Independence Day weekend may have just come and gone, but it is clearly not the end of potluck barbecue season. A few weeks ago I posted a recipe for tempeh skewers that lets vegetarians and vegans join the barbecue. Today I’m sharing a vegan version of another barbecue staple: potato salad.
When I was a kid, I loved German potato salad. Although I was never a fan of the requisite bacon that was always peppered throughout, I loved the deep, vinegary flavor so much more than that of creamy mayo-based potato salads, which seemed kind of bland to me.
So I was thrilled to find a recipe in my favorite cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison, that tastes a whole lot like the German potato salad of my youth, minus the bacon and plus some fresh herbs that are currently plentiful in my backyard garden—including lemon thyme, which is pretty hard to find unless you grow it yourself.
I’ve made this salad several times and have found that the results are best when I use smaller potatoes. They don’t have to cook as long and seem to hold their shape better than larger potatoes. My favorite type of potato for this salad is any variety of baby yellow potatoes, which are plentiful at most farmer’s markets in the summertime.
This recipe makes a ginormous batch of potato salad. When I take it to a picnic, I divide it among several containers. One container goes out on the potluck table, and the others stay in the cooler until needed. Potato salad has a limited shelf life at room temperature. The ugly food-borne illnesses that potato salads are famous for are not the mayo’s fault, by the way. The problem lies with the fact that potatoes’ high pH factor—making them alkaline—tends to neutralize the acids in the other ingredients, which can create a more hospitable environment for pathogens to grow. (Check out this article for a more detailed discussion.) Theoretically, this vinegary potato salad should be safer for longer periods because it leans acidic. But I’d still advise keeping portions of it in your cooler and replenishing as needed.
Picnic Potato Salad with Marjoram and Pickled Onions
1 large dark red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
salt and freshly milled pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
3 lbs. boiling or waxy potatoes
2 T Dijon mustard
3 large garlic cloves, pounded or put through a press
3 T capers, rinsed
1 bell pepper, any color, finely diced
4 celery ribs or 1 fennel bulb, finely diced
3 T chopped marjoram
1 T chopped thyme or lemon thyme
Put the diced onion in a strainer. Bring a kettle of water to a boil and pour it slowly over the onion. Shake the onion dry and put it in a large salad bowl. Add the vinegar, 1 tsp salt, several grinds of pepper the oil and set aside.
Cook the potatoes, then peel and slice them. While still warm, add them to the onion along with the mustard, garlic and capers. Toss gently with a soft rubber spatula. Add the bell pepper, celery, and herbs and toss once more. Taste for salt and grind in plenty of pepper.