Hello, ramp season. You know, after the six or eight years that everyone’s gotten excited about the wild spring allium, I have to say I am a little over the phenomenon that is pearly-pink bulbs resting pretty at the ends of long, flowy, green shoots. Of course I’m not. But I may be over their smell. Having carried a bunch of ramps (purchased at Union Square Greenmarket this past beautiful Saturday) for the entirety of an afternoon and evening as I schlepped into Brooklyn for drinks, then dinner with different groups of friends and subway neighbors afterwards and in between, I can still smell them in my bag. I’ve got ramps in my bag, for spring at least. Non-season specific stuff like hot sauce can wait ’til late fall.
You don’t want to sit on a fresh bunch of ramps long before using them. (I mean that literally as well as figuratively, since they’re easy to crush if you’re not careful with your bag when schlepping.) The long and leafy shoots wilt easily once they’re picked, unlike leeks or even scallions. Use them up all at once if you can.
I set out to do that, in a simple potato salad. A friend’s birthday brunch party was coming up and no one refuses a potato salad on a warm day. But ramps are actually pretty pungent — as their odor may tip you off — and this can be overpowering in a potato salad.
So I quick-pickled the stems to soften their oniony blow. The milder shoots were slivered up into chiffonades to toss in just at the end.
Potato salad needs little else but potatoes, and some good seasonings. I’m fond of the tangy-sweet Bavarian-style potato salad, with a vinegar base and no richness from egg or oils. I went with a little mayo in this one, though, to create a thin sauce with lemon juice and mustard.
The worst part is waiting for your boiled potatoes to cool. Rush this process, and you burn your hands. Wait too long and your potatoes are crackly and dry like a desert. I prefer bringing the potatoes to a mid-warm temperature to mix them with the sauce, so that there’s still moisture in them and its starches will combine with the liquid. Also, so they’ll absorb all the flavors better (which is good if you don’t have time to chill your potato salad a few hours or overnight before serving).
There are a lot of uses for ramps, cooked or raw. As great as they might be to grill, it’s never quite warm enough during ramp season for cookout season to intersect. Think of them as scallions, only with a shorter lifespan. And as this potato salad serves example, using plenty of ramps — almost enough to get sick of them altogether — while they’re around will help ensure they last well in your memory ’til next spring. Just like their smell clings to the insides your bag.
1 small bunch (or about 10) wild ramps
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
3 lbs potatoes, preferably waxy varieties such as red, white or yukon gold
about 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1-2 celery stalks, finely chopped
fresh dill sprigs (optional)
Separate the green shoots from the stems and bulbs of the ramps. Set the shoots aside. Bring the 1/3 cups each apple cider vinegar and water to a boil along with a generous pinch of salt. Pour the hot mixture over the stems and bulb sections of the ramps just to cover them. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Wash the potatoes and halve them lengthwise (or keep smaller ones intact so that each piece is roughly the same size). Cover with water and bring to a boil. Let boil 6-8 minutes or until the centers of the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and let cool 10-15 minutes.
Whisk the lemon juice, sugar and mustard in a large boil. Whisk in the olive oil while drizzling slowly. Stir in the mayonnaise and add generous pinches of salt and pepper. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, chop into about about 1/2″ chunks and add to the sauce mixture along with the chopped celery. Drain the pickled ramp stem and bulb portions, chop them finely, and add to the mixture.
Fold mixture to combine thoroughly, adding salt, pepper, or anything else (such as more lemon juice) to taste. Salad can be chilled up to 2 days before serving. Just before serving, thinly slice the ramps and add to the potato salad along with the optional dill.
(for 8-10 servings)
1 bunch ramps: $5.00
2 lbs potatoes: $3.00
2 lemons: $1.00
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar: $0.25
2 celery stalks: $0.50
4 tablespoons olive oil: $0.50
1/4 cup mayonnaise: $0.25
Five brownie points: Filling, white starches such as from potatoes are pure carbohydrates, which will send your energy crashing as they’re high glycemic-index. I’m sure you know that feeling, after eating too many carbs. The good way to balance both the blood sugar rush as well as the blandness of potatoes is to add plenty of green and tangy elements, from the lemon, vinegar and fresh, herbal ramps. And eat a minimal portion, along with the rest of the picnic spread.
Eight brownie points: An almost-all plant based meal (save for that little spot of mayonnaise, which contains egg), this is a low carbon-footprint side dish. So versatile, you can make potato salad with any herb or pickled and otherwise put-up ingredients throughout the year. It’s a great go-to for rare seasonal specialties that you might not have a ready plan for, like ramps.