Creamy, tangy, sweet and savory, a mayo-dressed potato salad is the crowd-pleasing heart of countless American cookouts and picnics — just as long as you make sure to keep it out of the sun.
But what if your crowd is not among the legion of mayonnaise lovers? Alternative options abound! Potato salad in some form or other has been around for centuries, but only since the 1920s has jarred mayonnaise been the defining ingredient in its dressing.
The beauty of potato salad is that you can use pretty much any kind of dressing, dip or sauce to make it. If you love it on vegetables, starches, proteins, your fingers, it will probably taste just as good tossed with warm chunks of velvety potato. Maybe even better. Hot bacon dressing, herby pesto, garlicky yogurt all make fantastic potato salads, without a jar of mayo in sight.
For this version, I wanted to come up with something that was as creamy as mayonnaise, but vegan-friendly and able to sit outside for hours without anyone’s getting anxious.
The key is tahini.
When seasoned with lemon and garlic and whisked with ice water, tahini goes from gloppy and oily to pale, thick and emulsified with a bright and pungent flavor that’s also earthy and rich.
Getting the right texture is not necessarily intuitive. The more ice water you drizzle in, the thicker the mixture gets — until, that is, it reaches maximum thickness, at which point adding more water thins it out again. Proceed slowly, adding the water gradually, spoonful by spoonful, until the results please you.
Add the dressing to the potatoes while they are still hot, so they can absorb the most flavor (a good rule for making any kind of potato salad). Let the potatoes cool in the dressing before serving.
Most potato salads call for some kind of allium, be it red onion, white onion, scallion or shallot. I went with two full bunches of scallions here. Half are charred until smoky and sweet, and the rest are left raw, lending it all a fresh, sharp, green note that livens up the starchiness. If you add the raw scallions just before serving, they’ll add crunch, too, since they won’t have a chance to soften and wilt.
Then serve this at your next cookout. No matter how high the mercury rises, this potato salad will be crowd-pleasing indeed.
Recipe: Vegan Potato Salad With Tahini
This robustly seasoned vegan potato salad is lively and earthy from a dressing of cumin, charred scallion and loads of tahini, which gives it a rich and creamy texture. This is a good one to make a day or two before you want to serve it as the flavors get better as they sit. Just be sure to let it come to room temperature so everything is at its brightest and most supple.
By Melissa Clark
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 45 minutes, plus at least an hour’s resting
1 3/4 pounds yellow potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, cut into 1-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 bunches scallions, trimmed
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed
1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup tahini
Ice water, as needed
1/2 cup soft herbs, such as cilantro, parsley, mint, dill or a combination
1. Place the potatoes in a large pot with enough salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until potatoes are just tender, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the kind of potato. Drain very well.
2. Heat the broiler. Arrange 1 bunch scallions on a sheet pan. Thinly slice the other bunch, reserving the slices for serving.
3. Season the whole scallions in the pan with salt and pepper, and very lightly drizzle with olive oil. Broil until charred, tossing occasionally, for 3 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board to cool. Coarsely chop scallions and set aside.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, garlic, cumin and a large pinch of salt. Let sit for 1 minute to mellow the garlic and dissolve the salt. Whisk in tahini, then gradually add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time (about 3 to 6 tablespoons total), until the sauce thickens and is smooth enough to drizzle. The sauce can take 30 seconds to 1 minute to thicken so keep whisking; if it gets too thick, thin it down with a little more water. Taste and add more lemon juice and salt if needed.
5. Transfer hot potatoes and charred scallions to bowl with tahini dressing. Drizzle in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil and toss until potatoes are well coated. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice if needed.
6. Let cool to room temperature for at least an hour before serving, or refrigerate for up to 24 hours. The potatoes will absorb the dressing as they sit. Just before serving, taste and add more salt or lemon juice if needed, and toss with the raw scallion slices and herbs.