Cooking with a Pinch of History: Ensalada de Papas

by Brittany Avila

Spring is in the air! And with summer just around the corner, I thought a light, fresh, and healthy recipe would be appropriate. This recipe for ensalada de papas is simply an earlier version of our modern day potato salad, in which globs of mayo is not necessary for culinary success. It’s quick, easy, and of course delicious, so please join me on this salad quest! I found this recipe in the Early California and Mexico Cookbook by Don Ricardo.

Disclaimer: I multiplied the original recipe by 1 ½ times since the product would be my contribution to our monthly staff potluck. Therefore, it should serve about 6 people.

Salad Ingredients

9 medium sized Russet potatoes, boiled

4 ½ hard boiled eggs, sliced

3 slices of ham, chopped

(This is very vague on how big a slice of ham is, so I picked up a slab of ham at the store to use because I like ham. It’s up to your discretion how much you’ll add.)

3 celery branches, diced

1 ½ tbs. chopped green chili (I used a pasilla chili)

6 radishes, sliced

2 ¼ tbs. minced parsley

½ cup cooked lima beans (pre-soaked overnight)

Dressing Ingredients

¾ cup olive oil

4 ½ tbs wine vinegar

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 tbs. paprika

¾ tsp. salt

Begin by scrubbing down your potatoes to remove any excess dirt. Rubbing two potatoes together usually proves to be the easiest and quickest method. Then boil for approximately 20 minutes to soften them, or you can use the old fashioned fork method to test when they are soft enough. Allow these to cool.

The potato was introduced to California by a Mr. Collignon who stopped in Monterey when aboard the French expedition vessel led by Jean La Perouse. He was King Louis XVI’s gardener, and was traveling on the expedition in order to share and bring back new plants. He picked up the potatoes he shared in Chile. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Next, begin boiling your lima beans.

These dried “Christmas” lima beans were grown in the Presidio Heritage Gardens! Photo by Brittany Avila.

While you have your lima beans boiling, you can begin chopping up the rest of your salad ingredients and mix these ingredients together.

This celery was picked fresh from the Presidio Heritage Gardens! Early Californian settlers believed celery, or apio, was good for the liver. Perhaps the reason why Bloody Marys are garnished with it?? Photo by Brittany Avila.

Once the potatoes and lima beans are cool you can slice these up and add them to the mix.

When raw, peeled, and placed on a wound, spuds were believed to decrease bruising. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Now you may begin preparing your dressing. First mash your garlic into the olive oil. I believe crushing the garlic helps to release more of its flavor. Next add your salt until emulsified, or in simpler terms, the olive and salt are mixed together well.

Garlic, or ajo, was believed to have curative powers when mixed with boiled sweet crab powder into a paste and placed on a cancerous wound. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Lastly add the paprika and wine vinegar; beat well.

Adding paprika and red wine vinegar gives a bright red color to your dressing. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Now you are ready to complete your salad! Simply mix the salad ingredients together, and fold the dressing in.

A colorful and DELICIOUS masterpiece! Photo by Brittany Avila.

Based on the unanimous reactions of our staff, this recipe is a MUST TRY!


Dunmire, William W. Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America. Austin: University of Texas, 2004. 280.

Garriga, Andrew, and Francis J. Weber. Andrew Garriga’s Compilation of Herbs & Remedies Used by the Indians & Spanish Californians: Together with Some Remedies of His Own Experience. S.l.: S.n., 1978. 20-33.

Hardwick, Michael R. Changes in Landscape: The Beginnings of Horticulture in the California Missions. Orange, CA: Paragon Agency, 2005. 8-64.

Ricardo, Don. Early California and Mexico Cookbook. California: Borden Publishing, 1968. 27.

Brittany Avila is SBTHP’s Office Manager and is enjoying  pursuing her dream to be a maestro de la cocina


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