I discovered this fresh and light-handed salad years ago when I lived in Denmark. Most likely it was at one of our frequent family gatherings, seated outdoors at a long wooden picnic table in the shadow of a thatched roof farmhouse with the summer sun hanging, as if caught on the hook of the horizon, refusing to sink as the evening set in. It was certainly summer, because that’s when new potatoes are at their peak in Denmark, and considered not only a staple but a delicacy to be greedily devoured.
I was smitten by the salad’s restraint, simply tossed with oil and vinegar, and generously layered with freshly snipped flowering sprigs and herbs from the garden. As an American, my experience with potato salads to that point had been the heavy-handed mayo and egg sort — tasty for sure, but more of a cloak to disguise the mild-mannered potato. I would prod a fork through those murky salads swathed in cream, sugar and oil in an attempt to fish out any intact morsel of potato, which by then had no flavor except that of the coating with which it was blanketed.
The Danish potato salad was delightfully different, and appropriately Scandinavian in its understatement and use of fresh ingredients, celebrating the humble potato with a confetti of garden herbs. Most important: I could taste the potato. And when the season’s newest potatoes are available, delicately sweet and faintly redolent of butter, there is nothing as sublime as that flavor.
I chose blue potatoes for this salad, since I love their unusual color and how they contrast with the flowering yellow mustard greens I found at the farmers market. You can also use yellow or red new or small potatoes. The combination of herbs is up to your taste and whatever might be growing in your garden or stashed in your fridge. If you can find flowering mustard, add it to the mix or use it as a garnish, since it adds a nice peppery bite and vibrant color to the salad.
Danish potato salad with garden herbs
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes plus cooling time
Yield: Serves 6
3 lbs. new potatoes or small potatoes (red, white or blue), washed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 cups fresh herbs, such as parsley, mint, dill, chervil, chives or tarragon, coarsely chopped
Flowering mustard sprigs for garnish
Place the potatoes in a large pot. Cover with cold water and add 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Partially cover the pot and cook until the potatoes are fork-tender, but not mushy, 10 to 15 minutes depending on the potatoes. Drain the potatoes and let stand for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
Cut the potatoes in half or into large bite-size pieces. Add the potatoes, oil, vinegar, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and the black pepper to a large bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Cool to room temperature.
Before serving, taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired. Add the fresh herbs and stir to blend. If the salad is too dry, add additional olive oil. Serve at room temperature.