THE QUESTION: “My family loves potatoes, but I’m worried they aren’t nutritious enough. Also, to be honest, I’m tired of mashing them. What can I do?”
The Answer: In short, get the rest of your family to do the mashing. Beyond that leaving the skin on and finding preparations that can include other vegetables are the best way to go.
So let’s get the dull/technical stuff out of the way first. For most vegetables, proper storage (for potatoes: keeping them in a dry, dark, ventilated place), freshness (which the grocery store shopper has no control over) and then steaming (for most vegetables this cooking method retains the most nutrients) is the only way to guarantee that you are getting maximum nutrition. But frankly, even just writing that is boring and reminds me of the Kybecca frites I ate last night. With the skin on, in moderation, potatoes are actually a great source of fiber, vitamin C and B6, and the more colorful the potato the more phytonutrients it has.
In Peru, the actual and spiritual birthplace of the potato many centuries ago, you can find hundreds of varieties of potato. Some that look so different from our yukon gold and russet burbank, or even our purple fingerlings that unlabeled few of us could identify them as potatoes. When I was little my mom would make this soup that if I remember correctly she always made with at least 3 varieties of potato and chunks of corn on the cob (also a crop that originated in South America). Sometimes I wonder how she found so many different kinds in the 90’s when I’m passing that area of the produce section and only sometimes find more than 3 today. If you want to learn more about the history and importance of the potato, now the 5th most impportant/prevalent crop in the world, the Smithsonian has you covered.
Monocultures, i.e. growing only one crop/variety, is why the Irish (and other) potato famine(s) happened and why even finding that purple fingerling is a triumph. For too long Europeans and Americans stifled the genetic diversity of so many plants and then modified them for disease resistance, regardless of flavor and texture. Today there are scientists at large research universities around the country, and world, trying to fix that problem, with potatoes as well apples, tomatoes, beans etc.
But in the meantime we just have to be more creative with the varieties we have and use their comforting, starchy and often buttered facade to introduce picky eaters to other vegetables and/or cuisines...
The epitome of all potato dishes to me is patatas bravas. A tapas classic. Red potatoes are chopped, baked/pan fried with goose fat, then dipped in aioli by the eater. However, I’m in the minority of people who actually have goose fat on hand and even that fact doesn’t mean I can make the glorious plate that a good tapas restaurant serves. I don’t remember WHICH was the first play my parents took me to at the Shakespeare Theater in DC but I certainly remember my frist taste of patatas bravas at Jaleo before the show. Afterwards I kind of lost my taste for mashed potatoes.
The best way to approximate this at home is to par-boil whole baby red potatoes for about 20 minutes, let them cool, cut them into quarters toss in the fat of your choice, sprinkle with salt and then roast at a high temperature (400-425) until they are brown and crispy. Aioli isn’t strictly necessary (unless you are feeding MY family), instead stir some finely grated/pureed garlic and LOTS of chopped fresh herbs (any/all) into plain greek yogurt for a healthier creamy accompaniment.
There are three easy ways to use potatoes to include other veggies:
- Mash other things in with the potatoes. Cauliflower and parsnip will both make the mash sweeter and are white so the color isn’t ruined.
- Make a casserole with stewed meat/veggies topped by a layer of mashed potatoes. Moussaka is a great greek example of this. Stew eggplant and lamb (beef is good too) together, top that with a layer of smooth, whipped potatoes then bake.
- One of my favorite warm weather sides is german potato salad, chilled and vinegary with little bits of bacon. To add some extra veggie power I love to add some roasted brussels sprouts into the mix. Bonus points for trying this grilled potato salad from serious eats.
Lastly, if you find yourself with a little extra time, try the super-fun hasselbacked potato; I learned this technique from an issue of Bon Appetit magazine a couple years ago.The logic is to slice vertically through 3/4ths of a potato to create more surface area. When introduced to high heat this excess surface creates more crisping, like a chip or fry, but still keeps the potato -with the skin and therefore most of it’s nutrition- intact. In essence, this is just a cooler-looking version of a roasted potato, especially if you prefer to use baby or fingerlings like me. But if you do use a large white potato, you can thinly slice other vegetables (or pesto and cheese like my photo below) and put them inside the fanned slices. A mandolin is helpful for uniformity but a certain amount of unevenness is also endearing.