Over the years, my parents have hosted a lot of our relatives from their native Serbia: my mom’s cousins, her aunt, both of my father’s sisters as well as a couple of his cousins. My great grandmother came out twice–the first time being when she was 72 years old. I always looked forward to these occasions. I loved seeing my world through their eyes.
We would take my relatives from Serbia to all of the local tourist attractions as well as on overnight trips to Vancouver Island or Harrison Hot Springs. It wasn’t all fun and games, though, because my parents still had to go to work. Our visitors from Serbia often ended up spending several hours a day on their own. Not knowing any English or their way around, they stayed home and found ways to amuse themselves. Often this resulted in a lot of fresh ironing and help with getting dinner on the table. The women in my family, including my mother, are all well-versed in the home arts. I’m sad to say that this gene has largely passed me by. I’m not a slob, but try as I might, I can’t iron a shirt to make it look as if it has come fresh from the dry cleaner or bake picture perfect cakes with countless layers. As fascinated as I was with my Serbian relatives’ cooking and baking skills, I could have paid more attention and taken advantage of all that they had to teach me. Somehow I lacked the patience and preferred to learn on my own.
The first time I ever had this Serbian-Style Potato Salad was when my Aunt Anna came to visit. Although she was Slovak, she was married to a Serb and had been living in Belgrade, Serbia, for decades. My mother made the American style potato salad with mayonnaise. I didn’t know that people ate potato salad in Serbia. I had never seen it there.
I wasn’t sure I would like a potato salad without mayo or chunks of egg, which to me, is usually the best part. But I found that once my aunt put this on the table I couldn’t stop eating it. It was so simple yet absolutely delicious. Years later, when I tried to replicate it, it tasted bland and cardboard-like. What was the secret, I wondered? How had I gone wrong with so few ingredients? With a bit of research I discovered that the key was to refrigerate the salad overnight, or at least several hours, and then bring it to room temperature before serving. The onions become soft from the olive oil and all the flavors meld together to create a wonderful side dish to bring to a barbeque or on a picnic. I often have it for dinner with some fine European sausage.
Serbian-Style Potato Salad
4 large potatoes
1 large yellow onion
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup white vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1-2 teaspoons salt
1/2 – 1 teaspoon black pepper
1) Peel the potatoes and slice very finely on a mandoline. Boil for twenty minutes or until cooked. In the meantime, slice the onion very thinly as well.
2) In a glass jar with a lid, combine the vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper. Shake vigorously.
3) Toss the potatoes and onions in a bowl with the dressing. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours.
4) Bring to room temperature. Check seasonings. Add more salt and pepper if required.
* In many recipes for Serbian potato salad, a chopped roasted red pepper is often called for. I don’t like this because I think its flavor overpowers the salad, but you can add it if you like.
* The amount of salt and pepper you use is entirely up to you. I tend to like salty potatoes in any form but you may want to experiment to see how much you prefer. Start with a little and keep adding until you find the amount that suits you.
* Use a good quality olive oil. It really makes a difference.
Reprinted with permission of Darina Kopcok