Why Potato Salad is the Star of My Thanksgiving



ure, the turkey gets most of the attention around the holidays; the juicy dark meat, that crackly skin that pinches your cheeks the second its paired with a piece of meat, followed by the slam-dunk gravy-boat dip. Some people deep fry their turkeys, while others grill, smoke, roast and even spatchcock. With so many tips and tricks on how to prepare a turkey, you’d think most all Americans would have this tradition in the bag. Note to reader: Always brine your turkey, you’ll thank me later. And although I can’t speak for all Americans, I will say that the ones that I have met most likely have a horror story about the bird being dry and not enough gravy to go around and cover it up. That being said, turkey has not been the star of my dinner table spread for as long as I can remember. I don’t have horror stories of starting small fires and setting off the smoke detector, or ever being served a bird with charred skin — but still, for us, potato salad has always been the star of our Thanksgiving.

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You’ll recognize it by the sprinkle garnish of paprika, mainly because paprika is the star of all dishes from a Hungarian household. Russet potatoes rustically chopped by the worked hands of an immigrant serve as the foundation for this dish. Tossed in a creamy aioli and mustard blend with fresh cut vegetables including celery, halved baby carrots, crunchy green bell peppers, onion, sliced radishes and lots of eggs make my grandmother’s potato salad something to be coveted every single holiday. One year she decided not to make it, and we wouldn’t let her hear the end of it until the following holiday. Don’t bother asking me for the recipe; it’s one of those dishes that can only be replicated by Mama herself. She makes it from muscle memory, and on occasion, I make it from taste memory (although it never turns out the same). Mama will take trips back to Hungary to visit her sisters, and when she brings me back paprika I can sometimes replicate her recipes, but again, it’s all my taste memories. One summer when I went to Budapest to see where my family came from; I thought I was entering a world with bountiful servings of Mama’s amazing recipes. I soon realized that the food that my grandmother makes in her Costa Mesa home is a hybrid of the new and old world and that the only way I could get her potato salad was as a product of her soft labored hands. Truly, it’s earned its keep at our dinner table.

Other dishes in attendance on Thanksgiving include; creamy green bean casseroles from at least two family members, mashed potatoes, brown gravy and Devilled eggs from my mom, numerous cheese boards alongside various cheesy dips (You’d think there were too many, but they all seem to go pretty fast.), shrimp cocktail, sweet potato something, plenty of pies, along with a recent addition of a catering size tray of ceviche that never stays the same price and we always have leftovers, but is consistently a really great deal (If you’re ever in Long Beach, check out La Choncha!). Beyond that, we’ll just say the usual traditional items … but the closer I look at our table, the more I realize that each table spread has its own unique character, whether it be from the holiday-themed tablecloth with pictures of turkeys, all the way to the outskirts with the people that surround our holiday. Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!

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