The Minimalist does it again: Potato salad, all grown up and 100% mayonnaise-free

by Terry B on August 12, 2009

Served warm, this Potato Salad with Capers, Shallots and Mustard is bursting with lively flavors and sophisticated enough to go with anything. Recipe below.


When it comes to lists, I’m a rank amateur. A little over a month ago, I raided my archives and came up with a list of five easy meals for summer. Thought I was pretty cool, giving readers a smorgasbord of summer cooking ideas. Then the New York Times’ Minimalist, Mark Bittman, came out with not one, but two lists. First, Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less. He followed it a few days later with 101 Simple Salads for the Season. That’s two lists of 101 recipes each.

Granted, his lists are more ideas than they are complete recipes. [Example: “Soak couscous in boiling water to cover until tender; top with sardines, tomatoes, parsley, olive oil and black pepper.”] And granted, writing about food is what he does for a living. Oh, yeah. And the sun was in my eyes. Waa, waa, waa. Suddenly, my brilliant list of five felt like small potatoes.

Which segues nicely into this lively potato salad. I’m a huge fan of American mayonnaise-based potato salads, especially served alongside ribs, burgers or other barbecue fare. But what this warm, mustard/lemon juice-based dish does for small red potatoes is a whole other thing. Makes it “grown up,” as Mr. Bittman says, right at home cozying up to a steak or fish fillet or roast—or just about anything.

This potato salad is roughly based on numerous French recipes, never a bad place to start in my book. But it substitutes whole grain mustard for Dijon and lemon juice for vinegar and/or white wine. The capers and chopped shallot bring lots of flavor to the party, and the parsley adds a fresh, calming note. You know a recipe is working when there’s nothing you would add or take away from it, for fear of creating something less.

Here’s Mr. Bittman’s original recipe: “30. Fast, grown-up potato salad: Boil bite-size red potatoes. While still warm, dress them with olive oil, lemon juice, whole grain mustard, capers and parsley. Chopped shallots, bell peppers, etc., all welcome, too.” Here’s what I did with it.

Potato Salad with Capers, Shallots and Mustard
Serves 3 to 4 [can be doubled—probably a good idea, in fact]

1-1/2 pounds small red potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 teaspoons whole grain mustard
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 cup capers [chopped if large]
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots [about 1 medium]
2/3 cup roughly chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Scrub the potatoes and place in a large pot and cover by two inches with cold water. Salt generously and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are just cooked, 10 to 15 minutes. When you can pierce them easily with a fork, they’re done. Drain in a collander and set it in the top of the pot to let them cool slightly.

While the potatoes are cooking, whisk the olive oil, mustard and lemon juice together in a small bowl. As soon as the potatoes are cooled enough to handle [but only just—you want this dish warm], slice them into halves and place them in a large bowl. Whisk the dressing again to combine, drizzle it over the potatoes and stir gently with a wooden spoon to coat potatoes. Add the capers, shallots and parsley to the bowl and stir gently to combine. Adjust seasonings with salt [if needed] and pepper. Serve immediately. When you do, note that the capers and bits of shallot will want to sink to the bottom of the bowl. Make sure to spoon some over each serving.

Kitchen Notes

I got nothing. Except that this was really, really, really good and Mark Bittman is my hero. Keep the lists coming, man.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura August 12, 2009 at 3:50 pm

I would like to eat this NOW. My mom used to make something similar when I was growing up although without the capers (I think everyone in my family but her thought they were too “weird”). At first I wasn’t thrilled with it, as an eight year old you just want normal potato salad, but over the years I came to really love it, prefer it I daresay, to the mayonnaise version. Thanks for the inspiration!

parsnips aplenty August 12, 2009 at 6:27 pm

I’ve been idolizing Mark Bittman all summer. Well, for years, really, but this summer I’ve been particularly obsequious about it. The potato salad similar to this in “The Best Recipes in the World” is my default.

