Nothing says summer like potato salad, but while many people have strong opinions about what constitutes potato salad and what doesn't, in my opinion, if it contains cold (or even warm!) potatoes and some kind of dressing, it's potato salad.
Scandinavians have embraced the potato since it was introduced in the mid-1700s, and it now plays a foundational role in some of their most famous foods, including lefse, Jansson's temptation, and the beloved boiled red potatoes that accompany nearly every celebratory meal, including Midsummer. For my Scandinavian Midsummer Porch Party, I thought I'd riff off of a recipe my mother-in-law introduced to me, and make it slightly more Scandinavian. Hers calls for boiled potatoes, sweet onion, white vinegar, and mayo with dried dill. I made mine with boiled red potatoes (also a North Dakota favorite) and fresh dill.
Native to the Mediterranean and Eurasia, dill is probably the most important culinary herb in Scandinavia. Only caraway gives it a run for its money. Although most Americans are probably only familiar with it thanks to dill pickles, it is one of my favorite herbs - fresh and green tasting, but not as one-dimensional as parsley or overpowering as fennel or rosemary. It is the perfect complement to fish, cucumbers (as you'll see in the next post), and yes, potatoes. Scandinavians also use it to flavor lamb stew, instead of the more Western mint.
Fresh dill can be a bit of a pain to keep fresh, but trim the stems when you get home and place them in a wide-mouth pint mason jar with an inch or so of cold water. It will keep fresh at room temp for a day or so (change the water daily), but put it in the fridge with a plastic bag tent if you want it to keep for longer.
The key to this tangy salad is the vinegar, and tossing the onions and potatoes while the potatoes are still hot.
Creamy Dilled Potato Salad
If you don't have fresh dill, you can certainly use 2 tablespoons dried dill, but the flavor, while good, won't be quite the same.
2-3 lbs red potatoes
1 sweet onion, like Vidalia or Walla-Walla
2+ tablespoons white or white wine vinegar
1+ cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
Wash the potatoes and slice them about a quarter inch thick (I cut my very large potatoes in quarters first). Place in a large pot and add cold water to cover generously. Bring to a rolling boil, reduce the heat slightly (so they don't boil over), and cook until fork-tender, but not quite falling apart. Meanwhile, cut the root end off the onion, then cut in half lengthwise, peel, and cut in quarters or sixths. Slice crosswise paper thin. Add to a large serving bowl or casserole and toss the onions with the vinegar. When the potatoes are done, drain and let them steam for a second, then add while hot to the onions and vinegar. Toss well to combine. Then add mayonnaise to coat and the fresh dill. Taste and add more vinegar as necessary. The vinegar flavor will tame down a bit as the potatoes absorb it, so if making ahead taste the next day and add more vinegar as necessary. You can also add some sour cream if you want this potato salad to be even creamier.
Serve as a side dish to grilled meats, sandwiches, or your favorite bean salad.
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.
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