Dishes like hambaga, mentaiko pasta and potato salada (potato salad) – all reinvented and made wonderfully and uniquely Japanese. These impressions of European food served alongside mounds of seasoned rice and fish in bento boxes saw me through many a train journey, emergency trip to the 7-11 and school lunch during the years I lived out there.
Japanese potato salad is more like a Russian salad with gently pickled vegetables folded in. I was recently sent a review copy of the excellent Japanese Soul Cooking (by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat) which has a whole chapter on Yoshuku recipes including ones for ebi gratin and saikoro steak, which I’m also looking forward to making.
Here’s their version of potato salada, the only adjustments I’ve made are a smidge of Dijon, a touch of sugar to balance and red onion instead of Spanish. Make sure you use proper Kewpie mayonnaise for this, it’s really not the same otherwise.
2 medium Maris Piper potatoes, (about 450g/1lb) peeled and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. plus 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
115g (4 oz) cucumber, thinly sliced (if using Japanese or Persian cucumbers leave the skin on, otherwise peel and deseed)
1/2 medium carrot, (about 55g/2 oz) peeled, thinly sliced
1/4 medium Spanish onion (about 85g/3oz) peeled and thinly sliced
125ml (1/2) cup water
1 tbsp. vinegar
60ml Kewpie mayonnaise
– to cook the potatoes, fill a saucepan large enough to cover the potatoes with water and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Place over a high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook the potatoes for about 10 minutes or until a skewer goes through them easily. Drain and coarsely mash the potatoes, so small chunks are still visible. Set aside and allow the potatoes to come to room temperature.
– Add the cucumber, carrot, onion and 1 tsp. of the salt to a bowl. Use your hands to mix the ingredients, making sure they’re well coated with the salt. Allow the vegetables to cure for 5 minutes. Add the water and swirl the ingredients in the water to remove the salt. Squeeze the cured vegetables tightly with your hands to expel the liquid.
-Add the vegetables and potatoes to a large bowl and mix together well. Add the vinegar and mix to combine. Add the mayonnaise, pepper and the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix together well until the salad is smooth, and serve.
Variations- you can also add a couple of hard boiled eggs for extra richness and flavour. Mash the eggs and add them along with the potatoes and cured vegetables.
You can also riff on this recipe in a bunch of ways, to wit: Add 25g mentaiko, spicy marinated pollock roe. Or add 90g cooked hijiki. Or add 2 tbsp. of chopped shiso leaves or 1 tbsp. curry powder, or 2 tsp. karashi mustard or 1 tsp. shichimi togorashi or 2 tsp. wasabi or 1 tsp. red yuzu kosho.