Dressed-Up Potatoes With the addition of leftover meat and fancy dressings to enhance flavor, a super salad goes from side dish to main course.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Why buck the system: the luscious flavor system of potatoes-meet-dressing?

Potato salad is too delectable to relegate to an occasional picnic side dish. Too irresistible to be just a sandwich sidekick.

Augmented with slivers of cooked meat, chicken, fish or beans, it turns into a weeknight main course. At my house, it's often a Monday night special, incorporating leftovers from a weekend of feasting. Protein-rich tidbits add a spark of flavor. And in just the few minutes it takes to cook the potatoes, lackluster leftovers become luscious entrees.

Thinly sliced leftover lamb, beef or pork is arranged like a fan on the sides of a plate or platter of cooked potatoes lightly coated with a tangy vinaigrette. Cooked salmon is crumbled and tumbled with tender potatoes and a creamy sauce.

Cold cooked chicken works, too. But boned and skinned chicken breasts can be sauteed and sliced within minutes to become a warm partner to potato salad.

Bits of crumbled cooked bacon or baby shrimp or canned beans make great flavor enhancers, too.

Crab, real or imitation. Smoked ham.

Grilled portobellos.

Even caviar.

Creamy mayonnaise-style dressings used to be traditional for potato salads. But now, mayonnaise has been replaced by other sauce options. Creamy yogurt-based dressings, vinaigrettes laden with fresh herbs and fresh salsa add delicious tang to potatoes.

* Yogurt-based dressings: Nonfat plain yogurt combined with a little reduced-calorie mayonnaise, vinegar, Dijon mustard and fresh herbs makes a scrumptious, reduced-fat potato salad dressing. Or eliminate the low-calorie mayonnaise and season the yogurt with lemon juice, lemon zest and dill. If you opt for a yogurt-based dressing, you'll need to cool the potatoes before you toss in the dressing.

Jeanne Jones, cookbook author ("Canyon Ranch Cooking," HarperCollins, 1998, $40) and Cook It Light columnist, uses this style of dressing in a potato salad accented with plenty of celery, green onions and red bell peppers. I like to add a garnish of sliced, sauteed boned-and-skinned chicken breasts. To save cooking time, place chicken between pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap and pound until flattened. Saute in a nonstick skillet that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. The breasts take about three to five minutes per side to cook and in the process, they get a nice brown crust on both sides.

Vinaigrettes: Lively oil and vinegar mixtures make incredible dressings for potato salads. This type of dressing can be prepared in advance and chilled. And it can be tossed with either hot or room-temperature cooked potatoes. Barbecued lamb, pork or beef makes a delectable garnish with this type of potato salad.

Almost any vinaigrette will work, but I especially like chef and cookbook author John Ash's Lemony Vinaigrette ("From Earth to the Table," Dutton, 1995, $29.95). Because it's loaded with lemon zest and fresh tarragon (with a tiny kiss of dried red chili flakes), it makes a very lively dish. Ash likes to add fresh corn kernels, imported black olives and chopped unsalted cashews. I usually omit the nuts when I garnish with meat.

Bottled dressings: Bottled vinaigrette and creamy dressing work, too. Regular or reduced-fat ranch or Caesar dressing makes a rich-tasting topping. When I use prepared dressing, I add some chopped fresh herbs, such as dill, basil or tarragon, to boost the flavor.

Salsas: Fresh tomato salsa makes a potato salad with attitude. ++ Be sure to add plenty of red onion and cilantro along with the tomatoes and chilies. To transform this style of potato salad into dinner, you can garnish it with any kind of cooked meat, but I like to use canned beans, either black or ranch-style. I drain them and toss them with a little salsa and spoon them in small piles around the outside rim of the plate.

Spud salad - boiled or roasted: Choose the style of dressing you like best, but be sure not to overcook the potatoes. They should be just fork-tender, not cooked to smithereens. If you're boiling them, it can take as little as eight minutes if the potatoes are cut into a small dice. The larger the chunks, the longer the cooking time. If using baking potatoes, such as russet or Idaho, I often leave them whole and unpeeled; I peel and dice them after they're boiled.

