After Labour Day, people tend to think of summer as over. The other day there was a variable delineation on Meteorological Summer vs Astronomical Summer by a local weather guy. Summer as most of us know it, the third week in September is Astronomical Summer. September 1st is the end of Meteorological Summer. As I’ve been doing a Summer of Salads, this would’ve been probably good to know if I wanted things to be easier on myself. I’ve never been one to do anything halfway, so I’ll be doing salads until summer’s “proper” end.
That’s not to say the weather hasn’t cooled since the sultry days of July, so I thought some warmer salads would be a nice change. I was reading about the origins of an American classic: pimento cheese. Known to be a Southern US staple, its origins actually began in the commercialization of the food industry in the late 19th-early 20th century. What was originally a roasted red pepper (pimiento in Spanish, due to the influx of roasted Spanish peppers to America), blended with an American version of Neufchatel cheese, the precursor to cream cheese, the extra “i” in pimiento was dropped and pimento cheese was born.
The recipe morphed as it spread across America. Large pepper growing regions in the US South adopted their own version as the economy weakened through the Great Depression. Inexpensive shredded brick cheeses were blended with homemade mayonnaise and home-roasted peppers to make the Southern version of pimento cheese.
I decided to try my hand at my own version based on the Southern idea. My homemade mayo involved flax seeds simmered in water to make an egg-like consistency and then drizzling oil in it while a blender runs to emulsify it.
After making the pimento cheese, I thought to naturally add it to warm, boiled potatoes and make a potato salad that softens the cheese to a point of making it slightly gooey. It’s a great way to extend that summery feeling, even as the weather gets a little cooler.
Pimento Cheese Potato Salad
For the Homemade Flax Mayo:
2 tsp flax seeds
1 cup water
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
3/4 cup cold pressed canola oil
2 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
In a small saucepan, add the water and flax seeds and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, until the water thickens slightly. Strain, discarding the flax seeds and chill the thickened liquid in the fridge for 30 minutes or in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Add the mustard seeds to a blender and grind until a fine powder is achieved. Add the cooled flax liquid and start to purée the mixture. With the blender still running on low, remove the small opening cap on the lid of the blender and slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup of the oil. As the emulsion starts to hold, add the vinegar and salt. Drizzle in the remaining oil, transfer to a small bowl and chill in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. Set aside while preparing the Roasted Red Peppers.
For the Roasted Red Peppers:
1 sweet red pepper
Preheat oven to 200C/425F. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.
Add the pepper to the prepared baking sheet and roast, turning occasionally for 40-50 minutes, or until blackened on most of the skin. Remove from the pan and place in a plastic bag, steaming the skin from the pepper for at least 15 minutes. Peel the pepper, removing the stem and seeds. Finely chop the roasted pepper and set aside.
For the Pimento Cheese:
1/2 cup Prepared Homemade Flax Mayo
Prepared Roasted Red Pepper
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 tsp hot Hungarian paprika
In a medium bowl, combine the mayo, roasted pepper, cheese, and both paprikas. Set aside while boiling the potatoes.
For the salad:
2 cups chopped white-skinned potatoes (roughly 3 or 4 medium potatoes)
1/2 cup chopped celery
Prepared Pimento Cheese
In a medium pot, boil the potatoes for 10-12 minutes or until fork tender. Drain and add to a large bowl. Allow to cool for only a minute or two, then add the celery and pimento cheese. Fold the ingredients together, letting the residual heat melt the cheese slightly. Serve immediately. Serves 2.