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One Nice, Refreshing Salad That Happens to Be a Potato Salad

June 26, 2002|FAYE LEVY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Rather than make heavy potato salads laden with mayo, Mediterranean cooks like their potato salads to be refreshing. A friend introduced me to an Italian rendition of fingerling potatoes flavored only with extra-virgin olive oil, Italian parsley, salt and pepper.

Many cooks will add lemon juice, garlic and onions--red, white or green--and throw in herbs by the handful. Greeks find oregano a good potato partner, while Lebanese and Egyptian cooks like mint.

When making potato salad, remember three potato precepts: Cook potatoes carefully, season while warm (so they absorb flavors most readily), and handle gently once cooked. Simmer or steam the spuds in their skins to keep in more flavor.

Besides baby potatoes, you can also get good results with larger white- or red-skinned boiling potatoes or the yellow-fleshed Yukon Gold variety. Avoid russets or baking potatoes, as they tend to fall apart.

If you peel the potatoes, do it quickly so they won't get cold. Then moisten them with a portion of the dressing. If you want to embellish them, add pungent olives, capers, chopped anchovies or dill pickles to give the potatoes punch. Lightly cooked green beans, grilled red peppers or diced tomatoes impart a colorful, summery accent. Fold in the remaining dressing and any extra ingredients gently; don't mash the potatoes.

Potato salad does not benefit from prolonged chilling because cold dressing can congeal and make the potatoes seem dry. A mayonnaise-free Mediterranean dressing allows you to serve the salad at room temperature.

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Eastern Mediterranean Potato Salad

Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes * Vegetarian

Most herbs match well with potatoes. Try tarragon, chives, cilantro or basil. Vary the dressing with garlic oil or herb-scented oil instead of plain oil and with tarragon or balsamic vinegar instead of lemon juice. Use the proportions of oil and lemon juice/vinegar to your taste. Many people in the Middle East go for equal amounts, while Provencal chefs often opt for three times as much oil as vinegar.

If your family insists on mayonnaise, marinate the potatoes in a simple French fashion with dry white wine, salt and pepper. Toss the cooled potatoes with the parsley, olives, capers and 3/4 to 1 1/4 cups mayonnaise, either regular or low-fat.

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2 pounds boiling potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

Salt

2 to 3 tablespoons strained lemon juice

Freshly ground pepper

Cayenne pepper, optional

3 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup finely chopped red onion or sweet onion, such as Vidalia

4 plum tomatoes, optional

1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley

2 teaspoons capers, drained, optional

1/2 cup flavorful olives, such as Kalamata, pitted and cut in half, optional

Cut any large potatoes in half to speed up the cooking. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover them with water by about 1/2 inch and add salt to taste. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until a knife can pierce the center of the largest potato easily and the potato falls from the knife when lifted, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the dressing. Whisk 2 tablespoons of lemon juice with a pinch of salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste in a small bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and whisk again.

Drain the potatoes in a colander, rinse them briefly and leave just until cool enough to handle. Peel them if you like, and cut them in 1-inch dice.

Place them in a large bowl and add the onion, 3 tablespoons of dressing and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. With a rubber spatula, fold together gently but thoroughly. Let the potatoes cool to room temperature.

Dice the tomatoes (to add them to the salad), or cut them in thick wedges to use as garnish. Whisk the remaining dressing, pour it over the potatoes and fold it in. Add the parsley, capers, half the olives and the diced tomatoes to the potatoes and fold together lightly. Taste, adjust seasoning, and add more lemon juice and olive oil if needed. Garnish with the remaining olives and with the tomatoes, if you've cut them in wedges. Serve at room temperature.

6 servings. Each serving: 161 calories; 153 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 21 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 2.36 grams fiber.

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Faye Levy is the author of "1,000 Jewish Recipes" (Wiley, 2000).

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