Kate's All-American Summer:
The Great American Salad Bowl
Coleslaw, Potato and Macaroni Salads
by Kate Heyhoe
Exactly what constitutes a salad? Some have leafy greens, others are made from rice, grains, potatoes, beets, meat, fish, or pasta. Some are flavored by vinegar or citrus juice and oil, others by thick sauces like mayonnaise, sour cream, or buttermilk. I love 'em all.
Like Fred and Ginger or George and Gracie, summer and salads go together. Over the centuries, Americans have embraced some very special salads—salads that I consider quintessentially American, despite their origins. Who could imagine eating barbecue without potato salad or coleslaw? What would childhood be like without tuna salad sandwiches? What American has not dived into a mayonnaise-laden macaroni salad at a pool party or picnic?
Caesar Salad may have been created by an Italian in the border town of Tijuana, Mexico, but today every major salad dressing manufacturer has at least one version of bottled Caesar dressing—and a number of variations to boot (like Southwestern Caesar and Caesar Ranch).
If you have any doubts that salads are favorite American foods, look no further than your local hamburger joint. Salads are on the menu at Burger King and McDonald's, and some chains even give salads their own staging area at a salad bar. With today's emphasis on healthier eating, non-leafy salads made from grains are also becoming popular salad bar attractions.
Among the grain salads, Middle Eastern tabbouleh is made from parsley, lemon juice, chopped vegetables and bulghur wheat. Bulghur, a form of crushed, dried wheat kernels (similar to but not the same as cracked wheat) may be the world's easiest grain to prepare: simply pour boiling water over it and let it sit until tender and moist, then drain. Because you don't have to cook it, bulghur is perfect for summer meals when you want to avoid a hot stove. Bulghur also has a wonderful chewy texture, creating salads you can really sink your teeth into.
Still, when I think of American summer salads, I flash on the classics: macaroni salad, potato salad, and coleslaw. These are the ones that make Norman Rockwell-type memories— salads enjoyed at summer picnics, fireworks displays, barbecues and beach parties. These salads can never be surpassed, solely because the recipe calls for five parts emotional memory and one part edible ingredients.
Despite oft-heard claims (including my own), there is no single best recipe for coleslaw, macaroni or potato salad— everyone has their own favorite, usually echoing back to childhood. I've included below the classic summer salads the way my mother prepared them, and the same way I eat them today. You may be tempted to compare them to the salads of your own youth— and if so, they may or may not stand up to expectations. But if you enjoy them, I hope they become a new part of your summer salad repertoire— with emotions and memories served extra.
Pasta and Potato Salad Tips
For the best flavor when making macaroni, pasta and potato salads, follow this advice:
- Cook in Salty Water: When cooking pasta and potatoes, add plenty of salt to the cooking water; by doing so you'll need to add less salt after they've drained. Allow about 2 teaspoons of salt per 4 quarts boiling water.
- Do It While It's Hot: Always add your mayonnaise or sour cream, lemon juice, vinegar and salad dressing to cooked drained potatoes and pasta while they are still quite hot; the salad will better absorb the flavors. Don't rinse the pasta or potatoes, which cools them down too much.
- Taste for All Seasons: Just before serving, taste the salad. Chilling makes flavors less pronounced, so the salad can end up tasting bland, and it may be dry after absorbing the dressing. Refresh pasta and potato salads by adding more lemon juice, vinegar, dressing and/or mayonnaise to taste, and more herbs, salt and pepper as needed.
- Use the Real Thing: When making my recipes, I always use real mayonnaise, not the other white stuff marketed as "salad dressing." Some people consider the two interchangable, but I don't—they taste entirely different. Also, please don't use no-fat mayo. If you have to cut back, mix low-fat mayo with regular to approximate the intended taste. Personally, I don't mess with mixing mayo's, especially in my childhood favorites. Full-fat mayo tastes great, I just eat it less often, and when I taste it, I always think of mom and her classic summer salads.
Have a cool, classic summer,
Kate's Classic Summer Salad Recipes:
Kate's Global Kitchen for July, 2000:
Visit the Cookbook Profile Archive for more recipes.
Copyright © 2000, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created July 2000