I know most are aggressively forgettable, with so much slick and eerie uniformity in their texture that it almost seems that their creators knew people were never going to eat it anyway, so why bother? But if you do–bother, that is–you’re in for a whole other world of crunch, texture, tang, complexity and even, dare I say, flavor. I’ve made them with a slip of horseradish, with chopped hard-boiled eggs, celery and cornichon, I’ve tossed them in a mustard vinaigrette with red peppers, capers and olives, yet I haven’t done any of those things since I came across this one.
Admittedly, I was trying to impress The Russians, or Alex’s people. Looking for something to bring to a backyard barbeque a few summers ago–in those funny days before I knew which part of the kitchen counter to rest my sunglasses on when I came in and before my mother-in-law began casually passing me salads and asking if I could dress them so she could move onto her next dish– I knew this was it by the fact that Epicurious testers had ranked this one within the top three most worthy of their Fork Ratings. (On a site with hundreds of potato salad recipes, that ain’t nothing.) In addition seemed to have all the magical elements present in so many other zakuski–dill, radishes, something, anything brined, onions and potato, though they’re practically an afterthought in this great mass of ingredients–I knew it would not be tossed aside lightly.
Of course I was appalled that it was a two-day affair–“It expects me to MAKE pickles, Alex! Is this recipe smoking crack?!” Now, as we well know, I barely bat an eyelash at this step anymore, but you shouldn’t either because it’s really not time-consuming, and if you make extra, as we always do, you’ll love their lightly-soused crunch in your salads all week. From the pickling on out, it’s cinch city and I promise, even if you’re not trying to win yourself a Russian For Life, it could make a potato salad lover out of you. There are worse things, right?
And of course, there’s just one more day of the Culinate.com GrillMe contest and did you know that someone who voted for me already won a copy of Mastering the Grill? True story! You could be next, no matter who you vote for. So go get ‘em!
Dilled Potato and Pickled Cucumber Salad
Bon Appetit, August 2004
Because we bought all the ingredients at the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturday in the two-point-five minutes we were there before the sky opened and sent even the farmers indoors, things are a little goofily out of proportion–the radishes like apples, the potatoes like fingers, etc.–but if you ask me, it only made it tastier. Just don’t be concerned if yours looks a lot different.
Finally, I think the trick with this and almost all mayo-based salads is to assemble them only a couple hours before you want to eat it. It helps the ingredients hang onto their unique textures and flavors, and keeps the fresh ones–radishes and briny cucumbers–from making puddles in the dressing.
6 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
4 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
2 1-pound English hothouse cucumbers, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
3 1/4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 10 medium), unpeeled
Additional coarse kosher salt
1 cup very thinly sliced white onion
8 radishes, trimmed, thinly sliced
scant 3/4 cup mayonnaise (I get by with a bit less)
Small radishes with green tops
Stir vinegar and 4 teaspoons coarse salt in small bowl until salt dissolves. Place cucumbers and 1/2 cup dill in heavy 1-gallon resealable plastic bag. Add vinegar mixture; seal bag. Turn several times to coat. Refrigerate overnight, turning bag occasionally.
Pour cucumber mixture into large sieve set over bowl. Drain at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours. Discard brine.
Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain. Cool potatoes completely. Peel potatoes; quarter lengthwise. Cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place potatoes in large bowl; sprinkle generously with coarse salt and pepper. Add drained cucumbers, onion, sliced radishes, and remaining 3 tablespoons dill; toss to blend. Let stand 1 hour. Stir mayonnaise into salad. Season generously with salt and pepper, if desired. (Salad can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Mound salad in bowl; garnish with whole radishes. Serve cold or at room temperature.