Why is it entirely acceptable to serve pasta or beans a main course, but potatoes are forever considered a side dish? Starchy, filling, cheap, incredibly versatile and so damn good, potatoes deserve a better reputation than mere supporting player. And there are few better arguments for potatoes than potato salad.
My Irish ancestry means I come by my love of potatoes as naturally as I do my melancholy, pugilistic temperament. Growing up, we had potatoes six nights a week, almost exclusively in the mashed format. Today, however, I will gladly accept spuds in any form imaginable. One of my favorite interpretations is a Mediterranean spin, with potatoes bathed in olive oil and redolent of lemons and oregano.
This dish is often made with roasted potatoes, but in her beautiful "Ripe Figs: Recipes and Stories from Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus," Yasmin Khan ("Zaitoun") does a punchy salad instead. And while other people get very passionate and very particular about their potato salads, deeming theirs alone the platonic ideal, I plan on spending the rest of my life eating through every possible potato salad variation created. This one's a keeper.
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"It's like really easy to make," Khan said during a recent phone call. "It's new potatoes, and then it just you just blitz it with these beautiful Mediterranean flavors like lemon zest, fresh herbs, dried herbs, capers and olives. It feels both virtuous and really flavorsome. You can mix it up as well, with the herbs that you have around. It is very flexible." It's also vegan, if that's a consideration, and takes less than a half hour to make from start to finish.
Khan's whole book is full of easy, intensely flavorful recipes, but it's also a remarkable work of storytelling, history and reportage. "I'm often curious — my background is as a human rights activist — as how we can we can bridge divisions between communities, countries, each other," says Khan. "And what excites me about food is that it's not merely the gateway to joy and deliciousness on a plate. But when we really explore food, the exploration of a country or a region's cuisine doesn't just tell you about a set of raw ingredients. It tells you about history, it tells you about trade relations, geography, climate, gender relations. As someone who wants to celebrate the joys of good cooking, but also write books that help us understand ourselves and the world around us, food to me seems the perfect means." This is a book to sit down with and savor reading, working up an appetite the whole time.
I have eaten Khan's potato salad for lunch, and I would eat this for dinner with a big glass of pinot grigio and absolutely zero qualms. But if you are having people over or feel strongly that spuds must have a costar, you could serve this with a good rotisserie chicken, sliced tomatoes and a big green salad.
Cypriot Potato Salad
- 2 pounds of small new potatoes
- 1/4 of a red onion, sliced
- 1/3 - 1/2 cup of pitted and chopped mixed olives
- 2 - 3 tablespoons of capers, drained
- Handful of mint, chopped
- Handful of cilantro, chopped (You can swap in your favorite fresh herbs here.)
- 1 teaspoon of oregano
- 3 - 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of half a lemon
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Optional: Red pepper flakes, zest of your lemon
- Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil.
- Cut the potatoes into large chunks. Don't bother peeling them.
- Boil the potatoes about 15 minutes, then drain and place in a big bowl.
- Add your other ingredients and stir well.
From here, you can serve warm, or refrigerate and let the flavors intensify overnight.
Note: I am obsessed with Agrumato's insanely good extra virgin olive oil pressed with lemons — you can substitute it here for an even bigger lemon kick.
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