Wannabe Italian Potato Salad

Mayonnaise or vinaigrette? Neither! This potato salad only uses olive oil—the best you have—to bind the potatoes together. Don’t be tempted to add balsamic vinegar, that’s not what this dish is about. Eat it hot or cold, same day or made ahead. Everybody who I’ve ever served this to has immediately declared it to be their favourite potato salad ever. With thanks to my lovely friend MJ who served it to me many years ago in Montreal. 

Reading the ingredient list, you may find the proportions of oil and garlic here a little extra. Please consider that when dining at your favourite restaurant, you don’t really want to know how they made it taste that good. Or, cut the recipe in half and it suddenly sounds like it contains more reasonable amounts. I honestly never measure my ingredients when I make this. But since this is a recipe, let’s just accept that we are using a heavy hand with a very short ingredient list. Don’t let that put you off trying it. People love it! Promise. I would not lie about potato salad. And don’t skimp on the garlic, or your potatoes will be underwhelming. 

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs new potatoes
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup best quality olive oil
  • 2-3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • Sea salt 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil with handful of kosher salt. The salt will season the potatoes as they cook. For smaller potatoes, cut them in half. For larger ones, cut them in quarters. Even proportions being the thing for even cooking. Boil them until a fork goes in easily into the middle. 

While the potatoes are cooking, peel and mince your garlic. Wash the basil—honestly, this is the longest and most tedious part—and get rid of any stems. Spin them dry in a salad spinner—you don’t want to add water to the salad. Reserve a handful for decoration and chop the rest roughly. 

When the potatoes are cooked and drained, put them in a large bowl and toss them immediately with a LOT of salt* and garlic. Slosh some olive oil—about half—over the potatoes and stir it in, then add the basil to the still hot potatoes. Stir it in until all wilted, then add the rest of the oil and more salt if desired. It doesn’t matter if the potatoes get a little crumbly or mushy around the edges. You can’t really mess up potatoes. 

Grind fresh pepper on, then top with whole leaves as garnish. Watch them be devoured! And when people ask you for the recipe, you can honestly say you just threw a few ingredients together. 

notes:

  • No iodized salt! Kosher or sea salt only. You will easily taste the iodine in this simple dish.
  • This is a decadent but excellent use of your best quality olive oil. I use Single Grove.

Banana chai cheesecake

As many of you know, what we in North America call a chai tea latte is known as masala chai in India. Masala is the spice blend, and chai means tea. How such a redundant and confusing moniker was ever adopted here, who even knows. As such, the title of my cheesecake ought to be Banana Masala Cheesecake or even just Spiced Cheesecake, but I think I’m going to run with the bastardized version for the sake of recognition. Also, I like how it sounds. 

I devised this recipe while studying in the Tea Sommelier program with the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada (THAC). This is my spice blend added to The Cake Bible‘s banana cheesecake, which is then cooked sous vide in little mason jars. It’s a light and fluffy custard, more tangy than sweet.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pkgs of cream cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp masala spice mix*
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
  • fresh bananas and whipped cream for serving

Preheat the water bath to 80°C (176° F) .

Mash two very ripe bananas until you have approximately a cup. Add in the lemon juice, vanilla, grated ginger and salt. Smush it all together and set aside.

Put the spice blend and the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment and stir together. Add in the cream cheese and beat until smooth.

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Beat in sour cream until incorporated, then the mashed banana.

Cast the batter into mason jars—I use a ladle or a serving spoon to make sure I don’t spill on the edges of the jar. If you do, just wipe with a clean cloth—you want a good seal. Fill until just below the screw top. Put the lids on and turn them until fingertip tight.**

Using tongs, lower the jars into the water, stacking them up if need be. Cook for 90 minutes, then remove and let cool to room temperature before putting them in the fridge. Chill for 6 hours or preferably overnight. They’ll last for two weeks in this state.

To serve, open the jars, top with slices of banana, dollops of whipped cream and a pinch of masala spice to top it off. If you like crunch, add toasted ground pistachio or cashews, or crushed cookies. Pair with masala chai made with the same spice mix, or contrast the sweetness with a fortifying Assam or Ceylon black tea.

NOTE

  • If you don’t have a pre-made spice blend, and you don’t want to make the once I’ve suggested in this post, then I recommend ½ tsp ground cardamon, ¼ tsp cinnamon, and ¼ tsp white or black pepper, and a pinch of ground cloves. If you don’t use the fresh ground ginger, use ½ tsp ground.
  • “Finger-tip” tight means that you screw the lid firmly, but it’s possible to open it just using your finger tips.
  • The size of the jars is not a big concern. You can use 4, 6, or 8 oz.
  • If you don’t have a sous vide machine, you can absolutely make this in a cheesecake or springform pan in a water bath. Bake the cake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven without opening the door and let the cake cool for 1 hour. Remove it to a rack and cool to room temperature (about 1 hour). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. 

