The dressing for this fresh, spring potato salad is inspired by zhoug, the fiery chile sauce from Yemen that goes well on basically anything. Here, serrano chiles add heat, but you can tame them by removing the seeds from as many chiles as you want. I prefer to leave three seedless and one with the seeds. Otherwise, there’s no spice at all to help brighten up the potatoes, cucumbers and snap peas. While cardamom may seem an odd addition to a potato salad, it’s an essential element in zhoug and offers a pleasing aroma to this salad as well.
Pour enough water to come halfway up the side of a large pot, then bring the water to a boil. Place a bowl filled with ice water next to it. Tear off half a handful of cilantro leaves from the bunch, wrap them loosely in a paper towel and refrigerate until ready to use. Add the remaining bunch of cilantro and the chiles to the boiling water and stir constantly for 60 seconds. Using a spider or slotted spoon, quickly lift the chiles and cilantro from the water and plunge into the ice water, stirring to evenly disperse the aromatics and chill them quickly; reserve the pot of water. Drain the aromatics in a colander while you prepare the rest of the dressing. Keep the water boiling in the pot.
Season the water with a big handful of salt, then add the potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tip of a paring knife easily slides in and out of the thickest pieces, 16 to 18 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or spider, lift the potatoes from the water and transfer to a large plate or baking sheet. Drape a kitchen towel over the potatoes and let them cool while you prepare the rest of the salad.
While the potatoes are boiling, combine the peppercorns, cumin seeds and cardamom pods in a small skillet. Place over medium-high heat and cook, swirling the skillet occasionally, until the spices are fragrant and lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Pour the spices into a small bowl and let cool for a few minutes. Crack open each cardamom pod with your fingers and let its seeds fall into the bowl, discarding the green pods; this is easier to do while the cardamom is still warm. Transfer all the seeds to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and process until finely ground.
To the still-boiling water in the pot, add the snap peas and cook, stirring constantly, until bright green, about 60 seconds. Drain the peas, then immediately plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop their cooking. Stir the peas in the ice water until they’re cold, then drain them again. Transfer the peas to a kitchen towel or paper towels and pat dry. Cut each pea crosswise once or twice into 1-inch-long pieces.
In a food processor, combine the drained chiles and cilantro, the ground spices, 1 tablespoon salt and the garlic; process until the aromatics are finely chopped. Add the mayonnaise and process again until the dressing is smooth.
Uncover the potatoes and cut each in half, transferring them to a large bowl as you go. Add three-quarters of the dressing and stir to coat the potatoes evenly with it; reserve the remaining dressing. Let the potatoes cool for about 10 minutes in the dressing, then add the peas and cucumbers; stir to combine. Refrigerate the potato salad until well chilled, at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
When ready to serve, give the potato salad a stir and season again with salt and pepper, if needed; add more of the dressing too, if you like. Transfer the potato salad to a serving bowl or platter. Tear or slice the reserved cilantro leaves and scatter them over the potato salad just before serving.
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