September 15, 2010
Is it just me, or have you always assumed that white potatoes are not particularly healthy? Maybe it’s because my favorite way to eat them is fried or smothered in sour cream or butter (or, um, both). But, as it turns out, prepared healthily, white potatoes are really good for you. In fact, they are packed with enough nutrients that humans can apparently subsist on just potatoes (eaten with their skin on) and milk (for the vitamins A & D missing in potatoes). Whoa!
After so many years of underestimating the white potato, I’m thrilled that the last week of Summer Fest (before becoming Fall Fest!) is focused on these surprisingly nutritious tubers. It’s well deserved attention.
After all-pervasive corn, potatoes are the number one vegetable crop in the world. They are harvested somewhere every single month of the year so, while it may not be carbon-footprint friendly, potatoes are available almost everywhere all year long. They also tend to flourish—or at least survive—even when other crops fail. That’s made them a staple of many countries’ diets even through famine. No wonder they are global comfort food!
As a cheap and plentiful crop that can thrive in many different climates, the potato is incredibly important to the world’s food supply. So much so that, in 2008, in response to developing economic problems, several international organizations emphasized the potato as a key part of world food production. The United Nations even declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato in order to “increase awareness of the importance of the potato as food in developing nations.”
Nutritionally, potatoes are best known for their carbohydrate content, but there’s more to these babies than that. Potatoes, eaten with their skin, are a very good source of vitamin C and good source of potassium, vitamin B6, copper, manganese and dietary fiber (equal to that of many whole grain breads, pastas and cereals). They also contain an assortment of phytochemicals that rivals the phytochemical content in broccoli, spinach and brussel sprouts.
Oh, and though eating the skin ensures that you get the most out of what potatoes have to offer, it’s a myth that the skin contains “all” of potatoes’ nutrients. The skin contains about half of the fiber, but more than 50% of the nutrients are in the flesh. What’s NOT a myth, though, is that cooking method can significantly impact potatoes’ nutrient availability. Check out these tips to get the most out of your potatoes:
Now, to cooking! There are many varieties of potatoes, each with varying levels of starch content that make a difference depending on your cooking method. Check out this guide to tell high from medium and low starch potatoes, and suggestions on how to cook each.
As for me, well, I still love my fried potatoes, baked potatoes with sour cream and chives and, of course, buttery mashed. But, when I’m not cooking for guests or a special occasion, it’s easy (and satisfying) enough to bake my fries and keep the butter and cream to a minimum. I also love this simple and relatively healthy taco filling. Just a little bit of chorizo goes a long way to give the potatoes a rich flavor. Delicious!
Oh, and while we’re at it, celebrating Summer Fest style, check out two of my other favorite potato recipes:
Potato Chorizo Tacos
(can be served to kids 10+ mos)
3 medium potatoes, skin on, scrubbed clean
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/4 lb fresh (Mexican) chorizo*, casing removed
1/2 c milk
fresh juice of 1/2 lime
lime wedges, salsa of some kind, guacamole, creama/sour cream/plain yogurt (optional)
1. Steam or microwave potatoes to retain maximum nutrition. I microwaved mine: poke holes in each potato, place on a microwave safe dish and, if you’re lucky enough to have a microwave with a “potato” button, hit it. Otherwise, a general rule is that one 7- to 8-ounce potato takes about 7 minutes to cook; two of them will take about 11 minutes; three of them a couple more on top of that. Each microwave is different, so check for doneness by poking with a fork or knife.
2. In the meantime, heat oil in a skillet. When just starting to pop, add onion. Saute until they begin caramelizing. Add chorizo and break up clumps as it cooks. You want it to be nicely crumbled. When the chorizo is cooked through, set aside.
3. When potatoes are done, mash with the milk. Keep it rough—you are not trying to get silky smooth mashed potatoes here. Chunks are good.
4. Fold chorizo and sauteed onions (and the fat that cooked off—this is the only fat in the dish, so don’t be scared) into the potatoes. Add lime juice, salt and pepper.
5. Serve with corn tortillas, lime wedges and your favorite Mexican condiments. I like these tacos with salsa verde, guacamole, and crema, sour cream or yogurt (whichever I have on hand). If none of your salsas have cilantro and you’re a fan, definitely add some chopped on top.
*Note: Mexican chorizo is fresh, whereas Spanish chorizo is dried. Read more about the difference here.