German Potato Salad

The Fourth of July is clearly a day on which we American foodies ought to celebrate American food. But what American food is exactly seems much less clear. Short of the few foods native to North America (most notably plants like beans, corn, and squash) the foods we eat are a culinary hodge-podge of foods brought by generations of immigrants arriving in this country and tweaking their recipes to fit their new surroundings and new lives.

German immigrants, who flooded onto American shores in record numbers in the middle of the 19th century, brought with them some staples that most of us would list when asked to name a few American favorites: hamburgers, hotdogs, pretzels, and beer. In fact, that list sounds like a pretty good start for a Fourth of July menu, right?

Although my own German ancestors weren’t part of the wave of German immigrants that arrived in the United States in the 19th century, they did bring with them some German recipes that blended right in with American classics on the dinner table, including this version of German potato salad. Simple as can be, this potato salad is made with only five ingredients. You probably have everything you need for this dish already lying around in your kitchen.

Admittedly, this plain-Jane potato salad is nothing much to look at, but I don’t think it needs gussying up just for the sake of adding some color or interest to its appearance. It is a family favorite just the way it is. Often requested by my dad and my sister-in-law, it always gets devoured in a flash, guests frequently ask for the recipe, and I am always left wondering why I don’t make it more often.

Likely the photographs of this potato salad won’t tempt you, but you should take my word for it: this dish is worth the tiny effort required to make it. Give it a try for your holiday weekend get-together. Serve it alongside your burgers or ribs, or barbecued anything. It’s satisfying and tasty, addictive and comforting, fast and easy to prepare, and even more delicious when made ahead and left to sit for a while to let the flavors meld. And, regardless of its German heritage, I’d say that this potato salad is well worth celebrating this Independence Day.


  • 2 ½ to 3 lbs. Potatoes

  • 1/2 Sweet onion, preferably Walla Walla or Vidalia, chopped

  • ¼  to ½ cup mayonnaise

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil

  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar

  • Salt and pepper to taste

1.     Cook potatoes in well-salted boiling water until fork-tender.

2.     Allow the potatoes to cool, and peel off the skins, and cut the potatoes into small, 1-inch chunks.

3.     Put potatoes and onions together in a bowl, along with a few spoonfuls of canola oil, a generous splash of vinegar and about ¼ cup (or more to taste) of mayonnaise. Mix until combined, adding mayonnaise to suit your taste.

4.     Add salt and pepper to taste.