Potatoes. America’s #1 vegetable crop according to the USDA, with over 90% of the potatoes we eat being planted in the spring for fall harvest. How, then, did potato salad become the appointed side dish of summer?
Maybe it has something to do with the long shelf life of many potato varieties, or the economics of feeding large crowds with relatively inexpensive ingredients. However it happened, I’m glad that it did.
Early-season new potatoes are the sweetest of all, perfect, in my opinion, for potato salads. These little guys are simply young potatoes that haven’t matured into larger, starchier spuds. With thin, papery skins and ultra-creamy, moist interiors, new potatoes cook up quickly and make for great bite-sized noshing.
New potatoes are readily available in the spring and summer months so there is no reason not to use them as often as you can. Grocery stores, farmer’s markets and road-side stands all offer up wonderful varieties while the weather is hot. For this recipe you’ll want to choose either a waxy variety, like most fingerling potatoes, or an all-purpose variety, like Yukon Gold or Red Gold. Starchy varieties, like Russets, will also work but tend to fall apart more easily after they have been boiled.
Another great farmer’s market find this time of year are green beans. Call them what you will — pole beans, string beans, runner beans, snap beans — these beauties are best when small and freshly harvested. Just-picked green beans are sweet and vegetal and are one of my favorite crops when it comes to pick-your-own. They grow prolifically on their vines which makes them a great crop for kids to help harvest. Teach them to pinch the beans off at the stem (don’t pull!) and they will fill your bag or basket in a matter of minutes.
German potato salads, unlike their mayonnaise-laden cousins, are dressed in simple vinegar-based dressings which make them ideal for summer barbecues. I think they stand up nicely to all sorts of grilled fare, but I also like them beside simple salads or egg dishes like quiche. We recently attended a cook-out and brought the below dish with us. Vegetarian it is not, though you could omit the bacon if you felt like it and make it not only vegetarian, but vegan as well. It is delicious however you choose to make it, but especially so with the tender new potatoes and green beans dressed with crisp bacon, sweet shallots, and a beautiful garnish of onion-y chive flowers.
To complement the bacon-shallot dressing we selected an aged cider vinegar, though you should experiment to see what you like. I wanted something tangy but not too assertive or astringent. A white balsamic would also work nicely in this dish. If you choose a particularly acidic vinegar, consider sweetening your dressing slightly with a bit of sugar or honey to round out the flavor. I took the girls out to our (overgrown) garden to harvest the finishing touch of chive flowers, which they then helped me break into individual little florets.
I should also mention that this dish is simple to make, coming together in under an hour. Our Stout Sprouts helped prep the veggies and also sprinkled the chive flowers on our finished salad. Save the bacon frying, potato boiling, and green bean steaming for the adults in your kitchen, though your kids might like to help toss the potatoes and green beans with the dressing once you’ve finished.
If you normally make your potato salads with mayonnaise I encourage you to give this version a taste test. My all-time favorite potato salad recipe may still be my grandmother’s (mayo AND eggs, along with crunchy pickles, celery and onion…my sister and I still talk about it years after my grandmother’s passing)…but this runs a very, very close second. And is certainly healthier as long as you don’t go overboard with the bacon or salt.
Enjoy, and long live summer!
New Potato And Green Bean Salad With Bacon-Shallot Dressing And Chive Flowers
2 pounds washed baby new potatoes (look for a waxy variety, like Yukon Golds)
1 pound washed and trimmed young green beans
1/2 cup water
6 strips thick-cut bacon cut into a quarter-inch dice (if you can find double smoked bacon, use it!)
2 to 3 large shallots, minced (about 1 cup total)
2 – 3 tablespoons good-quality apple cider vinegar
Between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar or honey (optional, but recommended if your vinegar is particularly tangy)
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Individual flowers from 1 – 2 flowering chive stalks
Begin by boiling the new potatoes until just tender in well-salted water for approximately 20 – 30 minutes. As soon as a knife easily pierces the skin of the potato and meets no resistance, turn off the heat, drain the potatoes, and rinse under cold water. Set aside to drain further, cutting any of the larger potatoes in half so that all the potatoes are approximately bite-size.
Refill the same pot with water and a pinch of salt, bring to a boil, and cook the green beans for 3 – 5 minutes, until they are bright green but still slightly firm. Immediately drain the green beans and rinse under very cold water to stop them from cooking. Drain again and set the green beans aside with the potatoes.
Cook the bacon in a large skillet (non-stick if you have one) over medium-high heat in 1/2 cup water. (This is a great trick I learned from Cook’s Illustrated — it reduces some of the spatter by cooking some of the fat off the bacon before it begins to brown, and the bacon gets nice and crispy.) When the bacon is crispy, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and transfer it to a paper-towel lined plate.
Drain off all but 1 teaspoon of the bacon fat from the skillet. Return the skillet to medium heat and add the shallots, sautéing until they are quite soft — between 5 and 10 minutes. Add the vinegar (and sugar, if you’re using it) to the skillet with the shallots, stir in the bacon, and immediately add the potatoes and green beans. Using a spatula with a folding motion, dress the vegetables well with the vinegar, shallots and bacon. Season to taste with Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper.
This potato salad can be eaten warm or at room temperature. When ready to serve, sprinkle the salad with the chive flowers. Though this potato salad will hold up better than a mayonnaise-based one, you will want to refrigerate any leftovers after your meal.
Serves: 8 – 10
Kid rating: three-and-a-half stars. Our Stout Sprouts are slowly warming up to vinegar-based dressings, and this is no exception. The vinegar twang in the simple bacon-shallot dressing was a little strong for them…but not such a strong flavor as to discourage them from at least trying this dish. The familiar and approachable vegetables here — potatoes and green beans — mean that kids won’t put up a big fuss when this dish lands on their plate. If your kids already like salad dressings or other vinegar-y things, give this a try. I think you’ll be surprised how easily kids will embrace green beans when served in a potato salad!
Parent rating: four stars. I’m a big fan of German potato salads and this is no different. The combination of bacon, shallots and vinegar delicately dress the potatoes and the crunch of freshly-cooked green beans is a great addition. The chive flowers are more than just pretty, adding a wonderful flavor component that complements the sautéed shallots with a secondary onion-y punch. My husband, who appreciates bolder flavors, suggested we amp this up the next time with something like a tablespoon of Dijon mustard or sprinkle of red pepper flakes in the dressing. Either would be wonderful if your kids approve!