A must-have in any Cook Islands function – mainese potato salad. (Image: Tina Tiller)
A must-have in any Cook Islands function – mainese potato salad. (Image: Tina Tiller)

FoodAugust 6, 2022

Recipe: Mainese, the pink potato salad from the Cook Islands

A must-have in any Cook Islands function – mainese potato salad. (Image: Tina Tiller)
A must-have in any Cook Islands function – mainese potato salad. (Image: Tina Tiller)

To celebrate Cook Islands language week, we explain how to make a potato salad that the Cook Islands are renowned for.

The Spinoff’s designer Tina Tiller is a proud Kūki ‘Āirani (of Cook Islands heritage) and has shared with me her mother’s recipe for mainese, including how to make the mayonnaise dressing from scratch. 

You can substitute the dressing for store-bought mayonnaise if you’re pressed for time, which Tina says is the more modern take.

This year’s theme for ‘Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani (Cook Islands language week) is ‘Ātuitui’ia au ki te Oneone o tōku ‘Ui Tupuna – connect me to the soil of my ancestors – and this potato salad does just that, connecting Cook Islands people in Aotearoa with their language, culture and identity through food.


Serves 5-7

The salad:

  • 7 medium to large potatoes
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
  • 400g drained canned beetroot slices
  • Salt
  • Lettuce

Mayonnaise dressing:

  • 1 egg
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 litre salad and cooking oil (a very light oil is recommended)
  • White vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt

The salad

Peel and dice the potatoes to small cubes (1.5 cm size)

Using a large pot, fill it up with water and bring to the boil. Add a generous amount of salt to the water and then add the diced potatoes.

Boil the potatoes until they’re cooked and firm enough that it won’t mash when mixing it together with the other ingredients.

The potatoes continue to cook after they’ve been drained, so it’s important to not overcook the potatoes. (Photo: Supplied)

While the potatoes are cooking, in a smaller pot, add water to boil your eggs in.

In another small pot, add water and your mixed vegetables and cook.

Once all the ingredients on the stovetop are cooked, drain the potatoes and add the potatoes and mixed vegetables into a large mixing bowl.

Peel the shells off the eggs and set aside to cool.


Add the egg yolks into a mixing bowl and whisk using an electric egg beater until it thickens and is lightly coloured.

Slowly add in the oil while whisking constantly. This takes time, so don’t rush as you don’t want the eggs and oil to separate.

Add the vinegar or lemon juice and salt while whisking until it meets your desired taste.

Assembling the salad

Dice the beetroot slices into small cubes and add it to the large mixing bowl filled with potatoes and mixed vegetables.

Grate two boiled eggs into the large mixing bowl of vegetables and carefully combine everything together.

Add approximately ½ to 1 cup of the freshly made mayonnaise dressing to the mixture until the entire salad is evenly coated.

NB: Save some mayonnaise dressing for the top of the salad.

The flavour from here is up to you – taste the salad and add more salt, mayonnaise or another ingredient until it’s perfect for you. Some people like to add chow chow (approximately 100g) or Dijon mustard.

Wash and place open lettuce leaves around the edge of the salad serving tray.

Pour the salad mixture into the tray and carefully smooth down the mixture over with a spoon.

Cover the entire mound of salad with an even layer of the reserved mayonnaise and then garnish it by grating the remaining boiled eggs evenly over the top.

This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.


Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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