I love the buzz of a good farmers market, especially here in Alaska when we wait all winter long for the first signs of spring and summer. Our markets are finally in full swing, offering everything from local side-stripe prawns and black cod to snow apples, bitey arugula and jewel-colored potatoes. There's something enchanting about the abundance of local produce that brings out the social butterfly in people, enticing us to randomly "ooh" and "aah" over golden beets or ruby-streaked greens, pointing and asking one another for a recipe or two. The other day, I heard a child giggle, pointing to the Magic Molly, "I didn't know potatoes could be purple!" The edible purple tuber in question was one of 14 varieties grown by the Rempel Family Farm and featured at their stand in South Anchorage. Magic Molly is Mark Rempel's favorite for potato salad.
"After being cooked and left to chill overnight in the fridge, its blue intensifies," he says. "This blue then shares a little with the yellow in my wife's salad creating some intense greens. Blue, yellow and green make for a very colorful salad. On a side note, the purple color of the potato indicates high antioxidants."
As for salads, summer always has me tossing whatever I find locally to make a big salad, but timeless picnic sides -- cole slaw, macaroni salad, and potato salad—are always favorites to accompany the weekend barbeque or camping trip. In honor of Alaska's farmers, who grow some of the best spuds right here in our own back yard, I wanted to highlight the Denali potato, a white creamy thin-skinned variety that Rempel also grows.
There are as many recipes for potato salad as there are salmon in our streams. A warm vinaigrette and lots of fresh herbs are a nice alternative to the ubiquitous mayonnaise dressed versions. Of course, you can add egg, French cornichons, pickle relish, green onion, or change up the potato even -- try sweet potatoes or fingerlings or the purple-hued Magic Molly. This is a pretty basic recipe, but I've lightened it up with Greek yogurt as the base and added some fresh chopped tomato for vim and vigor.
Denali Potato Salad
(Source: Mark Rempel)
Serves 8 to 10
Optional garnishes: steamed green beans or sugar snap peas; chopped pistachios or walnuts; sliced green onion
Two simple steps
Cut potatoes into halves or thirds to facilitate even cooking. Cook potatoes in a large pot of salted boiling water about 15 to 20 minutes or until tender (but not mushy) when pierced with a fork. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, peel.
While potatoes are cooking, combine yogurt, mayonnaise, capers, herbs, garlic, lemon zest and juice, pepper and salt, and olive oil in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Add peeled, boiled potatoes and toss to combine. NOTE: For a creamy potato salad, mash most of the potatoes using a potato masher. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or yogurt and cayenne or hot sauce, if using. Chill until ready to serve. Top with chopped ripe tomato, and garnish, if desired, with green beans, sugar snap peas, nuts, or green onion.
*To quickly steam sugar snap peas or green beans, place trimmed peas or beans in a microwave-safe bowl with about 1/4 cup of water and steam about 1 to 2 minutes, or just until tender. Place in a bowl of ice water until cool and drain thoroughly.
Five more ways to spice up your spuds
Sweet Potato Hummus from Alaska from Scratch
French Potato Salad with Mustard and Fresh Herbs from Arctic Garden Studio
Potatoes in Tomato Onion Sauce from Laurie Constantino
Creamy Potato and Tuna Salad by Yotam Ottolenghi
Sara Foster's Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili
Kim Sunée is the author of the national bestseller, "Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home." She worked as a food editor for the magazines Southern Living and Cottage Living, and her writing has appeared in Food & Wine, The Oxford American, and Asian American Poetry and Writing. She has appeared several times as a guest judge on Food Network's "Iron Chef America" and is currently based in Anchorage, where she's working on a cookbook to be published in 2014. For more food and travel, visit www.kimsunee.com.