Potato salad recipes are two-a-penny. I know that I've two that I roll out regularly, two more that are slightly more unusual but in no way unfamiliar to my family, and another handful that I make every now and again. Tomes could be dedicated to potato salad alone and that makes me reluctant to write about boiled tubers. However, when I was telling LPM how I came by this potato salad recipe, I realised that it was probably worth writing down.
I was taught to make this when I was 19, by the grandmother of the first man with whom I fell in love, on a moshav somewhere in central Israel. Helen was born in what is now the Czech Republic, and lived through the Shoah, before making her way to Canada via Israel. This is a recipe that she brought with her from the 'old country', and is, therefore, far removed from the Mediterranean olive-oil-based food to which I am accustomed. She told me that it is mostly called Romanian potato salad, or salade de boeuf. We call it Israeli potato salad, which it most definitely isn't, but that's where I learned to make it so the name has stuck.
This is not glamourous food. This is simple food, full of strong flavours, that can be made from store cupboard ingredients. But sometimes, that's what you need. In fact, I normally make this when I'm cooking for a crowd. Of course, I now make it slightly differently from the version I was first taught, and I don't expect you to adhere to this recipe without deviation. You go with what works for you.
Ingrediments to serve, ehm, 20 as part of a buffet?
- 2 kg (4lbs) salad potatoes — I particularly like the variety Charlotte, but anything small and waxy will do
- EITHER 200g (6oz) frozen peas, blanched
- AND 200g (6oz) carrots, cooked
- OR, if you're in a hurry, 400g (14oz) tinned peas and carrots (This was the original recipe I was taught; it has a certain kitsch appeal, okay?)
- 6 spears pickled cucumber — I use sweet-pickled ones, but I think that dill pickles would be fine, too
- 2 tbsp mayonnaise — I say two tablespoons, but you might use less, you might need more, this is very much to taste
- Mustard — how much you use will depend on the variety; if you use a strong English mustard, a rounded teaspoon is normally enough; a milder French mustard will demand perhaps two teaspoons
- Salt and pepper
Scrub but don't peel your potatoes and ensure that they are all roughly the same size. I use baby potatoes to reduce preparation time, so I sometimes have to cut a few in half, but that's about it. Boil in salted water until tender. This will probably take around twenty minutes.
Meanwhile, either blanche your peas and cook your carrots, or drain the tinned vegetables. Then chop the carrots into chunks and cut up the pickled cucumbers, too. I was taught to make this with everything — potatoes, carrots, cucumbers — in uniform-sized chunks of about half a centimetre. Yes, that's right, about a quarter of an inch. Expediency has taught me to prefer slightly larger components.
Dollop a tablespoon of mayonnaise and the mustard into the bottom of the largest mixing bowl you own. (Be warned: it's possible that you might need to mix this in two or three batches because your bowl will be of insufficient capacity.) When the potatoes have cooked, drain them thoroughly and tip, whilst still warm, into the bowl with the mayonnaise. Toss over the vegetables and begin to mix. If it looks as if it needs more mayonnaise, add a little; however, mayonnaise is one of those ingredients that suddenly accumulates and then overwhelms. Be a little patient.
When everything looks evenly coated and distributed, taste it. Does it need salt and pepper? It might need a little more mustard, or even some more pickled cucumber. Make your final adjustments, give it another mix, and that's it. The ingredients will make it glow a slightly disconcerting radioactive green-yellow, but ignore that. It tastes delicious.
When it comes to traditional recipes, everyone always has their own way of doing things. I've had this with chopped hard boiled egg added, although I'm not so keen. AspieDad tells me his wife makes hers without the carrot, but with dill, onion, and egg. If you want to include some meat, chopped sausage is quite popular. As I said, it's store cupboard food. Whatever you have that you think will work, throw in.