Potato salad rather unfortunately seems to have a knack for landing itself in that dreaded category of things-that-look-better-than-they-actually-taste.
Watery and bland macaroni salad firmly entrenches itself in that same classification, as do most grainy and sugary bakery cupcakes, ‘fruit salads’ that consist mostly of unripe melon hiding under one measly strawberry and two tiny grapes, anything touted to be ‘bloomin,’ ‘slammin,’ or ‘wacky,’ and the woefully underwhelming “continental breakfast.”
A dry pastry, sugary orange juice, and subpar coffee?
You shouldn’t have….
But even still, potato salad is something I’ll never pass up, even though I know that most of their destinies are to be weighty scoops of bland and one-tracked mayo and potato mixtures. It just that it always seems like something I should love; potatoes (of which I’ve made no secret about my feelings) and a creamy dressing mixed up together with (hopefully) some other vegetables, herbs, and spices?
What could go wrong?
Apparently a good bit my friends.
I think potato salad – though normally relegated to be a more sinister choice while loading up your plate at a Summer BBQ – actually tastes better the less heavily you dress it, and the more you punch it up. The more freshness you can pack into it the better; the more crunch, flavor, and textural diversity that you can cram alongside your spuds, the more superior the potato salad, IMHO.
(Nerdy internet-slang-user who??)
Anyway, as much as I do love vinegar based potato salads, when it’s a gajillion degrees out (and that’s a scientific term), I crave a lighter one that’s still held together with a cold creamy sauce – but only just enough of it to lightly blanket the salad. This iteration of potato salad not only has tender steamed and halved new potatoes, but has them outnumbered by other light and crunchy Summertime delights: snappy pieces of blanched asparagus, sweet crunchy kernels of fresh corn, vibrant purple squares of savory red onion, and ruby red grape tomatoes that pop in your mouth with each bite.
The sauce that holds this together is still mayo-based, but instead of just glopping in on, a scoop is blended together with lemon, garlic, and a heaping amount of fresh herbs, making a bright and fresh sauce that is thin enough to run in and around all of the wonderful crevices that this salad presents, without seizing up and weighing it down. The addition of the other vegetables dispels that ‘weighty’ feeling that so often comes along with shoveling forkfuls into your mouth while standing in front of the fridge (guilty), and it was even declared “the best potato salad you have ever made” by my arguably better half. It’s like a prettied up version of the potato salads you so often encounter, and once you try this, you’ll understand exactly what I mean.
Farmer’s Market Potato Salad
Serves 6-8 heartily
Quickly cooking the asparagus by blanching it will accomplish two things: first, it will render the raw asparagus crisp and crunchy while giving it more of a ‘cooked’ texture and flavor, and second: the plunge into the cold ice bath will help the asparagus keep its bright green color, which without an ice bath would turn more of a grayish-green (not nearly as pretty).
Instead of calling for exact amounts of each herb, simply loosely pack equal amounts of each into a 1 cup measure. I used basil, mint, and chives for this salad, but feel free to sub (or add) in other herbs like cilantro or parsley, according to your tastes. The dressing is very forgiving, and most combinations of herbs will work wonderfully (avoid rosemary and sage though – they would be too strong).
You may end up with more dressing than you need to dress the salad; that is why I recommend only using half of the dressing first, and then adding more as needed. Any extra dressing is delicious on sandwiches, salads, or as a dipping sauce for fresh veggies.
1 lb small red new potatoes
1 lb asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces on the diagonal
1 pint grape tomatoes
4 ears fresh corn, kernels shucked from cob
half of one red onion, diced
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup loosely packed mixed herbs (chives, mint, and basil)
2 cloves garlic
juice and zest of one lemon
salt to taste
Steam the new potatoes for about 20 minutes, until they are totally tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Cut them in half, and place them into a large mixing bowl. While the potatoes steam, blanch the asparagus pieces, by cooking them into a large pot of well-salted boiling water for two minutes, and then plunging them into a bowl filled with ice water (see note above). When the asparagus pieces are cold, strain them and add them to the large pot with the potatoes. Add the cherry tomatoes, the fresh corn kernels, and the chopped red onion in with the blanched asparagus and steamed potatoes.
To make the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, mixed herbs, garlic, and lemon juice and zest in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is completely smooth, and then add salt to taste. (I add about a tsp of salt to the dressing, and then will add more after dressing the salad).
Dress the salad by pouring half of the dressing only over the salad and gently stirring to combine – each vegetable should be lightly covered in the creamy herb dressing. From there, you can add additional dressing to your liking; keep in mind that the potatoes and vegetables will likely suck a bit of the dressing up as the salad rests in the fridge, but also keep in mind that you can always add more dressing later if you would like to (and no one likes a gloopy potato salad!). Taste the salad, and adjust for seasoning.
Let the salad rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to mix and meld. Salad tastes great the first day, and also keeps well in the fridge for 2-3 days following.