Food & Drink

Sweet Pickle Potato Salad

An easy-to-make recipe from Alexander Smalls’ new cookbook “Meals, Music, and Muses.”

Photo: Beatriz da Costa

“Oh, honey. Where I come from, you were judged as a cook not on your soufflés but on your potato salad. They didn’t give out actual blue ribbons, but having your potato salad be the talk of town was prize enough to inspire some pretty intense rivalries. As anyone who has tried and mastered this dish knows, it’s a very basic recipe. What really distinguishes one salad from another is how the home cook navigates restraint and balance. Are you convinced that a dash of yellow mustard or a spoonful of minced onions will elevate your dish? Then go for it. Is your addition a hint of smoked paprika, or a handful of celery seeds that might be invisible to the naked eye but unmistakable on the palate? For me, the perfect balance of pickle relish made or broke the recipe. And I can say with pride that my friends have always rallied for my version of this Southern showstopper.

You can serve this as a starter with added protein such as shrimp or scallops. I also love it served alongside a crab cake or crispy chicken livers. Leftovers can be spread thinly on a slice of bread and topped with a slab of smoked ham to make the most delicious sandwich. One note: The secret to my version of this dish is sweet pickle relish. Southern potato salad calls for sweet pickle relish, not diced cucumbers, dill pickles, or cornichons.” —Alexander Smalls


  • Sweet Pickle Potato Salad (Yields: 6 servings)

    • 1 pound small red potatoes, scrubbed

    • Salt and pepper

    • ½ cup finely chopped onion

    • ½ cup sweet pickle relish

    • ½ cup mayonnaise

    • 4 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped


  1. Put the potatoes in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Drain. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

    While the potatoes are still warm, cut them into quarters and place them in a large bowl. Add the onion, relish, mayonnaise, and eggs. Toss until well combined. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

    Cover and chill until ready to serve, at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

Excerpted from MEALS, MUSIC, AND MUSES: Recipes From My African American Kitchen by Alexander Smalls with Veronica Chambers. Copyright © 2020 by Alexander Smalls. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Beatriz da Costa.