Sunday, May 29, 2011

summer means barbecues

Where I live, Central California, we fire up the grill all year long, rain or shine. Even so, summer is a whole different story. A dinner invitation can almost be assumed to be a bar-be-cue, not always of course, but usually.

Whether the main dish is chicken, steaks, tri-tip ( a regional favorite,) ribs, or veggies, the side dishes and condiments make or break a bbq, in my opinion. As my family and friends know well, I flat refuse to serve hamburgers and hot dogs. They are SO much work if done well, and they register kind of a "ho hum" on the memorable meter. People, read guests, seem to think they're simple. Come on now, if they're done right, you're chopping and slicing and dicing until exhausted. It requires so many condiments it makes my head spin. Yuck!

Another dish rarely seen on my menus is potato salad. It too is seen as "just" potato salad, and I suppose many a potato salad is poured from a plastic container into a waiting serving dish, or, and I gasp in horror as I write this, simply served from the deli container it came in. Again, yuck! My complaint is that making potato salad is tedious, boring work. Where's the creativity? More importantly, where's the praise? Nonexistent, I can almost promise you. Still, sometimes I break down. GK is a potato fanatic, I need to avoid gluten and dairy, and I often serve vegetarians, so a good potato salad sometimes is in order. I have found one I really like, adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. It is somewhat out of the ordinary, is vegan-friendly, and (and this is out of character for me) is more tedious and takes longer to make than the usual fare. Still, I am serving a lot of it this year---go figure.

I start with those adorable tiny potatoes about an inch or smaller in diameter. My favorites right now are a mix of blue, white, golden, and red potatoes packaged together, and (Yay!) grown and packaged a few miles from where I live. I'm really big on eating locally, but that's a subject for another day. These can be quickly steamed or boiled just until tender, then set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut each in half (sorry, this is tedious) and put in a bowl with a tablespoon or two each of dry wine and vegetable broth, I use Pacific. They absorb favorings better if cut in half before you add them to the liquid.

For the dressing, combine a spoonful of good mustard, Dijon or you favorite, a few tablespoons of vinegar, salt, and pepper. Start slowly on the salt, you can add more later if needed. Slowly whisk in about half a cup of olive oil to emulsify, I prefer a good California oil, but use what you like. Or just stir it in if you don't want to stand on ceremony. It will taste just as good.

When the potatoes have absorbed the liquid, gently stir in the dressing. Now it gets fun. Add the fresh green herbs that you like best, about 1/4 cup or so. Fresh dill is available right now where I live, and I have basil growing in the garden. Chervil is good, parsley is always a fresh, winning taste. Use what you like, though. Nothing ruins a recipe quicker than adding flavors you don't like just because they're on the list. Finally, stir in about 1/4 cup chopped shallot or scallions, and stir gently. Taste for salt and pepper and add more if you need it.

You should get standing ovations. Probably won't, but you should.


  1. Speaking from experience, that is one of the best potato salads I have ever had and ranks rather close to my husbands grandmothers salad. So, I appreciate the effort that goes into it and think you should feel free to make it all summer long! It is most delicious!!!

  2. I should have mentioned where to get these potatoes.I don't know how widespread their distribution is, but the company is Tasteful Selections. They are grown and packaged right here in Bakersfield. Fresh and Easy carries them. Beyond that, I'm not sure, though I do know they are certainly in stores outside of California.


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