But even the potatoes can be leftovers. When I roast small red potatoes, I make more than I need. The roasting heightens the flavor. You can use them cold or heat them in a 300-degree oven until warmed. If they're cold, toss with any type of dressing. If they're warm, toss with either salsa or vinaigrette.

Here are four main-dish potato salad recipes. Mix and match them to suit your taste and leftover inventory.

Eyeing potatoes: variety of skins, shapes, flesh

There are hundreds of varieties of potatoes. But basically, there are four categories in the United States: russet, long white, round red and Yukon golds.

* Russet (Idaho): Often called baking potatoes, with a starchy, almost flaky consistency, they are good for potato salads. They have an elongated shape and brown skin.

* Long white: Often referred to as White Rose or boiling potatoes, these potatoes maintain their shape and waxy consistency in potato salads. Small, young white potatoes, sometimes called fingerlings or finger potatoes, make delectable potato salads. Long potatoes have elongated shapes with smooth, thin, almost white skin.

* Round reds: Often referred to as new potatoes, these bright, shiny red potatoes have a firm, waxy texture in potato salads. Their moist taste makes them a great candidate for potato salads made with roasted potatoes.

* Yukon golds: This all-purpose variety has butter-yellow flesh. They are round to oval and have smooth, thin skin. They create potato salads with a firm, slightly waxy texture.

Salmon Potato Salad

Makes 4 servings

SALAD:

3 cups water

1 cup dry white wine

3 sprigs Italian parsley

1 bay leaf

4 black peppercorns

1/2 pound salmon fillet with skin

2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 teaspoon salt, plus salt to taste

1/2 cup diced celery

3 hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped

3 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal; use part of the dark green stalks

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill leaves, or more to taste

coarsely ground black pepper to taste

DRESSING:

1 cup plain yogurt, drained for 1 hour in a strainer

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel (zest), colored part only

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill leaves

SERVING: 1/2 pound mixed baby lettuces (mesclun)

sprigs of fresh dill, for garnish

Combine 3 cups water, wine, parsley sprigs, bay leaf and peppercorns in a large, wide pot or deep skillet and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add salmon and cook, partially covered, about 5 minutes or until the flesh flakes easily when tested with a fork or until opaque throughout in the thickest part of the fish. Carefully remove salmon from the cooking liquid and set aside; discard cooking liquid.

Place potatoes in a saucepan. Cover with water and add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium and cook until tender, 5-8 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Cool to room temperature.

When potatoes are cooled, add celery, eggs, green onions and dill.

Pat salmon dry with paper towels, and carefully break it along the grain into large flakes, discarding any skin and bones. Add it to the potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Prepare the dressing: Mix yogurt, lemon juice and zest in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly until smooth and slightly thick. Fold in pepper and chopped dill. (Dressing can be covered and refrigerated up to 8 hours).

Add 1/2 cup of dressing to potato mixture and gently fold with a rubber spatula.

Toss mesclun with 1/4 cup of dressing, then divide it among 4 dinner plates. Arrange salad in center and garnish with fresh dill sprigs.

Per serving: 433 calories, 24.2 grams fat, 5.1 grams saturated fat, 201 milligrams cholesterol, 204 milligrams sodium, 50 percent calories from fat

- Adapted from "U.S.A. Cookbook" by Sheila Lukins (Workman, 1997, $19.95)

Spa Potato Salad

Makes 8 servings

1 pound small red potatoes cut in half or small White Rose potatoes, cut either in half or into 1-inch chucks (3 cups)

4 boned skinless chicken breasts, about 1 pound

nonstick cooking spray

1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt

1/4 cup reduced-calorie mayonnaise

1/2 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon minced parsley

3/4 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

1/4 cup diced red bell pepper

pinch celery seed

pinch freshly ground black pepper

pinch salt

2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish (optional)

Place potatoes in a medium pan with enough water to cover. Bring to boil; reduce to simmer and cover. Cook until tender but not mushy, about 10 minutes. Drain and cool.

