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Traditionally, potato salad is a staple of summer — but in my mind, it’s a treasure to be enjoyed year-round.
Maybe it’s because, in my house, the favorite potato salad is a Japanese version whose perfect balance of creaminess, tartness, and even sweetness is so delicious, I often eat it on its own, without any meaty or grilled companions.
One of the best recipes for Japanese potato salad comes from Shirley Karasawa of the now-defunct blog, Lovely Lanvin (lucky for us, she’s still very active on Instagram).
The fashion-loving Japanese-American home cook, who splits her time between Seattle and Tokyo, has incredible taste in all things, but especially in food. She’s one of my trusted resources for Japanese home cooking, and her potato salad recipe doesn’t disappoint.
“My recipe was inspired by Edoya, my favorite yoshoku-ya (a restaurant specializing in Western-influenced Japanese cuisine) in our Azabujuban neighborhood of Tokyo,” she tells me. “Unfortunately the owner/chef retired earlier [last] year. But after years of eating his potato salad and lots of experimenting, I was able to recreate it.”
If you’re not familiar with Japanese-style potato salad, you’re in for a treat.
Unlike Western- or German-style potato salad, the Japanese version looks closer to roughly mashed potatoes. It’s flavored with ample mayonnaise (try the tangier, slightly sweeter Japanese Kewpie mayo for stellar results) and rice wine vinegar, then studded with refreshing cucumber and carrots.
There’s also a bit of onion, which doesn’t add color, but serves as a welcome kick in the creamy, tangy mix.
“[Edoya’s] Japanese potato salad was always perfect and had just the right texture with a secret ingredient that made it extra flavorful: karashi, or Japanese spicy mustard,” Karasawa explains. “I think the hint of karashi and using really good potatoes (I like Yukon Gold) that you keep a little chunky, totally makes this dish.”
You can riff on this recipe endlessly, taking liberties with hard-boiled eggs, corn, diced ham, and diced apples. It’s tasty bliss right out of the bowl, but even more delicious after spending a few quality hours in the fridge. I always make a double portion because it disappears at an alarming rate.
And if you feel like building a meal around it, it’s stupendous with fresh-off-the-grill chorizo, as a barbecue side, or even in a sandwich with a thin slice of ham on soft bread (carb-on-carb action!).
Courtesy of Shirley Karasawa/Lovely Lanvin
For the salad
- 4 to 5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 1/3 cup Kewpie (Japanese) mayonnaise
- 1/2 cucumber (preferably Japanese or English) thinly sliced
- 1/4 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
- Sea salt for salting and blanching vegetables
For the dressing
- 1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar (Japanese superfine sugar recommended, but regular sugar is fine)
- 1/3 teaspoon karashi (Japanese spicy mustard)
1. Place the potatoes in a saucepan of cold, salted water so the water is just covering the top of the potatoes. Bring to a simmer. Cook the potatoes until a paring knife or wooden skewer poked into them goes in without resistance, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander.
2. While potatoes are cooking, prepare the other vegetables. Sprinkle onion and cucumber slices lightly with sea salt. Mix with your hands, making sure the salt coats them evenly. Set aside for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes rinse off vegetables in a colander and wrap and gently squeeze them in a clean dish cloth or a few paper towels to get all of the moisture out. (This will prevent soggy potato salad.)
3. Add carrot slices to a small saucepan of salted water, bring to a boil, and blanch for 2 minutes. They should still have a slight crunch, do not overcook. Drain and set aside.
4. Place the cooked potatoes into a medium bowl and gently smash with a fork or potato masher, making sure you leave some small chunks. In a small bowl, mix together the dressing ingredients and pour over the smashed potatoes, gently tossing to evenly coat the potatoes. Add the onions, cucumber, carrots, and Kewpie mayonnaise, and gently combine with the potato mixture until all ingredients are combined. Serve at room temperature or chill in the refrigerator before serving.