Recipe by Julia Zouev. Photography & styling by Tanya Zouev.
Like most Russian kids, I grew up eating a lot of potatoes. They were usually mashed, fried into chips, or crisps eaten out of a bag and there were even occasions those very crisps were dipped into a jar of pasta sauce (childhood vice). When writing this post I pondered the potato for some time and it occurred to me that out of all vegetables, it is the most likely to be named and shamed. The poor potato is shunned by many, frowned upon by some and there are even certain people who don’t think it deserves to be called a vegetable at all. However mention this to a Russian and they probably won’t ever speak to you ever again. (Eastern Europeans are amongst the top three potato producers in the world and trust me when I say they eat a lot of spuds).
I believe the problem lies in that potatoes have gotten a bad rap for being quite high on the G.I. scale, and therefore have the reputation of being an “unhealthy” vegetable. In the UK, the NHS (National Health Service) have even left the potato off their list of vegetables recommended that one eats five servings of per day of. There is also many an individual out there, including people I know, who have a love-hate relationship with potatoes, leaving them out of their overall diets yet launching themselves at the nearest hot chip or crisp given half a chance (deprivation will do that to you). However potatoes contain loads of fibre, potassium and vitamin C, and they’re actually quite good for you.
One of my favourite things to do with potatoes is to make my mum’s potato salad. I realise that the potato salad is an ubiquitous dish that appears in many shapes and forms, some bad/some good, with mayonnaise/without mayonnaise, peeled/unpeeled, with bacon/without bacon and so on. I have sampled many a version in my time in different parts of the world and with different types of dressings and keep coming back to my mother’s. Her recipe is a European-style salad and is quite simple to make. She insists on first peeling the potatoes then boiling them to just the right consistency, and the dressing must have sour cream and dill. This certainly brings it into the realm of Eastern European influenced cooking.
Each time I serve this salad at a BBQ or picnic it gets rave reviews (and those who usually restrain themselves around potatoes, can’t). Feel free to make your own tweaks or follow suggestions for variations made below by adding bacon, chopped spring onions or chives, you can also add some mayonnaise if you wish. It’s fabulous served as a side to chicken or cold roast beef, or simply on its own. It is beautiful served warm and even tastier served cold after the flavours have had some time to develop.
Serves 4-6 as a side. Prep time 15 mins, cooking time 45 mins.
4 large potatoes, cut into approximately 5cm (2 inch) pieces
1 teaspoon salt for the potato water
½ medium French eschallot, chopped finely
3 small gherkins approximately 8cm (a bit over 3 inches) in length finely chopped
1 tablespoon small capers finely chopped
½ cup light sour cream
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dill finely chopped
1 teaspoon seeded mustard
½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1. Place the peeled and cubed potatoes into a saucepan and cover with water (about an inch over the potatoes). Place over medium to high heat and bring to the boil. Add the teaspoon of salt to the potato water as soon as it has reached boiling point. Boil until the potatoes checking are slightly soft yet still have a little bit of firmness to them. You can check “doneness” with the point of a knife. Once potatoes are cooked turn off heat then leave for five minutes. Drain and leave to cool. (The reason the potatoes are boiled in larger pieces is small ones can go overly mushy. I cut the potatoes down to smaller pieces in the next step.)
2. Once the potatoes are cool you can cut the pieces down further if you wish, or leave for a really chunky potato salad. Add the chopped French eschallot, gherkins and capers.
3. Make the dressing by whisking up the light sour cream, olive oil, white wine vinegar, seeded mustard, seasoning and dill altogether. Mix through the potatoes and leave for approximately half an hour in the fridge before serving for the flavours to develop. This salad tastes better having been given some time to rest before eating.
Another delicious dressing is substitute the sour cream for half plain Greek yoghurt/half mayonnaise, leave out the chopped gherkins and in their place add two tablespoons finely chopped chives. I also recently tried adding some smoked salt by Falksalt which was really good. On the topic of smoky-flavours, and if you’re a meat eater, you can’t go wrong with good bacon or pancetta fried until crisp then broken up into small pieces and scattered throughout.
Some food trivia:
The name spud for a small potato comes from the digging of soil for a hole, prior to the planting of potatoes. The word has an unknown origin and was originally used as a term for a short knife or dagger around the year 1500. It is probably related to Dutch “spyd” and/or the Latin “spad” of which the root meaning is the word “sword”. Other words related to the root meaning are Spanish “espada”, English “spade” and “spadroon”. See, you learn a new thing every day.
Photography & styling notes:
I am somewhat mad about the beautiful ceramic pieces made by Mud Australia and I have quite a collection of them. The bowl here is their noodle bowl and I have used a napkin fashioned out of a piece of upholstery fabric I found in a hard rubbish council-clean up. The other props are all from local op-shops, the surface is my dark wood coffee table. The only light used in this image is daylight.