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Ethiopian Potato Salad

By: 
Bryant Heinzelman
Ethiopian potato salad
Photo: Bryant Heinzelman
Photo: Bryant Heinzelman

When I converted to Judaism, I knew observing dietary laws would be important to me – but at first, I found this extremely difficult because I love meat and all things dairy, and being from the South, my family often mixed the two to create rich, buttery, and often-fried foods. It took some time, but eventually I came to find that many Jews have created delicious foods inspired by their local communities and surroundings – within the bounds of kosher law.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Ethiopian Jewish community and smitten with their food, and one dish that has stood out to me is Ethiopian potato salad. This dish’s rich history dates back to the mid-1800s, when the potato was first introduced to Ethiopia by a German immigrant and was cultivated in the Ethiopian Highlands as a backup crop if others failed.

The current potato salad recipe is thought to have formed from a variety of European, African, and Middle Eastern culinary and cultural influences in the Ethiopian Highlands and Eritrea throughout the last 160 years. This pairs well with just about any dish, or it can be eaten alone – but because it’s served cold, it’s especially refreshing during the warmer months.

Ingredients: 
2 pounds white potatoes, thoroughly washed and peeled
3 medium-sized lemons
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 medium white onion, minced (about ⅔ cup)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 medium jalapeño peppers, seeded, or 1 large green bell pepper (depending on your preferred level of spice)
8-10 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Salt to taste
White pepper to taste
Directions: 
  1. Carefully wash all produce, then set everything aside, apart from the potatoes.
  2. Peel and cut potatoes into 2 ½”-sized (or bite-sized) pieces.
  3. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.
  4. After water is boiling, add potatoes. Cook potatoes for about 20 minutes, or until a fork easily enters a chunk – but not so soft that they’d mash or fall apart easily.
  5. When potatoes are done cooking, rinse under running water. This will keep the potatoes from overcooking and becoming too soft.
  6. Set aside potatoes to cool.
  7. Thoroughly wash the lemons and zest them. Take care not to shave down to the white part of the peel, as the result is bitter. (If you don’t own a zester, being patient with the small side of a cheese grater will work, too.)
  8. Cut the zested lemons in half and juice them into a small bowl.
  9. In a large mixing bowl, add measured ingredients, starting with your oil (as your dressing base) then garlic, onion, jalapeño, Italian parsley, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Whisk until thoroughly mixed together.
  10. Once your dressing is ready, add your cooled potatoes and mix slowly and thoroughly, taking care not to mash or break the potatoes.
  11. Refrigerate for at least two hours. For best results, refrigerate overnight or prepare in the morning to enjoy with an evening meal.

Quick tips

  • After you’ve mixed the dressing ingredients, taste the mixture to see if it meets your desire. I’m not shy with my salt and pepper, so I’m fairly liberal with both; I enjoy this dish on the tangy side, so I typically add a bit more zest and lemon juice if the spirit so moves!.
  • To avoid peeling, use small white or red potatoes.
  • For added kick and a bit of color, add a dash of Berber pepper on top.

Want more from Bryant? Check out “From Tennessee to Iraq and Back,” our interview with him on the podcast Wholly Jewish.

Bryant Heinzelman is a veteran of the US Army and a graduate of The Military Intelligence College NTTC Cory Station; he spent eight years as an intelligence analyst working in Europe, Florida, Texas, and the Middle East. Upon returning to the U.S., he shifted his focus from military intelligence to Jewish community-building and interfaith outreach.