slowly, whisking to emulsify. 
  3. Add in ONE more tablespoon of vinegar and the minced garlic and whisk to combine. 
  4. Steps 7 & 8 Adding hot potatoes to the vinaigrette
  5. Add in slowly, THREE more tablespoons of oil, whisking constantly to completely emulsify the mixture. This vinaigrette is perfect for any salad, at this point.

Now, mix into the vinaigrette the finely minced capers and olives (Steps 3 & 4), the carrot and the mustard (Steps 5 & 6). Whisk well to combine. Drain the potatoes thoroughly, then pour them into this compound vinaigrette and toss well to completely combine (Steps 7 & 8). Allow the potatoes to cool partially at room temperature, then cover and set them in the refrigerator to cool completely.

Before serving, mix in the mayonnaise, incorporating thoroughly. Pour the potato salad into a clean bowl, top with hard boiled egg slices if desired, and sprinkle on a little paprika for color.

Because this potato salad already had plenty of flavor without the mayonnaise, this could be used for a picnic without the fear of a mayo-based salad going bad. Another option would be to find a small, 8-ounce jar of mayonnaise, keeping it unopened until time to serve the salad at a picnic. If the unopened mayo is also chilled before using, it could keep for slightly longer. 

Any of the additional ingredients past the vinaigrette are completely optional. I do urge you to try the vinaigrette and see how wonderfully it enhances the flavor of the potato salad.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.