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Potato Salad: Hold the Mayo

Supermarkets sell potato salad by the bucket, but these salads often have too much fat, sugar and salt. When we make potato salad in our own kitchen, we can control the taste and nutritional content.

The potato salad most familiar to us is heavily coated with mayonnaise. Yet there is another kind of potato salad, popular in Mediterranean countries, that many people will be glad to discover. These potato salads are dressed with vinaigrette. In spite of being much lighter, they are just as delicious as our creamy ones. A case in point is the colorful Lebanese potato salad with tomatoes, mint and green onions, or the French potato salad with watercress with a touch of white wine.

Vinaigrette is lighter-textured and lower in fat and cholesterol than mayonnaise. Besides, it’s more fluid; therefore, a smaller amount of it is needed to moisten the potatoes. By choosing buttery-tasting Yukon Gold or other flavorful, good-quality potatoes, you can be frugal with the amount of dressing you add so that the salad is light.

Basic potato salad is usually accented with onion. You can use yellow onions, but red, sweet or green onions make a finer salad. Parsley adds a fresh accent, and other herbs such as chives, mint, cilantro, tarragon and basil produce delectable variations.

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Colorful cooked vegetables such as beets, carrots or peas are a welcome addition; add all three and you have traditional Russian potato salad. Zesty condiments such as pickled cucumbers, capers, black olives or chopped anchovies ensure that the salad won’t be bland.

A French trick for adding flavor to potato salads is to marinate the potatoes briefly while they are still warm. Mix a little white wine and oil for the marinade or simply sprinkle the potatoes with part of the vinaigrette dressing.

For easy preparation and good flavor, cook the potatoes in their skins and peel them after cooking. To speed up the cooking, cut large potatoes in half. Be sure the potatoes are cooked just right by checking them with a knife. Undercooked potatoes do not taste good; but if the potatoes are overcooked, they fall apart when cut and tossed with the dressing.

You can make the vinaigrette dressing according to the classic proportions of three tablespoons oil for every tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. For a lower-fat result, use only two tablespoons of oil and, if the dressing tastes too sharp, add a teaspoon or two of water. Vary the flavors by using walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil and tarragon vinegar or other herb vinegars.

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Many of us tend to serve potato salad cold. However, very cold dressing usually congeals and makes the salad appear dry. If you taste the salad straight from the refrigerator, you might think it needs moistening and you’ll be tempted to add more dressing. The salad tastes best if you let it stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.

Potato salad is perfect for home cooking. It’s easy to make and inexpensive. Most important, your own potato salad can be more tasty and healthful than anything you find at the store.

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Fresh mint and green onions give this refreshing salad a lively flavor, and it needs only a small amount of zesty lemon juice and olive oil dressing.

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LEBANESE POTATO SALAD WITH TOMATOES AND MINT

2 pounds Yukon Gold or red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

Salt

2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice

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1 tablespoon water

Freshly ground pepper

Cayenne pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

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1/3 cup chopped green onions

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup parsley

3 to 4 plum tomatoes, cut into small dice

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Place potatoes in large saucepan. Cover with water by about 1/2 inch and add salt. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until knife pierces center of largest potato easily and potato falls from knife when lifted, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk lemon juice with water and salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste in large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and whisk again.

Drain potatoes. Rinse briefly and leave just until cool enough to handle. Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch dice. Add to bowl. Fold gently but thoroughly with dressing. Let cool. Fold in green onions, mint and parsley. Adjust seasonings to taste. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, if desired. Gently fold in tomatoes. Serve at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

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A generous amount of fresh watercress lends a tasty accent to this salad. Buy very fresh watercress and use within a day or two, so the color remains bright - green. For a variation popular in France’s Perigord region, make the vinaigrette with walnut oil and substitute two tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon for the watercress.


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