Every time I lacto-ferment something and it turns out well I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Home picklers out there, you feel me, too? Seriously, a few moldy “sauerkraut” experiments or squishy, pukey cukes all play into the glory that is the perfect peck of pickles when it does happen right. And right it did happen most recently, with a jar of cucumbers that were left to sour over a hot summer week.
This is actually harder than it might seem, given how common this type of pickle is. Cucumbers are an especially fickle thing to pickle (rhymes are dropping like limes), according to the genius of pickling himself, Sandor Ellix Katz. He devoted two pages to “Sour Pickles” in his authoritative tome The Art of Fermentation citing just how challenging they are to pickle compared to other vegetables, since they’re so plump and watery to begin with. I know, a “pickle” commonly denotes a cucumber one in our vernacular. But it’s more advanced stuff to ferment cucumbers while making sure that they stay crisp and don’t shrivel up, or worse yet, peel off waxy stuff found on most commercial cukes (yes, I’ve been there and have made that mistake).
No, to find pure, unwaxed Kirby or otherwise small-seeded cucumbers just raring to pickle, you often have to wait for them to grow in-season in summer and pick them up at the farmers market (or grow them yourself). Ferment them as fresh as can be to ameliorate the squishiness that can often plague your pickling experiments. So summertime pickles are the way to go—and they’re an apt thing to pair with another summertime dish that I make often: potato salad.
Oh, potato salad. It’s the vegetable version of the Laurie Colwin quote about chicken salad being “like the little black dress” (because it can be gussied up or down depending on the occasion). It can be done up any number of ways, from curry-spiked versions to eggless, vinegary German-style interpretations. It’s chilled, cooked potatoes dressed in yummy flavors, essentially. Lately I’ve been peppering mine with other summer harvest vegetables like peppers and sweet corn thanks to my CSA—and now, pickled cucumbers are joining the mix. It’s a kitchen sink of summer things, with various flavor and texture.
Because there are so many things embedded in this potato salad—juicy, sweet peppers and steamed corn cut from the cob in addition to pickled cukes and what seems like precursory fine chops of crisp just ’cause—I went simple with the dressing. It’s almost equal parts lemon juice, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Not hard to remember, right? But such a winning combo.
To be sure, I’ve made similar renditions of this potato salad since the 4th of July, when my friend Laena’s baby lapped it up like a hungry dog to all of our surprise. But the finely chopped fermented cukes is an addition and an improvement, I think, that took a whole summer to produce. Labor Day weekend, here we come! There are endless ways to dress up potato salad, as Laurie Colwin noted. And if you’ve got hard-won fermented pickles on hand this harvest season, why not mix and mingle? All told, it’s a confetti of summer in a big bowl. Enjoy it while the season lasts.
Potato Salad with Sweet Corn, Peppers and Pickles
(makes about 2 quarts, or 8-10 servings)
2 lbs red potatoes (or similar waxy type of potatoes)
1 ear sweet corn, shucked
1 cup finely diced red pepper
1 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1/2 cup finely diced Kosher dill pickles
juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
Halve potatoes or cut to similar-sized pieces (or leave small ones intact if similar in size). Place in a pot of water to cover and bring to a boil. Boil until tender; drain and let cool completely. Once cooled, cut to bite-size pieces.
Steam or boil the shucked corn and set aside. Once cool enough to handle, cut kernels from the cob.
Combine the lemon juice, mayonnaise and mustard in a bowl and whisk to incorporate. And add salt and pepper to taste. In a large bowl, combine all the chopped vegetables. Pour in the dressing and fold gently to incorporate thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, or cover and chill up to 5 days.
(for 8-10 servings)
2 lbs baby red potatoes: $2.00
1 ear corn: $0.50
1/2 red pepper: $0.75
2 celery stalks: $0.50
1/2 cup chopped onion: $0.25
1/2 cup chopped Kosher dill pickles (homemade): $0.50
1 lemon: $0.50
2 tablespoons mustard: $0.50
1/2 cup mayonnaise: $0.50
Five brownie points: Potato salad, with its starchy white potatoes, is a caloric side, not really fitting for a meal (although I have eaten plenty of leftovers as one). Here, you’ll not only get the flavor and textural benefits of fresh corn, peppers and celery in a strong ratio to the potatoes, but added vitamins like antioxidants and fiber. Another way to boost the nutrition is by not peeling your potatoes, as the skins are where all the minerals and vitamins are kept (and with red potatoes, it adds color too). Dunno why most potatoes in potato salads are peeled. Finally, you’ll get the healthful probiotic benefits of the fermented pickles, helping your gut digest all the rest.
Eight brownie points: This dish gets kudos using up much of the summer harvest—or one week’s CSA share—in one big bowl. As well as for pickling what couldn’t be used a few weeks before.