It’s summer and time to get out that trusty potato salad recipe. Or is it? With all the interesting potato salads around Los Angeles, it might be time to try something new, something exotic--anything but that tired, tame old bowl of potatoes and mayo that you can put together blindfolded.
Consider, for example, a potato salad from Yucatan, spicy with jalapenos and mashed--not those same old cubes. You can try this one at Chichen Itza, a food stall in the Mercado La Paloma in downtown Los Angeles.
In Yucatan, this salad is sometimes augmented with shredded cooked chicken and served on a bed of lettuce as a main dish, says Gilberto Cetina of Chichen Itza. Cetina is from Tizimini, a small town 120 miles east of Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan. He says Yucatecans also make a sandwich with the salad, using white bread, lettuce and tomatoes.
Pink is not what you expect in potato salad, but pink is what you get in Andre Guerrero’s Russian potato salad. If the mixture stands overnight in the refrigerator, which Guerrero recommends for the best flavor, it becomes even pinker. The color comes from beets. “It looks very festive. It is a bright red, sort of a pinkish red. If you put parsley around it, the colors really vibrate,” says Guerrero, who is executive chef of Linq restaurant.
The recipe comes from the Philippines, where Guerrero was born. “Sometimes my mother would put apples in it,” he says, warning that the apples will turn brown if the salad stands overnight so they should go in at the last minute. Adding cooked chicken is another option.
In the Philippines, the salad is “usually a side dish at party buffets, just the way you would serve regular potato salad,” Guerrero says. Working from memory to recapture the flavor, he was pleased with the result. “It tastes just the way my mother’s did.”
Potato salad is immensely popular in Asia. Almost every Korean restaurant here includes potato salad in the panchan , the side dishes that come with Korean meals. Dong Il Jang cuts the potato into long fine strips and combines it with carrot. The Toad House adds Asian pear. To my taste, a standout was a mashed potato salad I tasted at Dae Sung Oak. Topped with finely cut red and green bell pepper and egg, it was creamy and slightly sweet.
The Japanese have their own versions. Toshi Tamba, chef of Gyu-kaku, a Korean barbecue restaurant from Japan that opened in July in West Los Angeles, makes an elaborate salad that contains carrots, Japanese cucumber, Black Forest ham and Fuji apples. He calls it ume’s Japanese potato salad in honor of his mother ( ume means mother). As you might guess, it’s her recipe.
Tamba wants to keep the salad authentic, so he insists on Kewpie brand mayonnaise from Tokyo. Yes, there’s a kewpie doll on the label, or rather the plastic bag in which the squeeze bottle is packed.
You don’t usually add a sauce to potato salad, but Tamba says his won’t taste right unless you spoon on tonkatsu sauce, specifically Bull-Dog brand. Apples, prunes, carrots, tomatoes, onions, garlic and ginger are involved in this fruity, spicy mixture. Like Kewpie, it comes from Tokyo. Both are stocked by most Japanese markets here. We picked them up at Enbun in Little Tokyo.
Helene An of Crustacean in Beverly Hills knows how to tailor Vietnamese dishes to American tastes. Working in reverse, she puts a Vietnamese spin on potato salad. If you’ve eaten the noodle soup pho , you’re familiar with the plateful of fresh herbs and chiles that comes on the side. An mixes similar herbs into her salad, which she makes with Yukon gold potatoes, leeks, carrots and roasted peanuts. Peanut sauce, spicy with serrano chile, takes the place of mayonnaise. The salad is not on Crustacean’s regular menu but appears from time to time as a summer special.
If the potato were removed from India, there would be a great gap in the cuisine, it’s that popular. Mostly, potatoes appear in curries, cooked with peas or cauliflower, fried in little cakes or stuffed into samosas. Potato salad as we know it has not become Indianized, at least not on the subcontinent.
However, Robin’s, a restaurant in Cambria, makes a terrific potato salad that is yellow with curry spices and includes cashews and cilantro. Inspired by Robin’s, we put together our own version, one with two personalities. At room temperature, it’s a potato salad, nice with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers on the side. For a vegetarian main dish, serve it hot, with a side dish of plain yogurt or raita to balance the rich flavor.