The Potato is much more than the sum of its rumors.
Potatoes are a wild food plant (as most food plants once were) indigenous to the Andes. The potato was domesticated between 7000 and 10,000 years ago and there are currently over 100 varieties of potatoes.
The humble potato was introduced to the Western World approximately 400 years ago and the Western World fell in love with this compact tasty nutritious tuber, so much so that the potato is now ubiquitous.
Unfortunately in recent years the humble and nutrient-rich potato has sprouted an undeserved bad reputation. The potato is way more than its derivative, the French fry-itself a much-maligned food that tastes pretty dang good and is pretty darn satisfying. What’s not to like about a French fry? French fries have their place in the potato hierarchy, but there are many other ways to cook a potato. (More on cooking later.)
So as I’m sure you know the potato is a member of the Nightshade family along with the tomato, chili/pepper, eggplant and tomatillo. All of these vegetables, or rather, fruits, are in the same family as the Deadly Nightshade- Atropa belladonna- long used as a poison, yes, but also in medications. In hospice we use medicines derived from the Atropa belladonna – scopolamine and atropine in addition to a mixture of medications, hyoscyamine, all of which help to dry up secretions and decrease nausea and vomiting. Atropine drops are used to dilate the pupils for an eye exam. Atropine is also the antidote for organophosphate and carbamate poisoning- pesticides derived from nerve gas. So a member of the potato family is an antidote to nerve gas and has been used to kill a Cesar’s wife.
Were you aware some pesticides were derived from nerve gas? I am because I once suffered from a case of organophospate poisoning. Not because I used it. I’ve never used pesticides, but because I was accidentally exposed. Let me tell you– you don’t want to suffer from nerve gas exposure, even an extremely dilute version of it.
Oh yeah, so anyway, there’s your potato. The good mixed with the deadly. Let’s discuss the good.
Forget the nonsense.
Potatoes. Are. Not. Empty. Calories.
1. Potatoes are high in anti-oxidants– those things that decrease inflammation in the body. Potatoes contain carotenoids, flavonoids, caffeic acid (also in wine, a very potent anti-oxidant), and a number of unique proteins which act as anti-oxidants.
2. Potatoes are rich in vitamins and minerals! Among them– B6, B3, Vitamin C, phosphorus, manganese, copper, potassium, niacin and pantothenic acid.
3. Fiber. Potatoes are loaded with fiber.
4. Potatoes contain compounds which lower blood pressure and stabilize blood sugar, protect against cancer and heart disease.
Easy Ways to Cook Potatoes:
I tend to buy and grow small Yukon Gold or tiny red potatoes or Andean Blue or French fingerlings. The smaller the potatoes the faster they cook.
In the microwave– I arrange the potatoes on a glass plate, cook on high for 4-6 minutes, check them, and cook another 3-4 minutes and then let them sit until I’m ready to either finish them on a grill or saute them with butter and onions, parsley, salt, pepper and paprika.
In the oven– I toss the potatoes with some extra virgin (You can never be too much virgin, right?) olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 375′ for 30-40 minutes.
But what about mashed potatoes? I have kind of a different take on mashed potatoes, as in I’m not a big fan. Mashed potatoes often play the role of cipher – plopped on the plate to soak up gravy rather than standing on their own.
Instead of boiling my potatoes for mashed potatoes, I roast 1-2 lbs of Yukon Gold with just a drizzle of olive oil and a tiny sprinkling of salt, along with a couple of garnet yams – which I wrap in foil to keep separate, and a head of garlic– slice off the top, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in foil and roast. I toss all into my mixer with 4 Tbs. unsalted butter- room temp, 3/4 cup buttermilk- room temp, salt, pepper and a little bit of minced fresh rosemary. Mix but don’t over-mix. Over-mixing makes for gluey mashed potatoes. This way the mashed potatoes taste wonderful all alone.
Take away message– Don’t be scared. Eat potatoes.
*** Note*** Unripe (or green) potatoes, contain a naturally occurring toxin called solanine. Bad for you. Choose wisely. Choose ripe potatoes.