Ethiopian Potato Salad

Bryant Heinzelman
Recipe by
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. One dish that 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 can be eaten alone – because it’s served cold, this is especially refreshing during the warmer months!

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
  1. Carefully wash all produce, then set aside.
  2. Peel and cut potatoes into 2 ½” pieces.
  3. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.
  4. Add potatoes and boil for about 20 minutes, until a fork easily enters a chunk, but not so soft that they’d mash easily.
  5. Rinse boiled potatoes under running water. This will keep them from overcooking and becoming too soft.
  6. Set aside to cool.
  7. Thoroughly wash the lemons and zest them.
  8. Cut the zested lemons in half and juice them into a small bowl.
  9. In a large mixing bowl, add the oil (as your dressing base) followed by the garlic, onion, pepper, Italian parsley, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Whisk until thoroughly mixed.
  10. Add your cooled potatoes to the dressing and mix thoroughly, taking care not to break the potatoes.
  11. Refrigerate for at least two hours. For best results, refrigerate overnight.

Quick tips

  • After you’ve mixed the dressing ingredients, taste the mixture. 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!
  • 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 (he/him) 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.