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Recycling the Potato Salad

June 29, 1997|ABBY MANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mandel's latest book is "Celebrating the Midwestern Table" (Doubleday & Co., 1996)

Foods go in cycles. Take potato salad. Years ago, it was everywhere--restaurants, picnic baskets, deli bins. Today it has been outflanked by salads made with rice and pasta. It certainly hasn't disappeared, but a lot of people pass up potato salad because they think of it as being fatty or just boring.

In an effort to revive the reputation of the potato salad, I recently made two--in French, and Greek styles--using lighter dressings than the traditional mayonnaise. The results were colorful and flavorful and would be great for barbecues, picnics, potlucks and buffets.

I experimented with three small potatoes available in most markets (small red and boiling brown potatoes and Yukon Golds), finally settling on the small brown boiling potato as the sweetest and firmest.

For salads, potatoes should not be mushy. Potatoes are done when a sharp paring knife inserted in the potato meets with a bit of resistance. If the potatoes vary in size, remove the smaller ones with a slotted spoon as they are cooked.

Unlike pasta salads, which hold their flavor better if the pasta is chilled before mixing with the rest of the ingredients, potato salads do best when the potatoes are added warm or hot.

These salads can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. Let them come to room temperature, add salt and pepper if necessary, then gently toss before serving.

CHARCUTERIE POTATO SALAD

This potato salad can be made with salami instead of ham. Cornichons are crisp, tart pickles made from tiny gherkin cucumbers.

16 small boiling potatoes, about 1 pound

Salt water

1 small onion, thinly sliced, about 1/3 cup

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/3 cup finely diced Gruyere cheese

1/3 cup finely diced smoked ham

1/3 cup finely diced red bell pepper

6 cornichon pickles, thinly sliced crosswise

Freshly ground pepper

Bring potatoes and salted water to cover in saucepan to boil, then simmer over medium heat, uncovered, until just barely tender, about 15 minutes, depending on size of potatoes. Drain.

Combine onion, vinegar, olive oil, 1 tablespoon water, mustard, cheese, ham, bell pepper, cornichons, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste in bowl.

Cut hot potatoes in half (or quarters if large) and add to bowl. Toss with hands until well mixed. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature before serving.

5 to 6 servings. Each of 6 servings:

163 calories; 472 mg sodium; 10 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 21 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.50 gram fiber.

GREEK POTATO SALAD

16 small boiling potatoes, about 1 pound

Salt

Water

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2/3 cup thinly sliced green onions

2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 Kalamata olives, pitted, cut in small pieces

2 tablespoons minced dill

Freshly ground pepper

1 small tomato

1/2 cup finely diced mild feta cheese

Bring potatoes and salted water to cover in saucepan to boil, then simmer over medium heat, uncovered, until just barely tender, about 15 minutes, depending on size of potatoes. Drain.

Combine garlic, green onions, vinegar, olive oil, 1 tablespoon water, olives, dill, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste in bowl.

Cut hot potatoes in half (or quarters if large) and add to bowl. Toss with hands until well mixed. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature before serving.

Remove pulp and seeds from tomato and discard. Cut remaining tomato into small dice. Add tomato and feta to salad and toss gently just before serving.

5 to 6 servings. Each of 6 servings:

144 calories; 410 mg sodium; 6 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 17 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.83 gram fiber.

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