Abraar and I recently invited my family to visit us in our ‘new’ home (about ten months after moving in because sometimes that’s just how long it takes to coordinate things). We needed a simple but delicious menu, designed not only to delight the tastebuds but also to prove to my mother that I am a grown up who can cook and host. We deemed the following an appropriate summer lunch spread: Southern fried chicken, fresh pesto pasta, a green salad, and a fruit platter and chocolate cheesecake for dessert.
While discussing this plan with my sister Barakah, she suggested adding a potato salad to our menu. I have always been rather meh about potato salad – I mean, it should be delicious, by virtue of the fact that it is a dish based on freakin’ POTATO, but people never seem to get it quite right. The few times I’ve come across it in people’s picnic spreads (when it hasn’t been spiked with bacon bits) it has been a bland afterthought and a heinous waste of potato. So, you can imagine my perplexity when Barakah made her request. Nonetheless, I knew the internets would have a suitable recipe somewhere and so I went a-huntin’.
I employed my usual search engine tactics and googled “best potato salad recipe”, which predictably unearthed a bunch of results claiming that the secret to transcendent potato salad was bacon or one of its derivatives. This was not an option for me so I continued searching until I came across this recipe from A Spicy Perspective with (gasp) no bacon!
One annoying thing about this recipe was trying to work out what pickle equivalent we could use from an Australian supermarket. I am pleased to say that Barakah’s sleuthing turned up these Sweet Mustard Pickles by Three Threes (we found these at Coles but the Three Threes website says they can be found at Woolworths too):
Another annoying thing was figuring out which potato to use. Learning to cook this year has introduced me to the wonderful varied world of multitasking potatoes, of which a grand total of three are widely available in Australian supermarkets. Why this is, I don’t know. Is there some mystical supermarket in Australia where I can find them? Along with different types of mushrooms? And graham crackers? Argh. Anyway, I decided to use the Creme Gold potatoes I found in Coles because they’re good for boiling and mashing and the recipe called for a starchy potato that will NOT hold its shape too well. What it called for was a potato that would get a bit mushy around the edges after boiling and tossing, to give the whole thing a creamy texture. This is different to other potato salad recipes I’ve come across, which tend to recommend baby potatoes that typically hold their shape quite well.
When I made this recipe I didn’t realise that the potato pieces would need to be chopped small, so I ended up using potato chunks. Even so, I tasted it after mixing all the ingredients together and it was so delicious that later that night I dreamed I had devoured the entire bowlful.
The following day, the potato salad was very well received by my family, and even by Abraar (who was initially horrified when I mentioned “potato” and “salad” in the same breath). So successful in fact that my sister Istabraq requested I make it again for a big family dinner a few days ago. And I decided this time to chronicle the process, which can be found below:
1. Force yourself out of bed on a Sunday morning at 10 a.m. Re-evaluate your priorities in life as you stare blearily into a sink being besmirched by the soil you painstakingly wash off each potato.
2. Chop each potato into quarters and place in a pot of cold water, which you should place on a stove on high heat.
3. Once water comes to the boil, add a generous amount of salt and boil for 12 minutes. After this time, a fork prodded into one of the potatoes should sink easily into it. Drain the potatoes and try not to scald yourself in the process.
4. Peel the potatoes, and chop into roughly 1cm cubes. Continue for what is likely to feel like two or three weeks. Lament at your foolish undertaking because now your life and everything you love is potato. The original recipe says you can leave on some peel to give the salad a rustic quality but I prefer mine with no skin, mainly because this avoids a guest saying ‘ew why is there still peel on this’.
5. Boil eggs. For a legit hard boil, I usually boil them for about 10 minutes. Assuming you don’t crack any in the process, drain the eggs and then place them (still unpeeled) in some room temperature water to help them cool. I usually boil my eggs just after the potatoes have come off the stove, so that they can cool while I peel and chop potatoes.
6. Mix the ingredients for the dressing! Now for the mayonnaise, make sure you use some good full fat, artery clogging mayo – none of this 99% fat free nonsense. That has its place in work sandwiches and light weekday lunch salads, but it has no business dressing a potato salad. I use S&W mayonnaise, which can be found at Coles, and I think it does a wonderful job in making this a creamy and indulgent dish. The mustard used is just your garden variety yellow Heinz American mustard. Celery seeds – I couldn’t find these in my local supermarkets, but I did find them at an Asian grocery store. The other ingredients: apple cider vinegar, paprika, salt, pepper, and the aforementioned sweet mustard pickle.
7. Gently mix dressing into the potatoes. A bit of disintegrating potato is a good thing here.
8. Slice celery stalks, finely dice sweet red onions (the red onion shallots you find in the supermarket), peel and dice the eggs and chop fresh dill. Stir all of this into the dressing and potato mix.
9. Taste test and add further salt and pepper if required.
10. Refrigerate for at least four hours, but ideally overnight.
11. Serve, and bask in the glory of people’s praise.
Trust me when I say this is a delicious recipe. Even our curry and spice-loving guests enjoyed this, which is not something I’d be able to say of most potato salads I have come across. So do yourself a favour, and find a reason to make this potato salad this weekend.