While potatoes are cooking and cooling, prepare the chicken: Place chicken on a flat surface and cover with wax paper or plastic wrap. Pound the chicken with the flat side of a meat mallet to slightly flatten. Spray a hot, nonstick skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Add chicken and cook until golden brown on each side, about 3-5 minutes per side depending on how thinly you have pounded it. Check for doneness in the thickest part; no pink should remain. Set aside.

Combine yogurt, mayonnaise, vinegar and mustard in a large bowl and mix well. Add parsley, celery, green onions, red pepper, seasonings and relish (if using). Mix well. Fold in cooled potatoes.

If serving immediately, cut chicken into 1/2-inch slices. Place salad in center of dinner plates and garnish with overlapping slices of chicken. If serving later, store potato salad and chicken separately, tightly covered, in the refrigerator until well-chilled, about 2 hours. Serve cold.

Per serving: 137 calories, 3.4 grams fat, 0.7 gram saturated fat, 33 milligrams cholesterol, 165 milligrams sodium, 22 percent calories from fat

- Adapted from "Canyon Ranch Cooking" by Jeanne Jones (HarperCollins, 1998, $40)

Lemony Potato Salad With Olives, Corn and Beef or Lamb

Makes 12 servings

SALAD:

4 pounds small red potatoes, unpeeled

1 3/4 cups raw corn kernels (about 3 large ears)

1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives

1/2 cup lightly toasted and chopped unsalted cashews (optional)

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

LEMONY VINAIGRETTE:

1 tablespoon minced lemon zest

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1/2 cup chopped green onions, white and pale green parts

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

salt to taste, kosher preferred

2 pounds thinly sliced cooked lamb or beef

parsley for garnish

Salad can be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Store it covered in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Place potatoes in large pot. Cover with water and bring to boil; reduce to simmer and simmer 12-15 minutes, or until just fork-tender. Do not overcook; the potatoes should remain firm. Drain and spread them on a baking sheet in a single layer to cool completely. When cool, cut potatoes into fourths. If the corn is not perfectly young and tender, then quickly blanch the kernels in the boiling water.

In a bowl, combine potatoes, corn kernels, olives, cashews (if using) and parsley, reserving some of the parsley for garnish.

Prepare the Lemon Vinaigrette: In a bowl, combine lemon zest, lemon juice, mustard, tarragon and green onions. Whisk in oil. Add pepper flakes and salt to taste.

Whisk vinaigrette again and add to potato mixture; toss.

Arrange slightly overlapping slices of meat around outside of potato salad bowl. Garnish with sprigs of Italian parsley.

Per serving: 339 calories, 14.9 grams fat, 3.4 grams saturated fat, 70 milligrams cholesterol, 126 milligrams sodium, 40 percent calories from fat

- Adapted from "From Earth to the Table" by John Ash (Dutton, 1995, $29.95)

Potato Salad With Tomato Salsa

Makes 6 servings

2 pounds baking potatoes, such as russets, peeled

2 cups diced ripe tomatoes, half red and half yellow, if available

1/2 cup diced yellow or green bell pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

2 tablespoons cilantro

1 tablespoon seeded and minced jalapeno

1 tablespoon olive oil, extra-virgin preferred

salt to taste

2-3 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1 (15-ounce) can ranch-style beans or ranch-style beans with jalapenos

Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Cover and bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, 20-25 minutes. Do not overcook.

Combine tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, chopped cilantro, jalapeno, oil and salt to taste in a small bowl. Set aside at room temperature until ready to serve.

Drain potatoes and rinse with cold running water. When cool enough to handle, halve lengthwise and cut each into 1/2-inch slices. Spread half the potatoes in a broad, shallow serving bowl. Spoon half the salsa evenly over the potatoes. Add half the green onions and cilantro leaves. Top with remaining potatoes, all but 1 tablespoon of salsa mixture, green onions and cilantro leaves.

Place beans in a colander. Rinse with cold water. Toss beans with reserved salsa.

Spoon beans in small piles around the edge of the salad serving bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Per serving: 238 calories, 2.9 grams fat, 0.4 gram saturated fat, no cholesterol, 185 milligrams sodium, 11 percent calories from fat

- Adapted from "Lighter Quicker Better" by Richard Sax and Marie Simmons (William Morrow, 1995, $25)

Pub Date: 6/10/98

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