So I had the occasion to go to a picnic this weekend, the first one I’ve been to in years. My intrepid co-conspirator — the master of animal fats — announced that he was going to conduct an exploratory trek into the world of making fried chicken, and the obvious complimentary side dish was potato salad. The problem was, to my mind, that potato salad is frequently boring. I mean, nothing against it, but boiled potatoes with mayonnaise … meh.
(Why are hot weather foods really hot to make? Frying chicken and boiling a giant pot of potatoes are not very refreshing at 90°F.)
I thought about it and read some recipes, and decided that it was time stop hypothesizing and make a big bowl of Asian Potato Salad. And here is, roughly, what I did:
Step One: Potatoes
Unsurprisingly, potatoes are a key part of.. potato salad. I used eight fist-sized red potatoes, scrubbed with the skins on. I only cut them in half before boiling, because on MasterChef Australia they said that cooking pre-cut bites of potatoes can cause them to absorb a lot of water and have a weird texture. Anyway:
1) Boil potatoes in salted water for about 20 minutes or until soft.
2) Drain and put in the fridge to cool.
Step Two: Peanuts
One of my requirements for this salad was that it be vegetarian. While lots of recipes called for bacon, I wanted some little crunchy salty flavor nuggets without the meat. Enter peanuts! I used Vietnamese chili sauce for spice — it has chilies, vinegar, and garlic as the main flavors and oh MAN do I love that stuff.
1) Put a little bit of sesame oil and some vegetable oil in a pan to heat up.
2) When it’s warm, toss in some cocktail peanuts, salt, a bit of green onion, a bit of minced cilantro, and the chili sauce.
3) Keep the peanuts moving in the pan!
4) In about three minutes they will have some browning and look delicious, so you can take them off the heat.
Step Three: Not Potatoes!
1) Chop up about a cup of bok choy. I kind of cut up the stems like they were celery, and then added ribbons of the actual leaves.
2) Chop up about one red pepper. I like my red pepper in very small pieces, for what that’s worth.
3) Chop up a bunch of green onion.
4) Mince some cilantro.
5) Get the potatoes out of the fridge, and chop those into bite-sized pieces. (Okay, there are SOME potatoes in this section.)
6) Mix all of the above in a big bowl.
Step Four: Dressing
This is where taste comes into play. I don’t like gloopy dressings, and despite my penchant for spicy stuff I didn’t want to terrify any picnic goers. I think after eating a serving the consumer was left with a pleasant tingle in their mouth, which is just about right in my opinion.
1) Put about a cup of mayo in a bowl. This is the base.
2) Add some of this stuff: sesame oil, soy sauce, hot mustard (just a bit, this isn’t your heat source), sugar, and salt.
3) Add some vinegar to loosen up the mayo and cut the fat. Lemon juice would also work, and might be more thematic.
4) Got it close to what you want? Now it’s time for the spice: wasabi powder! Add it a little bit at a time for obvious reasons (unless you hate your fellow picnickers!)
Step Five: Nomming
1) Add the dressing to the chopped veggies and mix it all together. Taste and re-season as necessary.
2) Sprinkle the peanut mix on top at the last minute (to avoid soggy peanuts).
This turned out pretty dang well, even if it didn’t have bacon.