dilled potato and pickled cucumber salad

Everyone’s got a favorite potato salad, and this is ours.

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.

i think we know by now

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.

greenmarket radishes

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?

our favorite potato salad

And of course, there’s just one more day of the 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.

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47 comments on dilled potato and pickled cucumber salad

  1. Jim

    Whoa. I’m not usually a potato salad fan–that slick uniformity you mentioned really turns me off–but THIS looks like something I can get behind.

    Great pictures, too!

  2. Oh lordy. I’ve only known your site a day and you’ve already almost convinced me that I, too, can make pickles. This might be a dangerous door to open in my life. :)

  3. Oooh, I just brought home a bag of mini cucumbers. I think I could pickle those instead of an english cucumber. I’ve been avoiding it as recipe after recipe on your site tempts me… I think it’s time for me to make some pickles.

    This is a really bizarre comment, but I have to say that the first thing I thought of when I saw the picture (and had already decided to try the recipe): could I replace the sliced ingredients with cubed ingredients? Strange, but I am a bit partial to the nice chunky and uniform sizes in a good potato salad – though I do totally agree that interesting textures are key

  4. I voted for you! To the rest of you out there: you should also register and vote, one reader gets chosen to go too! Deb, if the smitten kitchen wins, you’ll have to put a donation thingy on the site so we can send Alex to grilling school, too (only the blogger gets free tuition, but the blogger’s companion gets a reduced price if there is space).

    About the recipe, it looks very, very tasty. I *heart* dill in potato salad. In another nod to the Slavs in this salad story, do you think it would be good with a little sour cream swapped in for some of the mayonnaise?

  5. Tea

    I think you’ve just won ME for life–at least in the potato salad department. I’ve never been a fan, but then again, no one ever told me there could be pickles involved. Potato salad just got much more interesting to me.

    Looks like you and the mandoline are doing well together.

  6. deb

    Rachael–I don’t see why not, but it might take longer than a day to pickle a cubed cucumber. It might be worth it to put them up a few days before you want to use them… otherwise, I’m sure it would be delish.

    Mary–Haha. I think Alex getting to go to Napa would be more than enough for him. No more begging people for help! I think sour cream would be fantastic in here, and might even try it next time.

    Tea–Me and the mandoline are in love. The other three times I’ve made this salad, I’ve always thought, ‘if only I had a mandoline’ followed by a long and dramatic sigh. This time, it was twice as easy to make.

    Jelena–Bloggysitting! I didn’t even get that far. I’ll see if I can get her back here; she might have raised her rates! Then again, did you SEE that crepe cake I brought over to her place? She owes me. ;)

  7. Oh dear, now I have to go get more radishes from the farm. And cucumber slices in a potato salad?!? I like the way you think, lady! Always something a little different and edgy. Ever tried roasting radishes? They’re pretty darn tasty that way. Just a little discovery I made last night. :)

  8. Zach G.

    Deb, love the website, keep the posts coming.

    I to am enjoying my mandoline, however, I the other day I failed to pay enough respect to the blades, and gave myself a nice reminder that one needs to pay attention to where your fingers are in relation to the blades.

    Wanted to thank you though, I made a dinner of your Mussels, Bobby Flay Green Onion Slaw, and your Zucchini Arugala and Parmesan Cheese salad, and everything was absolutely delicious.

  9. sara

    I love your blog and read it religiously, but if you don’t tell me what was in your martha stewart birthday boxes…I may never forgive you.

  10. I did! I did win a copy of a book! I even got an email from the company asking me where to send said book, so it is not some sort of hoax. I have never won ANYTHING before. Apparently now I will have to go and buy a new grill.

  11. deb

    JennBec — Roasting radishes sounds so cool! Do they get soft? Sweeter? I must find out. Didn’t get to your radish salad after all this weekend, but we bought so many radishes and dill (we have like a tree in the fridge! with roots and everything!) that hopefully I’ll get to it this weekend. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Jocelyn — When I first read this, I was like why is she having a BBQ and not inviting me? Um, d’oh. Because I’d be out of town. I’m such a dork. Nice purse, btw! I think it goes with those MJ shoes, right?

