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.
A great side dish for summer entertaining: new potato and green bean salad with bacon-shallot dressing
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.
That you can make a good tempura at home was a bit of a revelation to me. That it can be part of a healthy diet was even more surprising. Until recently my tempura cravings were usually indulged at Japanese restaurants, and I chose the word “indulged” carefully there because that’s just how the meals felt: indulgent. Piles of shrimp, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli, heavily batter-dipped and deep fried, served with a salty soy-based dipping sauce.
Now, there’s no getting around the fact that tempura is, indeed, a deep-fried dish. But even frying has its place when done correctly. Our corn kakiage was one of our first home forays into tempura land, inspired by a recipe from Nancy Singleton Hachisu in her wonderful cookbook Japanese Farm Food. In it, Nancy includes several tempura dishes but casually mentions that tempura is actually quite difficult to get right. Please don’t be dissuaded though. With a little practice, this is a dish that never fails to impress.