I clearly remember the first time I ever made potato salad. I was in grad school far away from home, in a land called “Illinois,” where I was invited to a potluck picnic and asked to make potato salad. I loved potato salad but had never made it before, so I did what any self-respecting college student would do and called my mother for her recipe.
I don’t remember anything about the picnic except arriving with my covered dish and telling everyone it was potato salad. “Is it German potato salad?” a hopeful voice asked. German? I didn’t even know what that was. “No, it’s Southern potato salad,” I stammered. No one seemed particularly impressed.
Of course, after the picnic I had to find out what German potato salad was. I asked my date, who said it had bacon and vinegar in it, no mayo, and I found a recipe in my ancient copy of The Joy of Cooking that I modified and enjoyed until I became vegetarian a few years later and started making it with vegetarian bacon and olive oil.
After I became vegan, I made it off and on for special occasions, with less and less oil, until I got to the point that my family liked it just as much without oil and “bacon” as long as I included a drop of Liquid Smoke or smoked salt for the smokey flavor.
Now, I often whip up my oil-free version to accompany “crab” cakes that I make myself or buy from the deli of the local natural foods store and my Basic Low-Fat Coleslaw. I always make it to taste, adding vinegar, mustard, pepper, and smoked salt until I get it right, and I’ve never bothered to write it down because it seemed so simple. But just in case there’s someone else out there who doesn’t know how to make German potato salad–in this case oil-free vegan German potato salad–here’s how I do it.
I like this salad very vinegary, so I always start off with about 1/4 cup of vinegar and add more to taste. Normally I use red onions but I was out and had to substitute green ones when I took these photos, and they were less sweet and pungent but more summery, which was nice for a change.
The magic ingredient is, of course, the hickory smoked salt, which I buy at The Spice House (with whom I have no affiliation, darn it. I’d be happy to be paid in spices.) It has a very concentrated smoke flavor, so it just takes a little and doesn’t increase the saltiness or sodium content much. If you can’t find it and don’t mind using Liquid Smoke, just add a few drops to the dressing before you pour it over the potatoes. Too much and it’s like licking a fireplace, but with just a touch, a simple potato salad is tranformed from ordinary to sublime.
Vegan German Potato Salad
- 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon creole or other whole grain mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
- generous grating of black pepper
- 1/16 teaspoon hickory smoked salt or other smoked salt
- 1/3 cup sliced green onions or chopped red onions
Wash the potatoes well and if they are large, cut them into halves or quarters; try to keep your pieces about the same size so they cook at the same speed. Bring a pot of water to boil, add the potatoes, and cook until they are tender when pierced with a fork. The time will depend on the size of the potatoes (my large, cut in half potatoes took about 25 minutes).
Drain the water from the potatoes in a colander and rinse them with cold water to cool them down enough to handle. If you want, you can peel them (I didn’t). Chop them into bite-sized cubes and place in a large bowl.
Whisk together the remaining ingredients except the onions in a small bowl. Pour over the potatoes and mix well. Stir in the onions. Check flavor and add more vinegar, salt, pepper, or smoked salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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