Custom Masala Spice Mix

This great post from kitchn takes you through the basic spices to make your own mix for making masala chai, or “chai tea” which is actually a failed translation. It really just means tea and more tea and doesn’t mention the spices at all. This spice mix doesn’t actually use any tea, so that you can use it for baking or to add to bagged or loose tea for making masala chai. 

For my Banana Chai Cheesecake recipe, or for a cup of homebrewed chai, you can use a pre-made, storebought blend if you prefer. However, I absolutely love the intensity that comes from grinding your own spices. Green cardamom is the basic spice that forms the backbone of this mix (there are none in my photo, but just use your imagination.) The basic spices you need are:

Fennel, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon stick.
  • green cardamom pods
  • cinnamon stick
  • whole cloves
  • black peppercorn
  • If you use fresh ginger, great. If not, ground will do 
chai, spice blend, chai tea latte
Ground spice mix, raw and toasted.

My personal preferences are more elaborate. Some people absolutely HATE anything even faintly tasting of liquorice, and won’t touch fennel. I love it, so I keep it and add star anise as well. I also hand grate both the cinnamon bark and nutmeg into the spice blend before pulsing all the spices together in a dedicated coffee grinder. This is my ideal spice blend, both for masala chai and the cheesecake. 

  • green cardamom
  • whole cloves
  • freshly grated cinnamon
  • black peppercorns
  • coriander seeds
  • fennel seed
  • star anise
  • allspice
  • nutmeg
  • plus fresh ginger

Make your own blend to suit your own tastes, but for the Banana Chai Cheesecake recipe, you do need even just a hint of clove. Bananas and cloves both contain eugenol, which means that even just a small amount of clove enhances the banana flavour. The nutmeg is a less common addition which makes it more like a masala-speculoos hybrid. To each their own. 

Chai spice blend

Put your preferred whole spices (except for the fresh ginger) in a pan and toast 5 minutes until slightly browned and smelly toasty. Put the cardamom pods, the cloves, peppercorns, and any other dried spices into a dedicated coffee grinder. Pulse until you’ve got a fine powder with only a few bits of shell from the cardamom pods. Hand grate the cinnamon and nutmeg, and add it to the grinder. Blitz a couple of times, smelling and tasting your way to your perfect mix. Sift out any bits of shells, and you’re good to go. 

To make tea, add a mixture of milk and water, or just all milk, to a pan with a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger and teaspoon of the spice blend per two cups of liquid, along with two bags of black tea. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 2-5 minutes. Sweeten to taste. 

You can use any sweetener you like, but I find anything other than white sugar competes with the spices and muddies the flavour profile. Honey or agave syrup can be used but maple syrup adds a strange and incongruous taste. 

IPA Guacamole Recipe

IPA Guacamole

Excerpt from The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook (Whitecap Books) by David Ort

Mashed avocado has a silky texture and rich flavour that go well with the punch of a hoppy India pale ale. Tomatoes add some sweetness and a hint of acid that bring the flavours together. If plum tomatoes aren’t in season, use an equivalent amount of cherry tomatoes. Serve with tortilla chips.

Recommended beer

American-style India pale ale

Hop Head, Tree Brewing (British Columbia)

Serves: 6–8

Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus 1 hour for flavours to meld

2 ripe avocados, pitted

1/3 cup (80 mL) American-style India pale ale

3 Tbsp (45 mL) lime juice, freshly squeezed

2 plum tomatoes, quartered, cored and diced

1/4 red onion, finely diced

1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) ground cumin

1/4 tsp (1 mL) cayenne

kosher salt

Cut the avocado flesh into large chunks with the tip of a sharp chef’s knife. Scoop the flesh out of the skin and transfer to a small mixing bowl. Toss with the beer and lime juice. Mash with a potato masher until it is almost smooth. Add tomatoes, onion, cumin, cayenne and kosher salt.

Guacamole is best served at cool room temperature and needs an hour after being mixed for the flavours to come together. If you make it ahead or want to store leftovers, place a piece of plastic wrap directly in contact with the surface of the guacamole. The only way to stop it from browning is to keep it away from air. (The acid in the lime juice also helps.) The idea that sinking the pits into the dip does anything is a kitchen myth. If anything, they probably hurt by lifting the plastic wrap away from the surface of the guacamole.