Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

My mother's recipe for a traditional American-style homemade potato salad – it's the one I make again and again without needing a "recipe". And while not "diet food," Mom's recipe calls for cooked eggs and cottage cheese so the potato salad is loaded with protein too. Fresh herbs really brighten the flavors! I make other potato salads on occasion but this is the one I come back to over and over, the one I make almost without thinking.

Old-Fashioned Potato Salad, another classic salad recipe ♥ KitchenParade.com, all my mom's tricks for the summer picnic and potluck favorite.

Potato Salad Made from Scratch. Whole Food, Fresh & Family-Approved. A Long-Time Family Favorite. A Classic Summer Picnic Salad. Hearty & Filling. A New Addition to The Homemade Pantry, a Kitchen Parade Specialty. Budget Friendly. Great for Meal Prep. How to Feed a Crowd. Potluck & Party Friendly. Vegetarian. Naturally Gluten Free. What're you waiting for?! So Good!!

Finally, Potato Salad Season!

So this is "my" go-to potato salad recipe, the one I can make almost in my sleep, no need for a recipe. It makes a big batch so is good for a crowd – but keeps for a good week, too, so is great for cooking ahead for family gatherings.

Plus – my mom would've be so pleased to know that her potato salad was long served at The Smiling Moon, the little coffeeshop and lunch cafe in my hometown in Minnesota!

My mom incorporated several tricks to elevate her potato salad from good to great. Now, as mothers pass important lessons to daughters, my own recipes come with tips too. Always.

  • The potatoes are cubed, skins on, to cook more quickly and evenly.
  • The dressing base is equal measures of mayonnaise and low-fat cottage cheese.
  • The dressing includes three hard-boiled eggs for protein and texture variation plus sweet pickle relish for a touch of sweetness and sharpness.
  • Use a large wide bowl to make it easier to mix the dressing and then stir in the potatoes.
  • Add the potatoes to the dressing while they're still hot, this lets them soak up some of the dressing. (Read on, there's more to this hot vs cold question.)
Mayo-based Dressing for Old-Fashioned Potato Salad, another classic salad recipe ♥ KitchenParade.com, all my mom's tricks for the summer picnic and potluck favorite.

Let's Settle This For Once & For All

For potato salad, should the cooked potatoes be hot or cold when combined with the dressing?

THE CASE FOR HOT POTATOES My mom was 100% committed to the practice of adding still-hot potatoes to the dressing, allowing the potatoes to absorb some of the dressing. The downside of this practice? With other recipes, so much dressing gets soaked up that the potato itself turns out kind of mealy and dry. And really, who wants to invest time and ingredients only to be disappointed?

THE CASE FOR COLD POTATOES Even my own notes penciled onto a 3x5 recipe card say, "Cool the potatoes first!" The downside of cooled or cold potatoes? Well, there's the time lapse waiting for the potatoes to cool before finishing the salad. In addition, during the chill time, the potatoes may begin to turn a little brown in the fridge. (The color change didn't happen during this particular test but I've had it happen before.)

SIDE-BY-SIDE TASTE & TEXTURE TESTS So I recently decided to answer this age-old question once and for all. Here's what I found after making a big batch of Old-Fashioned Potato Salad, splitting it into two, half the dressing with half the potatoes (still hot) and the other half of the dressing with the other half of the potatoes (chilled several hours).

The surprising results!

  • TASTE-WISE No difference!
  • MOISTURE-WISE No difference!
  • COLOR-WISE No difference!
  • TEXTURE-WISE A notable difference!
  • > Cold, chilled potatoes yielded a potato salad where the potato cubes remained more individual and distinct.
    > In contrast, the hot potato cubes turned out a potato salad where the potato edges broke down just a bit for a potato salad that appears more blended and combined. It's subtle but there. I like it a little better, somehow it's just a bit more potato salad-y.

So for my recipe, here, I think other cooks may make their own choice without a particularly noticeable difference. With other recipes? Especially those with less dressing? I'd probably go with cold potatoes.

Side-by-Side Tests of Old-Fashioned Potato Salad, another classic salad recipe ♥ KitchenParade.com, all my mom's tricks for the summer picnic and potluck favorite.

Recipe Overview: Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

  • This is a traditional American-style potato salad, a beloved classic and timeless favorite. It starts with tender boiled potatoes and hard-boiled eggs that soak up the creamy mayo-based dressing laced with a hint of mustard; cottage cheese adds protein and sweet relish a bit of sweetness while onion and celery add crunch and fresh herbs add a lovely brightness.
  • When to Serve = Potato Salad is a welcome addition to summer meals, especially BBQ, burgers and fried chicken but is also a common "dish to carry" to picnics, potlucks and outdoor events.
  • Distinctive Ingredients = Potatoes + Cooked Eggs + Fresh Herbs
  • Short Ingredient List = all the above + mayonnaise + cottage cheese + mustard + sweet pickle relish + onion + celery + salt & pepper
  • For Garnish = Fresh herbs look pretty! But they're optional.
  • Kitchen Tools = A large pot for cooking the potatoes. A large bowl for mixing the salad.
  • Timing = Potato salad is one of those salads that "improves" — that means it's actually preferable to make it a day ahead of time so the flavors have a chance to meld. Seriously, try this time technique. Taste your own potato salad after you first make it, wait a day, then taste again.
  • This is pantry-friendly and budget-friendly recipe, calling for common ingredients available in any grocery store, many if not all may already be in your pantry and fridge.
  • This is a calorie-friendly recipe, at least compared to other potato salads. That's because it calls for low-fat cottage cheese and low-fat mayonnaise. These make a big difference in calories but not in taste. (That said, I do not recommend switching to non-fat cottage cheese or non-fat mayonnaise: they're just icky.) In addition, the cottage cheese and eggs add protein.
  • This recipe yields about 7-3/4 cups of potato salad. My "standard" serving size for salad is 1/2 cup, this is a good starting point though of course, some people will eat less, some will eat more.
  • So good! I hope you love it!

