Dijon and Herb-dressed Potato Salad for the Heart of Summer

I love the heat, energy and fireworks explosion of people out enjoying life in every possible way that takes place in July; but to me, August is the heart of summer.  I savor August days when the pace of life slows down, the garden booms and I can pause to soak in warmth, the natural wonders, brilliant flavors and the easy pace that life settles into at this time of year.  I enjoy being able to base my seasons on what is happening outside, instead of on the school year or the sport’s calendar.  It helps me keep the summer feeling alive to the last second when the fall chill genuinely takes hold.  I understand that for many people, the first sign of a cooler evening, a fallen leaf or the school year looming close marks a change.  Even so, it is too early to shift to autumn-cooking mode while the garden and farmer’s market is overflowing with beautiful summer vegetables and fruits.  If you have a potluck, picnic or BBQ left on the agenda, trotting out the classic potato salad is probably starting to seem a little dull and repetitive.  This is when it is time to turn the traditional potato salad on its heel–add some veggies to the ingredient list, subtract the typical mayo-based dressing.  With a few tweaks, you have a bright, fresh twist on a classic potato salad that capitalizes on August abundance and tastes and looks so different, you will forget the creamy classic potato salad recipe you wore out in June and July.

Dijon and Herb Potato Salad– Yield:  6 generous servings, 20 minutes hands-on, 50 minutes total time.

  • 2 pounds small Yukon Gold or Red potatoes scrubbed
  • 6 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and halved or quartered
  • 1 cup Fresh Peas or String Beans, or a combination of both
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons Tarragon vinegar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Grainy Dijon mustard
  • 8-10 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons basil leaves, chopped, plus small, whole basil leaves for garnish
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper


Drop the  potatoes into a large pot of boiling, lightly salted water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are just cooked through.  Drain the potatoes in a colander, then place them in a large bowl with the fresh peas or string beans on top and cover with a clean towel.  This allows the beans or peas to steam along with the potatoes for 10 minutes more.  Note, this approach worked for me, though if you are nervous about the peas or beans being cooked, add, them to the pot of boiling potatoes for the last few minutes, or steam them separately.  Cut the potatoes in half or quarters if they are large.  If you used Yukon Gold potatoes, you can slip off the skins right off at this point if you like. Toss the potatoes gently with chicken stock.  Allow the liquid to soak into the warm potatoes before proceeding.  

Combine the vinegar, mustard, olive oil with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake vigorously to make an emulsion.  Add the vinaigrette to the potatoes. Add the shallot, dill, parsley, basil, salt and pepper and gently toss.  Just before serving, toss in the halved tomatoes and top the salad with halved hard-boiled eggs, fresh cracked pepper and small basil leaves.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saving Summer

I often mention the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market.  It has become a destination for us every weekend.  We have a garden of our own, and so we have a daily supply of tomatoes, lettuces, peppers and many herbs throughout the summer and into the fall.  Still, there are so many summer and autumn vegetables we don’t grow that we pick up in our weekly excursions to the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market.  It is our source for corn, leeks, squash, melons, green onions, garlic and new species of vegetables to try for the first time.  I had aspired to start canning this year, but by the time I had a free weekend, I was a week too late to do pickles, and just not as excited to make the effort for canning Dilly Beans.  Salsa or pasta sauce would be fun, but I didn’t want to worry about pH levels in my first canning project.  Pickled items just seem like a safer place to start.  So, I gave up on the idea of preserving summer produce for winter.  Then, as the summer wore on, I noticed that prices started to drop on large quantities of produce from $18 to $16 to $10 for a huge box and I couldn’t resist.  I bought a crate of local tomatoes*, and planned to preserve them in the easiest way I know:  blanche, chop and freeze them without seasoning to be used in sauces, chili and soups.  I bought the crate of tomatoes on a late summer Saturday.  My parents were visiting, so I didn’t get around to starting the blanching and freezing project until Tuesday evening.

I set up my blanching station on my handy kitchen table.**  My essential list of tools included quart size freezer bags, 2 very clean plastic dish pans, one to be used for rinsing, and one for the ice water bath; 2 colanders; 2 cutting boards; a sharp paring knife; a bamboo-handled wire strainer (not pictured)  and a large amount of ice for the ice water bath.

To begin, I washed the tomatoes and placed them in water in a plastic dish pan.  I cleaned them up as needed with the paring knife, and cut a small X in the bottom of each clean tomato.  When I had a colander full of cleaned up, scored-bottom tomatoes, I put them in a pot of boiling water on the stove, and left them there for 30 seconds.  I initially set up two pots of  boiling water on the stove, but soon realized that one pan of boiling tomatoes was all that could be tackled at a time with my small operation and two hands.

I removed the tomatoes from the boiling water with a wire scoop, and put them directly into the ice water bath.  The hot to cold transition made the skins easy to slip off.  I let them soak in the bath until they were cool enough to handle, removed the skins by hand and core quickly with a knife.  I thought that cores came out more easily after the tomatoes were blanched.

Since most sauces are better with more of a tomato’s flesh than its liquid and seeds, I chopped the tomatoes and removed most of the seeds, and let the chopped tomatoes drain for a minute over the sink in a second colander so that my frozen tomatoes would be less liquid-y when thawed.  The last step was to scoop the drained, chopped tomatoes into a quart-size freezer bag, and to remove as much of the air as possible before sealing the bag.  Each colander-full batch of raw tomatoes yields a quart-size freezer bag filled about ¾ full.  In total, I repeated this process for more than 2 hours and ended up with 9 quart freezer bags of tomatoes.  It was some work, but 9 quarts of locally grown tomatoes frozen at the peak of freshness for $10 is a pretty good deal for the enjoyable effort that is involved.

Toward the end of the project, I got exhausted and I had to call in backup.  Bjorn jumped right in and helped me see the project through to its close.  I think it was the first time I’ve ever gotten wrinkled fingers from cutting up vegetables.  Even though my Tuesday evening turned into a tomato-y marathon, the process of putting up food for the winter was rewarding.  I’m certain that we’ll savor our favorite summer flavor preserved for the cold months to come.

*N.B., readers and self:  this quantity is plenty for one person to handle in one evening.

**My kitchen table is a vintage enamel-topped table that I bought about 9 years ago.  Through law school it served as a computer desk and work station.  Last year we moved it into the kitchen for Thanksgiving preparations and discovered how nice it was to have some additional workspace in our tiny kitchen.  I painted the table base flat black and Bjorn added casters.  We use it constantly for cooking and baking projects, painting, sorting mail, as a place to sit for breakfast or have a guest sit while we cook a meal for them.  I just love it.