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JeanMarie Brownson: Potato salads prove worth every minute of the cook’s time

JeanMarie Brownson, Tribune Content Agency on

Some of our favorite summer indulgences include potatoes. They can be grilled in foil packets with sweet onions, buttered and boiled to accompany steamed seafood, or served as warm wedges topped with fresh basil pesto. Potatoes prove versatile and summery.

Potato salads prove worth every minute of the cook’s time. Everyone, and I mean everyone, prefers homemade creamy potato salad over the mushy versions sold at the supermarket deli.

We are fortunate to have my late mother-in-law’s recipe for her summer potato salad. She strongly insisted that the dressing starts with Hellman’s Real mayonnaise — the original, not the low-fat or olive oil versions. (When we cook west of the Rockies, we seek out Best Foods mayonnaise.) Taste was the prime motivator for her brand loyalty. We embrace the fact that the product uses pasteurized eggs, making it safer for picnics than homemade mayonnaise made with raw eggs.

I rarely make her recipe in small batches. It lasts a few days in the refrigerator and is absolutely perfect for a family reunion, graduation party, etc. A 30-ounce jar of mayonnaise perfectly coats 5 pounds of potatoes. Golden potatoes are my preference; their thin skin means I can skip peeling, and their creamy flesh gives the salad a great finished texture.

The best advice a cook can offer for successful potato salads is to always dress the potatoes while they are still warm. Warm potatoes absorb flavors beautifully.

Sweet potatoes also make an appearance on our summer tables. Diced and roasted with olive oil, they make a great salad to serve warm or at room temperature. Briny olives and capers, along with a little green chile, make this dish the perfect accompaniment to rich burgers and steaks or grilled halibut fillets.

Creamy Summer Potato Salad for a Crowd

Makes about 16 servings

Note: Working in two bowls makes it easier to coat the potatoes evenly with the dressing without breaking them up too much. This recipe is easily cut in half.

5 pounds (about 16) medium-sized golden potatoes, scrubbed clean

Table salt

1 medium yellow or 1/2 of a large Spanish onion (about 7 ounces), finely chopped (1 1/2 cups)

1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces (1 1/2 cups)

3 celery ribs, trimmed, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (1 1/2 cups)

1 jar (30 ounces) real mayonnaise

1 teaspoon garlic powder

4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled

Sweet or smoked paprika

Thinly sliced fresh chives or green onion tops

1. Put potatoes into a large pot; add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Add 1 tablespoon salt to the water. Heat over high heat until water boils. Reduce heat, partly cover the pot and simmer until potatoes are tender when a knife is inserted, about 25 minutes. Drain well and let cool in the pot until warm enough to touch.

2. While the potatoes cook, divide the chopped onion, bell pepper and celery in half and place each half in two large bowls. Add 1/2 of the mayonnaise and garlic powder to each bowl. Add 1 teaspoon salt to each bowl. Stir well.

3. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them lengthwise in half. Cut each half into 2/3-inch thick slices. Add half of the still-warm potatoes to each bowl of mayonnaise mixture. Use a rubber or silicone spatula to stir gently until potatoes are evenly coated with the mayonnaise mixture.

4. Spoon the bowls of potato salad into a very large serving bowl. Cover tightly. Refrigerate until cold or up to two days.

5. To serve, slice hard-cooked eggs and arrange over the top of the potato salad. Sprinkle with paprika and chives. Serve cold.

Warm Sweet Potato Salad with Green Chiles and Olives

Makes 4 to 6 servings


2 large or 3 medium-sized (1 1/2 pounds total) sweet potatoes, trimmed, peeled

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 green Anaheim chiles or 1 large poblano or sweet yellow bell pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons red wine and honey vinaigrette, see recipe

1/2 cup halved pitted green or Kalamata olives or a combination

1 tablespoon drained capers

2 or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or chives or a combination

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Slice potatoes into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Cut rounds into 1/2-inch pieces. Put sweet potato pieces, oil, salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Stir well to coat potatoes with oil. Put chiles on one side of the pan.

2. Roast, stirring potatoes and rotating chiles every 10 minutes, until potatoes are fork-tender and chile skin has browned and blistered, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove chiles to a cutting board. When chiles are cool enough to handle, peel off skin, cut in half, remove seeds and slice flesh into 1/2-inch wide strips about 1 1/2 inches long.

3. Transfer potatoes to a serving bowl. Stir in vinaigrette to taste. Stir in chile strips, olives and capers. Garnish with parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Red Wine and Honey Vinaigrette

Makes about 1/2 cup

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Whisk together vinegar, mayonnaise, mustard, honey, salt and pepper in a small bowl until smooth. Gradually whisk in oil. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Refrigerate covered up to one week. Use at room temperature.

(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)

©2024 JeanMarie Brownson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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