    Zach G.–Oh no! Zach: 0, Mandoline: 1, I guess. I fear it’s just a matter of time for me, seeing as I am a major klutz. Until then, I’ve been just snacking on the last 1″ of every veg. so I’m not tempted to grate too far. I’m honored you used my dishes for your meal but (I hope not narcissisticly) I think it sounds delicious.

    sara –Oops! I’d mentioned it in a comment a few posts back, but duh, how would everyone see that? I received TWO rolls of wrapping paper I’d obsessed over for their patterns alone, one paper bag puppet kit, some grosgrain ribbon AND an entire set of food packaging boxes replete with adorable tissue paper and ribbon. I’ve already used one! I’m in love.

    ehme — Yay! I confess that I’m worried they’ll kick me out of the running when they find out I don’t have a grill–yet! But I have access to many. And I love to grill, I’m just not posh enough to be able to afford patio space in Manhattan. Sigh, one day.

    Cheryl –Thanks for reminding me! No, I didn’t–sometimes I do, other times I don’t. I scrub them well so that the skins don’t bother us. But frankly, the real reason I didn’t peel these are because I used various Russian fingerlings and they’re so tiny, I thought getting the skins off would be an exercise in bottomless aggravation.

  12. I don’t know if I can handle it – 2 days, pickles… Especially because my husband will settle for no less than his grandmother’s potato salad, and ONLY her potato salad, so help him god. Only she doesn’t have a recipe so that I can try (pitifully) to duplicate it. So I don’t make potato salad, I make pasta salad, and then there are no comparisons.

  13. beth

    deb- you have said before that you don’t use unsalted butter in recipes. Am I mistaken? Anyway, I do a lot of baking and wondered if it would make a difference in my recipes that call for unsalted if I used salted instead.
    Thanks for your site, I use it all the time.

  14. lar3ry

    You know, about ten years ago, when I got my first Mandolin slicer, the VERY first thing that I managed to slice was a tiny portion of a finger. After that, I’ve been much more diligent and careful. It’s now something like lar3ry: 28972. Mandoline 1. I think it’s simply a rite of passage, and I’d be surprised if there is any professional chef that doesn’t have a similar story. It will probably be just a matter of time, but afterward, you and the slicer will have more respect for one another! There’s that expression about something you know (the slicer is sharp), and something you KNOW (there’s a reason they included that knobby thing!). This is just like the first time my oldest daughter (age 4 at the time) decided to steal a slice of jalapeno from daddy’s plate… she learned her lesson the hard way, and fifteen years later, she still asks before she ventures toward my plate.

  15. Thanks, I’m in love with it. It matches the shoes and the dress. I also thought that I could write about my health smoothie protein shake that my trainer told me about. I have been having them for breakfast & lunch as a meal replacement and I’ve lost 10 lbs. Sooooo when do you leave? Obviously the prize is in the bag, you won right?

  16. I’ve been “travelling” across your blog and I enjoyed so much !! All your recipes are so good looking and I’m sure good tasting ! I lived in NY ( in Queens) for 10 years and your stories about the City bring me such memories…..

  17. jill

    Deb, this looks great.

    Semi-unrelated question: if not potato salad, what do you normally do with radishes? Just got some great ones from a farm and I have no idea what to do with them. What do you recommend for a beginning radish-eater?

  18. Deb– I made this over the weekend and cannot stop crunching on the cucumbers and radishes that barely made their way into the salad. My boyfriend has been raving for weeks about the recipes I’ve been churning out and all have been from your site– the strawberry rhubarb crumble, the pinkcherry coconut ice cream, but this has outdone them all. I think I’ve finally topped my mother– and his– for the perfect potato salad. Thank you!

    Oh, and Jill– I started with radishes sliced and dipped in homemade ranch, but now they go in everything (try them in a goat cheese salad, with veggie cream cheese or in stir-fry).