Kim, Ordinary Recipes Made Gourmet August 12, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Terry, I didn’t receive my normal email of your usual Wednesday update! I had to come here to see if something was wrong! Glad to know you did post like you always do. Can you check to be sure my email address is still in your subscriber list? I don’t want to miss out on anything here! Especially when it’s about potatoes man! 😀

Lauren August 13, 2009 at 1:38 am

Terry, LOVE THIS. Thanks for sharing. Mustard is my favorite food.

Terry B August 13, 2009 at 3:56 am

Laura, the more I hear about your mom, the more I understand where your appreciation of food and love of cooking come from. Does your dad cook?

parsnips aplenty—First, great user name! Bittman really is great, isn’t he? And his relaxed, stripped down approach to food totally matches my own sensibilities.

Kim, I often don’t get my own email about my posts until Thursday. Often depends how late on Tuesdays I put up my posts. Everyone, if you haven’t already subscribed, it’s a great way to get weekly reminders of new posts. [And note that I’m speaking in plural—every Wednesday there are two new posts, so be sure to scroll down for the second.] You can also get updates if you follow me on Twitter.

Lauren—I know exactly how you feel. At any given time, we have at least five or six different mustards in our fridge.

lisa (dandysugar) August 13, 2009 at 5:15 am

This looks incredibly good and is just the kind of potato salad recipe I have been thinking about. Simple fresh ingredients, no fuss.

Angela August 13, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Don’t be so hard on yourself, Terry. I love reading your words. The progression in your posts are great – story > recipe > notes. Simple yet effective. Inspiration is key for me when cooking. Thanks for the great photos and good recipes.

Terry B August 13, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Thanks, lisa! To me, simplicity’s the key to so much good cooking.

Don’t worry, Angela, I’m plenty full of myself. Just having a little fun at my own expense.

Lisa August 13, 2009 at 6:44 pm

This looks and sounds delicious Terry! And with mustard in the recipe, I know it’s one my hubby will try. :-) What types of meat dishes might you pair this with?

Terry B August 13, 2009 at 6:51 pm

Lisa—Thanks! I served it with some pan seared pork chops with a little rosemary, but I could see it working with just about anything, including grilled chicken or steaks. Simple and non-saucy would best, I think.

Mimi August 14, 2009 at 3:10 am

I might just make this tomorrow.

TerryB, your post is perfection!

diva August 14, 2009 at 8:08 am

aaah! i love potato salad but i can never cope with it because of the mayo. i’m liking this alternative recipe :) cheers Terry! x

potato salad Charlie August 14, 2009 at 9:44 am

I got to say that a picture really helps convey the recipe. It’s looking very good for a dinner that I’m having this weekend.

Miakoda August 14, 2009 at 1:25 pm

With that hint of lemon juice, the potatoes probably taste delicious. I recently learnt its way better to slice them in half like you have. When I cooked them whole, I find the core wasn’t flavorful. Nice :)

Terry B August 14, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Thanks for stopping by, Mimi!

diva—I’ll admit, I like both, but this is a nice change up.

potato salad Charlie—Yeah, I find pictures a big help for figuring out how a dish should look, how it’s made and whether it really interests me.

Miakoda—Actually, I cooked the potatoes whole and sliced them after. You can do it the other way too, slicing them before cooking. They will cook faster that way, but some cooks complain they get too waterlogged if sliced first.

Eric August 14, 2009 at 5:37 pm

I’m looking forward to making this potato salad this weekend. I’ll be accompanying it with grilled portabello mushrooms marinated in a chipotle-garlic-balsamic vinegarette and topped with jack cheese and slided avocado.

Ashley August 14, 2009 at 7:17 pm

I love how vibrant the colors are! I don’t think I’ve ever tried a mayo-free potato salad, but this recipe sure makes me want to test it out!

Karine August 15, 2009 at 2:57 am

I love this salad! It seems light and refreshing!

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