A couple years ago while we were on vacation together, Yancey's sister Kelly made taco salad with fried potatoes and I've been making it ever since. It was right on the heels of my pregnancy with Loretta, during which I craved taco salad night and day. It tasted so good, eating together in floating cabins on Ross Lake and watching the sun go down. Every time I make it, I get the gift of those memories.
Today, I read this excerpt from Mark Kurlansky's The Food of a Younger Land:
When someone says to me, "I went to Chicago last week" or "I went down to Virginia this summer," a question always comes into my mind, though I often resist asking it: "What did you eat? Anything interesting?"
I would like to know what politicians eat on the campaign trail, what Picasso ate in his pink period, what Walt Whitman ate while writing the verse that defined America, what mid-westerners bring to potlucks, what is served at company banquets, what is in a Sunday dinner these days, and what workers bring for lunch. What people eat is not well documented. Food writers prefer to focus on fashionable, expensive restaurants whose creative dishes reflect little of what most people are eating. We know everything about Paris restaurants but nothing about what Parisians eat. We know little about what Americans eat and less about what they ate.
"What people eat is not well documented." I think that's starting to change with the advent of food blogs, but lots of bloggers make special things to post or they are professional food stylists or bakers. What I really love is knowing what people bring to work for lunch (or what Wyatt had in the school cafeteria), what they have at family potlucks, what they scrounge for late at night. I've been a reader all my life, and even in childhood, it was the bits about food I read over and over--Tasha Tudor's A Time to Keep, Wind in the Willows' descriptive passages about picnics. Still, when I read fiction, poetry, non-fiction that's specifically not about food, it's the by-the-way descriptions of lunch or snacks that hook me. And when I remember vacations or anniversaries or pretty much any occasion, for that matter, it's the food that distinguishes it from other days. Yancey always rolls his eyes at how much we pack into Ross Lake, but the eating is what it's all about, right?
In the by-the-way spirit, this post is definitely not something I've made just for you (no offense). It's a salad I often make when I've forgotten about a bag of potatoes. Does that ever happen to you--standing at the sink, scrubbing the eyes off? And there are so many things you can add, depending on what the produce stand had or what's on the brink in your fridge. Last night, Yancey hardly looked up from his plate--is there anything as satisfying as feeding the ones you love?
Potato Taco Salad with Creamy Lime Dressing
Serves 4. The only non-negotiables here are hot potatoes, greens, and this dressing (or something akin to it). The rest is up to you, as long as it can somehow be construed to taste taco-like. You could also make a quick dressing by mixing sour cream with bottled salsa and adding a bit more lime and salt. Because it's sort of a pain to boil the potatoes and then cool them, I've tried this salad before with roasted potatoes. Not nearly as good. You need the mush factor. If I have some potatoes that need cooking OR ELSE, I'll just boil them up when I think of it and keep them in the fridge until I can use them.
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 ts. cumin
juice of one large lime
1/2 ts chile powder
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 1/2 lbs. potatoes, boiled and cooled (I like to use red potatoes, but it can be any kind)
1/2 ts. cumin
salt and pepper
1 ts. chile powder
Lettuce or lettuce + cabbage, arranged on four dinner plates
Any combination of the following:
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Sliced black olives
Sliced green onions
Canned black or pinto beans, rinsed
Pickled or fresh jalapenos
Crushed tortilla chips
Diced red onions
Diced red, yellow, or orange bell peppers
Chopped fresh cilantro
For dressing, whisk everything together, adding more of anything to taste. Set aside.
For potatoes, dice (in pretty large chunks) your boiled, cooled potatoes. Heat 2 Tb. olive oil in a nonstick or cast iron skillet. Throw in potatoes, then cumin, salt and pepper, and chile powder. Cook until heated through and getting crispy around the edges. If you're using cheese, put it on now so it melts on top of the potatoes in the skillet while you assemble the rest of the salad.
To assemble salads, line salad plates with greens. Mound hot potatoes/cheese in the middle. Top with other chosen ingredients, leaving tortilla chips for last (if using). Drizzle dressing over.