  19. I made this today and swapped out half the mayo for sour cream. Delish! You can get away with brining for a few hours, instead of overnight if you have a desperate sour cream and dill craving, like I had today. Thanks Deb!

  20. Sara Mae

    OMG – this recipe is so fabulous!!! I was VERY skeptical because I love eggs in my potato salad, but it is as good as you say it is Deb.
    I also made it with fingerling potatoes – but I bought the bag with the blue and red ones too and it adds another great color to the salad. Thank you also for encouraging fresh pickles – so easy and they are so delicious. It was my first time making them and I think I’m in love!

  21. jessica

    I made this for some friends the other day – everyone loved it. One friend declared it “the absolute best potato salad” he’d ever eaten. I have since had other potato salads, and this recipe completely ruins it for them. This is now the only one that need ever be made. Thanks!

    Oh, and congratulations! Your baby boy is simply adorable.

  22. Debra

    This is now my favorite potato salad too. Delicious. The cucumbers are also good to make on their own as a side dish.

  23. Johanna VL

    At the bottom of the 1st paragraph where you describe the recipe (and tell the story about the rain) you wrote “Just do be concerned if yours looks a lot different.” Did you mean “don’t be concerned”?

    Looks like a great recipe, I can’t wait to try it. Radishes and cucumbers! Two of my favorite vegetables!
    I want to substitute the mayo for yogurt, do you think I’d still need to assemble the salad so soon before eating it? It seems like yogurt wouldn’t create as much uniformity of flavor and texture as mayonnaise does…

  24. Megan

    Wow not many comments, but I think this is the second time I’ve made this (I realized at some point when I was making my shopping list that this sounded familiar). I brought it to a potluck and people liked it a lot. I used fennel instead of dill because that’s what I ended up with from my CSA, and just had people sprinkle it on themselves because my husband is allergic to fennel. I also did not let all of the ingredients sit for an hour before adding the mayo because I ran out of time. The fennel tasted like dill to me. I just used whatever cucumbers they had at the store, probably not english hothouse ones.

  25. Willy

    I really enjoyed this recipe! My husband said the best part was the overnight pickles. So I guess the worst part about it is that you have to plan ahead. It was so yummy, thanks so much for yet another awesome salad. I’m four for four on recipes from this webiste. You can’t go wrong.

  26. Tricia

    Brought this to a Labor Day BBQ and it was a big hit. Next time I will cut the cucumbers into a thicker slice or perhaps cube them before pickling as I decided the slices were a bit hard to keep flat as I was carefully tossing the potatoes with them. Also, I used 1 Tbsp less salt and added a bit of sugar to the pickled cucumbers, which were delicious and gave the salad a refreshing kick. I added no extra salt to the salad and we all agreed it had plenty of seasoning. So good!

  27. Becca (she bakes)

    This is ours – and our various BBQ hosts’ – favourite potato salad. The only change I made, which I highly recommend, is to pickle the radishes along with the cucumbers. MMMM pickled radishes.

  28. Michele

    I made this salad two days ago and with just 4 people, it didn’t even last the day! This is so similar to some of the Russian potato salads I grew up eating (my parents are from St. Petersburg) and yet it’s so different… With my grandparents getting older and my mom and her sister not being kitchen savy what-so-ever, this will definitely be my go-to salad for all family functions to come! It’s spectacular!
    PS: I’m *SO* glad you’re married to a Russian, because not only do I love your blog, but a lot of your dishes bring me back to my childhood, and all of my favorite Russian dishes! Between the Russian Black Bread recipe of yours I’ve tried, and this salad, I think I’ll have some solid dishes to pass on to my children <3

  29. GillyB

    This salad was a hit! It’s always nice to impress the boyfriend’s family hehe. The only changes I made were adding sliced fennel bulb (added a bit more crunch and great mellow flavor) and used new potatoes instead of yukons and it still worked out perfectly. This one is going in my bookmark folder!