Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Salad

I'm here in Switzerland and haven't had much time to cook since I've been teaching. But, last night I returned to my friend's house and I really needed to cook. I decided to make potato salad since we had just visited the Metzgerei and stocked up on sausages. Now that may seem risky since German Potato Salad is very different from my favorite recipe - it usually involves bacon and vinegar - but in the interest of cross cultural sharing, I made my grandmother's Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Salad, which was one of my father's favorite foods. It felt a little strange to bring a once German food back to a German. In case you were worried, he loved it!

Now, I made this salad this summer for a friend and he loved it, but he had to tell me that his mother's was the best and mine was second best, which I actually took to be a great compliment. After all, Mom's food (unless she is a terrible cook) is usually something you crave all your life. The strange thing is that one of my sons loves my potato salad - the other one still thinks anything made with mayonnaise is unappealing. He did say, however, that if he liked potato salad, he was sure that mine was the best! Oh well, maybe someday he will come to appreciate it.

Meanwhile, I had to contend with brands of mayonnaise and mustard and pickles that I had never tasted, which involved quite a lot of doctoring to make it all taste right. I could only find Thomy Mayonnaise and Lowensenf Mustard from Dusseldorf - it was a nice sharp mustard. And, the pickles weren't what I was used to either - I ended up using Cornichons and a bit of sugar to sweeten them up. You need to know that Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Salad is tangy - not really sweet and not really sour, but instead a wonderful combination of both. But then they love things that include both sweet and sour tastes on the table - usually 7 and this one combines both in one dish as it uses both dill pickles and pickle relish (or sweet pickle juice). Usually I am fond of Best Foods Mayonnaise, Grey Poupon Mustard, Clausen Mini Dill Pickles, and Del Monte Pickle Relish. But of course other brands can do in a pinch - I used to use French's Mustard for example.

What's unusual about this particular potato salad and the way that I've changed it is that I include meat - usually leftover roast beef instead of the usual hardboiled eggs, but sometimes I make it with just eggs to make it more traditional. Any meat will do, but my oldest son is particularly fond of the beef version. When you add chunks of meat, it becomes somewhat like the German Fleishsalat, but to me it is like having little nuggets of a chewy texture that plays off the smooth potatoes and crisp pickle chunks really well. Anyway, this is my grandmother Annie Eishenhower's recipe with my modifications. I hope you enjoy it!

Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Salad

4 Medium Potatoes washed
1 small onion minced
1/2 cup warm water with 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of meat cut in chunks - roast beef, or pork roast, ham or bacon or 4 hardboiled eggs
2 large dill pickles or 4 small, cut in small chunks
2 Tablespoons of Pickle Relish or sweet pickle juice or sugar if you don't have either one
1 Heaping Tablespoon Mustard
1/2 cup Mayonnaise or more
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Paprika to cover

Boil potatoes in the skin until you can pierce them with a knife - usually 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. Meanwhile, put cut onions in the warm salted water to make them less sharp. Peel as quickly as you can as the potato salad is better when dressed while the potatoes are still warm. up potatoes into 1/2 inch chunks. Place in a large bowl and add in onions and meat or eggs. In a separate bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, pickle relish and pickles. Stir and taste - adding more of any of the previous ingredients to taste. Then season with salt and pepper. Stir into potato and meat mixture. Stir to coat, but being careful not to mash the potatoes. Add a few tablespoons more of mayonnaise if necessary to achieve desired consistency. Smooth top and wipe the sides of the bowl with a paper towel. Sprinkle with Paprika and place in refrigerator to meld flavors for at least 1/2 hour. Best after cooling completely.

Five Element Analysis

Potatoes are clearly from the Earth Element, but the pickles add the Wood Element. Onions, mayonnaise and mustard bring in quite a bit of the Metal Element. Beef adds more Earth, so pork is probably a better choice as it brings in the Water Element and so do eggs. This dish needs the addition of the Water Element can also be added as the main course with sausages like I did or a pork roast as a traditional combination or you could serve a Water dessert with some dark berries. The paprika adds just a bit of fire and that element needs some support so perhaps serving it with a Fiery salad that includes tomatoes would also make it a balanced meal.

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