Bintje, Bismark, Coliban, Delaware, Desiree, Dutch Cream, Russet Burbank, Jersey Royal, Kennebec, King Edward, Kipfler, Latona, Nadine, Nicola, Ottway Red, Pink Eye, Patrone, Pink Fir, Pontiac, Purple Congo, Royal Blue, Ruby-Lou, Russet Burbank (Idaho), Symfonia, Sebago, Southern Gold, Spunta, Toolangi Delight, Yukon Gold ... These are the names of a few of more than 8,000 varieties of potato grown in 130 countries around the world.
Of the over 300 million tonnes of potatoes grown globally, half is in developing countries where the potato is proving to be the solution to feeding nutrient-deprived populations.
Potatoes were first discovered by the Incas around 6,000 BC, growing wild in the Andes Mountains of South America. They began to cultivate them, and when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Peru in 1537, they found the locals eating the “papa” and worshipping potato gods. In 1565 the Spanish explorer and conqueror, Gonzalo Jimenez de Queseda, took the potato back to Spain after sailors realised that eating them was a good way to prevent scurvy at sea.
The potato belongs to the Solanaceae family which also includes tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, tobacco and mandrake. Because the mandrake was often associated with witchcraft in the Middle Ages, some people thought the potato was a product of the devil.
In spite of the bad press, the potato became an essential food source for much of Europe throughout the Middle Ages, allowing countries such as Germany, France and Ireland to stabilise their food supplies. As various countries adopted the potato as a staple, sharp increases in population growth followed, and it is now a staple food throughout the world because of its high vitamin content and its ability to be grown economically in a wide variety of climates.
While the peoples of the Middle Ages may have thought that the potato was evil, modern superstition is not all that much different. The anti-carbohydrate craze has (unfairly) taken its toll on potato consumption in Australia. Potatoes are not fattening, unless eaten with added fat, as in the form of chips and French fries. When served with their skins in place, they are a good source of fibre and contain vital nutrients including potassium, vitamin B6, folate, niacin, thiamine, vitamin C and carbohydrate.
While the body can burn protein and fat as fuel, carbohydrates are its preferred source of energy and potatoes are an excellent source of this. Although they have a high Glycaemic Index (GI) rating, they are usually eaten with other foods, which tends to lower the overall GI effect. As an environmental vegetable, the potato is outstanding because 85% of the plant is edible.
We hope that you enjoy these dishes and have a new appreciation of this wonderful vegetable.
CLASSIC JACKET POTATOES – WITH A DIFFERENCE
8 whole largish potatoes
1 medium avocado, halved and seeded
2 tbs raw tahini
1 tbs chopped fresh chives
Preheat oven to 230?C. Place the potatoes on a tray and place in oven to dry bake. After about 30 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 160?C; leave potatoes to bake until tender – about another 30 minutes. Mash avocado flesh, then mix in tahini and chives. When potatoes are removed from oven, cut in halves lengthwise and pack avocado mixture onto potato halves.
Serve with a large green salad.
Rather than splitting the potato completely, cut part-way through and mash flesh a little. Add sour cream or butter.
This way of cooking potatoes provides a great base for adding numerous other savoury mixtures – grated cheese, sautéed mushrooms, any vegetable or cheesey dip that you have made, or Mexican refried beans, etc.
4 medium potatoes
1 large yellow sweet potato
1 kg pumpkin
2 medium onions
? cup olive oil
? cup balsamic vinegar
? cup tamari
Wash vegetables and chop into evenly sized pieces – about 3 cm cubes will allow them to cook reasonably quickly. Brush the pieces with oil. Place in a baking pan and bake at 200?C until tender. After about 20 minutes, turn the vegetables so that all sides brown a little. Add a dressing made by mixing the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and tamari.
Serve with a large salad.
Chop some rosemary and toss through vegetables after coating with the oil.
POTATOES WITH MUSHROOM AND ONIONS
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Chop an onion. Saute in frying pan in a little oil. Add 1 potato, chopped into 1 cm cubes. Turn the heat down to medium and cover, allowing the vegetables to cook in the oil and their own moisture until tender. Remove the lid, then add chopped mushrooms. Continue cooking until mushrooms are soft. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Serve with salad or steamed vegetables.
POTATO AND LEEK SOUP
2 tbs olive oil
3 medium-sized leeks or 2 large leeks
3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
3 tsp vegetable broth or vegetable stock powder
Sea salt and pepper
1 litre Water
Place oil in large saucepan, then add leeks and potatoes and fry very gently with a lid on the pan for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Sprinkle broth powder and a little salt over the potatoes and leeks. Stir, then continue to cook gently, stirring often but making sure that the vegetables do not become too brown. Add water, stir, then simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until the vegetables are cooked. Add seasoning to taste. (Soup can be frozen.)
GRANDMA’S POTATO SALAD
Serves 4 – 6
4 to 6 large potatoes
1 onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped parsley
3 tbs balsamic vinegar
3 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper
Steam potatoes in their jackets – you could cut them into quarters for quicker cooking. When cooked, peel skin off – it will come away easily. Cut potatoes into 2 cm cubes and place in bowl. Add chopped onion and sprinkle chopped parsley over. Spoon over balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Toss lightly and serve with large green salad.
Serves 2 – 4
2 large potatoes
1 large onion
I free-range egg
Grate potatoes and onions and mix together thoroughly. Allow to stand for a few minutes, then press down and pour off excess liquid. Add beaten egg and mix well. Heat a little olive oil in a frypan. Drop in mixture by the tablespoonful. Allow to cook and set a little before turning. Flip over and cook the other side. When both sides are nicely browned, removed and place on absorbent paper to drain. Keep warm in the oven.
Serve with a large green salad.
POTATO AND PEA CURRY
1 kg potatoes
1 cup peas, fresh
50 ml ghee or oil
1 tablespoon panch phora
1 brown onion, chopped
1 chilli, chopped and seeded
½ bunch coriander, chopped
2 tbs turmeric
2 tbs sea salt
½ cup water
1½ tablespoons garam masala
Juice of half a lime
Wash or scrub potatoes and cut into large cubes. Heat ghee (or oil) and add the panch phora. When the seeds begin to brown, add the onion and fry for a few minutes. Add chilli, then add the coriander, turmeric and salt, and fry a couple of minutes more. Add potato, mix well and add the hot water. Cover. After 5 – 10 minutes add the peas. Cook for 10 minutes more. Add the garam masala and lime juice and continue cooking until done.
(Published Natural Health and Vegetarian Life, Winter 2008.)