Dressed-Up Potatoes With the addition of leftover meat and fancy dressings to enhance flavor, a super salad goes from side dish to main course.

June 10, 1998|By Cathy Thomas | Cathy Thomas,Orange County Register

Why buck the system: the luscious flavor system of potatoes-meet-dressing?

Potato salad is too delectable to relegate to an occasional picnic side dish. Too irresistible to be just a sandwich sidekick.

Augmented with slivers of cooked meat, chicken, fish or beans, it turns into a weeknight main course. At my house, it's often a Monday night special, incorporating leftovers from a weekend of feasting. Protein-rich tidbits add a spark of flavor. And in just the few minutes it takes to cook the potatoes, lackluster leftovers become luscious entrees.

Thinly sliced leftover lamb, beef or pork is arranged like a fan on the sides of a plate or platter of cooked potatoes lightly coated with a tangy vinaigrette. Cooked salmon is crumbled and tumbled with tender potatoes and a creamy sauce.

Cold cooked chicken works, too. But boned and skinned chicken breasts can be sauteed and sliced within minutes to become a warm partner to potato salad.

Bits of crumbled cooked bacon or baby shrimp or canned beans make great flavor enhancers, too.

Crab, real or imitation. Smoked ham.

Grilled portobellos.

Even caviar.

Creamy mayonnaise-style dressings used to be traditional for potato salads. But now, mayonnaise has been replaced by other sauce options. Creamy yogurt-based dressings, vinaigrettes laden with fresh herbs and fresh salsa add delicious tang to potatoes.

* Yogurt-based dressings: Nonfat plain yogurt combined with a little reduced-calorie mayonnaise, vinegar, Dijon mustard and fresh herbs makes a scrumptious, reduced-fat potato salad dressing. Or eliminate the low-calorie mayonnaise and season the yogurt with lemon juice, lemon zest and dill. If you opt for a yogurt-based dressing, you'll need to cool the potatoes before you toss in the dressing.

Jeanne Jones, cookbook author ("Canyon Ranch Cooking," HarperCollins, 1998, $40) and Cook It Light columnist, uses this style of dressing in a potato salad accented with plenty of celery, green onions and red bell peppers. I like to add a garnish of sliced, sauteed boned-and-skinned chicken breasts. To save cooking time, place chicken between pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap and pound until flattened. Saute in a nonstick skillet that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. The breasts take about three to five minutes per side to cook and in the process, they get a nice brown crust on both sides.

Vinaigrettes: Lively oil and vinegar mixtures make incredible dressings for potato salads. This type of dressing can be prepared in advance and chilled. And it can be tossed with either hot or room-temperature cooked potatoes. Barbecued lamb, pork or beef makes a delectable garnish with this type of potato salad.

Almost any vinaigrette will work, but I especially like chef and cookbook author John Ash's Lemony Vinaigrette ("From Earth to the Table," Dutton, 1995, $29.95). Because it's loaded with lemon zest and fresh tarragon (with a tiny kiss of dried red chili flakes), it makes a very lively dish. Ash likes to add fresh corn kernels, imported black olives and chopped unsalted cashews. I usually omit the nuts when I garnish with meat.

Bottled dressings: Bottled vinaigrette and creamy dressing work, too. Regular or reduced-fat ranch or Caesar dressing makes a rich-tasting topping. When I use prepared dressing, I add some chopped fresh herbs, such as dill, basil or tarragon, to boost the flavor.

Salsas: Fresh tomato salsa makes a potato salad with attitude. ++ Be sure to add plenty of red onion and cilantro along with the tomatoes and chilies. To transform this style of potato salad into dinner, you can garnish it with any kind of cooked meat, but I like to use canned beans, either black or ranch-style. I drain them and toss them with a little salsa and spoon them in small piles around the outside rim of the plate.

Spud salad - boiled or roasted: Choose the style of dressing you like best, but be sure not to overcook the potatoes. They should be just fork-tender, not cooked to smithereens. If you're boiling them, it can take as little as eight minutes if the potatoes are cut into a small dice. The larger the chunks, the longer the cooking time. If using baking potatoes, such as russet or Idaho, I often leave them whole and unpeeled; I peel and dice them after they're boiled.

But even the potatoes can be leftovers. When I roast small red potatoes, I make more than I need. The roasting heightens the flavor. You can use them cold or heat them in a 300-degree oven until warmed. If they're cold, toss with any type of dressing. If they're warm, toss with either salsa or vinaigrette.

Here are four main-dish potato salad recipes. Mix and match them to suit your taste and leftover inventory.

Eyeing potatoes: variety of skins, shapes, flesh

There are hundreds of varieties of potatoes. But basically, there are four categories in the United States: russet, long white, round red and Yukon golds.

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