  • Looking for a fun variation? A few years ago, I modified this recipe, substituting low-cal and low-carb cauliflower (!) for potatoes, see Cauliflower "Potato" Salad, a good choice for dieters and diabetics – and all who love cauliflower! It's just wonderful!
  • Not quite what you're looking for? Check out my other potato salad recipes and other salad recipes.

Old-Fashioned Potato Salad, another classic salad recipe ♥ KitchenParade.com, all my mom's tricks for the summer picnic and potluck favorite.

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Old-Fashioned Potato Salad, another classic salad recipe ♥ KitchenParade.com, all my mom's tricks for the summer picnic and potluck favorite.


Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Time-to-table: 45 minutes (best made a day ahead)
Makes about 7/3/4 cups, easily halved or doubled
  • Salted water (about 2 tablespoons table salt) to cover
  • 2-1/2 pounds (1135g) potatoes (see ALANNA's TIPS) , skins on, diced into small cubes
  • 3 large eggs, hard-boiled, diced small
    Makes about 3 cups
  • 3/4 cup (175g) low-fat (see TIPS) mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup (185g) low-fat (see TIPS) cottage cheese
  • 1 generous tablespoon mustard (any kind)
  • 2 generous tablespoons sweet pickle relish
  • 1/3 cup (35g) very finely chopped sweet onion, yellow onion or red onion
  • 1-1/4 cups (150g, about 3 ribs) finely chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill or other fresh herbs such as chive, parsley or cilantro, optional but wonderful
  • Salt & pepper to taste

COOK THE POTATOES & EGGS Start the potato water to boil. Add the potatoes as they're prepped (the water need not be boiling) and cook, covered, until they're done. Drain well. If the potatoes still seem "wet" after draining, put them back into the still-hot cooking pot and put back onto the stove on medium high heat for a minute or two, this helps to cook off any excess liquid that can turn make the potato salad turn watery.

To hard-boil the eggs, you may want to use this technique, Perfect Hard-Cooked Eggs or my new favorite, How to Steam Eggs.

MIX THE DRESSING Stir together the dressing ingredients, if you use a scale you can save a few dishes!

COMBINE Stir the hot potatoes and eggs into the Dressing. Taste and adjust seasonings.

TO SERVE Transfer the Potato Salad to an airtight refrigerator container and refrigerate for several hours or even better, overnight.

TIMING TIP Potato salad just improves when the flavors have a chance to meld!

ADD-INS I often add a half pound or more of sweet corn cut straight from the cob, see How to Cut Corn Off the Cob, Keeping All Ten Fingers, Capturing Every Delicious Kernel and Every Drop of Sweet Corn "Milk". It adds a texture contrast and a touch of sweetness that people really like. So good! One year, I stirred in some chopped radish and some bacon. Oh lordy, lordy.

ALANNA's TIPS For potatoes, use new potatoes or small potatoes or larger thin-skinned potatoes like Yukon golds. If you like, peel the potatoes but really, that's an extra and extra-fussy step when you'll hardly notice the potato skins once mixed with all the other ingredients. For mayo and cottage cheese, do, of course, use your own favorite brands and fat contents. We are big fans of Duke's mayonnaise. It's the Southern favorite that's now sold nationwide and for sure, we've made the switch. (I wrote about switching back in 2019, see Easy Ham Salad.) That said, if you're buying mayo or cottage cheese special, use the full-fat versions if that's to you liking but we nearly always use the low-fat (but not the non-fat, which are terrible to my taste) versions to save a bunch of calories with no impact on taste.

FOR MORE INFO If you "skipped straight to the recipe," please scroll back to the top of this page for ingredient information, ingredient substitutions, tips and more. If you print this recipe, you'll want to check the recipe online for even more tips and extra information about ingredient substitutions, best results and more. See https://www.kitchenparade.com/2024/07/old-fashioned-potato-salad.html .
First published as "Mom's Potato Salad" in 2006 at A Veggie Venture, my food blog about vegetables. The recipe is such a household staple that it just belongs here on Kitchen Parade.

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~ potatoes ~
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Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail, you'll find my current address in the FAQs. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, for more scratch cooking recipes using whole, healthful ingredients, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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Alanna Kellogg
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A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.