The potato was first domesticated by indigenous people in the South American Andes and introduced to Europeans by 16th century explorers. Today it's the fourth largest food crop in the world and a staple that's endlessly adaptable in the kitchen. Recipes below.
Words, Photos and Recipes
By CINDA CHAVICH
It’s hard to predict what March will bring in this neck of the west coast woods — warm days bursting with the first flush of leafy greenery and early blossoms or another dreary month of winter.
What you can predict is the annual celebrations, including the beer-swilling St. Patrick’s Day parties and the spring seders of Passover (April 15 in 2023). Both always include potatoes on the menu because, at this time of year, it’s a given that we’ll still be eating storage crops and root vegetables, especially potatoes.
That’s not a hardship for me, quite the opposite. It’s hard for me to imagine a world without potatoes, addictive rippled potato chips and squidgy potato perogies, creamy potato and leek soup, crispy potato kugel, curried potatoes with green beans, and tender Norwegian lefse or Irish farls with smoked salmon.
Never mind the everyday potato mash, hash and fries. There’s even a new vegan potato “milk” made with the ubiquitous root.
Yes, the potato shines in so many cuisines around the world, it’s a rare week when there’s not a potato on the plate.
From its origins as an indigenous plant in South America, the potato was domesticated by pre-Incan civilizations in the Andes around 400 B.C. and spirited away to Europe by Spanish invaders in the 16th century.
Ironically, the hardy root vegetable, which was planted across Europe to prevent starvation, led to the Irish potato famine in the mid-1800s, when a blight caused potato crops to fail over three consecutive years. By then, potatoes made up 80 percent of the local diet, for both humans and livestock, and millions were left without food.
The Irish emigrated en masse to escape the famine, the diaspora bringing a love of potatoes with them. Today the potato is the fourth largest food crop in the world, after corn, rice and wheat.
Canada has long been a big potato producer. In the early 1800s Lord Selkirk arrived in PEI with a group of Scottish immigrants, bringing the potatoes that seeded an industry that thrives there today.
When the Hudson Bay Company brought potatoes to Fort Langley in 1827, the First Nations of Haida Gwaii were already growing a fingerling variety, recently traced through a genome project to cultivars in Mexico and Chile.
The isolated Pemberton Valley, north of Whistler, became a kind of seed potato vault, wedged between two mountain ranges that have protected its potatoes from encroaching diseases for decades. Designated a seed potato control area in 1945, its known to grow some of the best, virus-free seed
potatoes in the world, supplying growers from western Canada to Idaho, Oregon and California.
There are at least 27 potato varieties grown in the Pemberton Valley, including Sieglinde, Amarosa, Warba, White Rose, Pontiac, Chieftain, Russian Blue and Yukon Gold, the lovely, yellow-fleshed and tasty potato created by Canadian plant breeders at Guelph University.
No potatoes sourced from outside the valley can be planted in this official virus-free zone. Across the Creek Organics has been growing potatoes here since 1912, while the Pemberton Distillery uses organic local potatoes to make its award-winning Schramm potato vodka and other spirits.
In Peru, where this root vegetable is rooted, you’ll still find an astonishing array of heirloom varieties in the local markets (some 4,000 recorded there), with indigenous women in Andean communities tending native potatoes for food, trade, medicine and cultural practices.
The potato is a local food in every way, produced around the world for local markets. That’s what keeps the price affordable — as grain prices skyrocket and global supply chains splinter, potatoes, grown close to home, are a staple most of us can count on.
PICKING THE RIGHT POTATO
Potatoes come in many different shapes and sizes — there are literally thousands of cultivars, each with unique attributes. Some potatoes are firm when cooked and best for salads and frittatas (think waxy round red Pontiac and Norland), others mash easily and have an inherent buttery flavour when roasted (Yukon Gold or Sieglinde), while long white Kennebec are versatile and make excellent fries, and the starchiest spuds (Russet or Idaho), are dry and fluffy, good for baking and ideal when you’re making gnocchi.
In summer, look for a variety of interesting small and fingerling potatoes from local growers, too, including the knobby, nutty Pink Fir Apple, tasty oval red Roseval (French Fingerling), or yellow banana fingerling potatoes, all low-starch potatoes that keep their shape when cooked.
Early new or nugget potatoes such as the pink Warba, only grown in BC, have very thin skins and can be enjoyed without peeling. Later crops have thicker skins, set for storage, so you may want to peel them (though all potato skins are edible and offer extra fibre and flavour). Just remember to avoid any potatoes that have a green tinge (a result of exposure to light and heat), or make sure to pare any green portions away before cooking. And don’t eat raw potatoes — uncooked potatoes contain solanine and lectins, that can make you sick.
A POTATO IN EVERY POT
Potatoes are more than just starchy sides for basic meat-and-potato meals, and can star in any course.
A tiny baby potato, halved and roasted until crisp, makes a nice hors d’oeuvre when topped with a dab of crème fraiche or sour cream, and a bit of smoked salmon.
In India, spiced potatoes fill samosas and are rolled into crispy dosa pancakes. And sliced potatoes are the basis of any Spanish tortilla or Italian frittata, both which make great tapas-style starters.
Potatoes also shine in soups, the base of an elegant potato and leek potage or a chunky fish chowder with lots of cubed potatoes, clams and other seasonal seafood. In the European tradition, potato soups range from cool and creamy vichyssoise to hearty combinations with smoked sausage, carrots, mushrooms and dill.
And don’t miss out on main dishes that feature potatoes, whether it’s Greek moussaka, a layered casserole of potatoes, eggplant and minced lamb; or Peruvian Causa, a cold potato pie made by layering spiced mashed potatoes, with tuna or shrimp salad and sliced avocadoes.
Potatoes also fill perogies and knishes, are the main ingredient in classic Italian gnocchi, the binder for fish cakes, and the topping for meaty shepherd’s pies.
Of course, boiled, mashed, roasted and fried potatoes are always welcome in a supporting role, whether you’re serving basic bangers and mash or Coq au Vin. Dress them up in a gratin with cream and cheese, or serve them cold in summery salads, with mayonnaise and sliced radishes, or tossed in mustardy vinaigrettes.
A HEALTHY CHOICE
Potatoes get a bad rap in the low-carb world, but potatoes are more than empty white calories — a surprisingly nutritious vegetable, especially when served with the skin.
One baked spud delivers 2 mg of vitamin C along a good amount of B6, folate and magnesium, plus a ton potassium (about 940 mg or 20 per cent of your RDA).
And if you’re worried about the blood-sugar spiking glycemic index of potatoes, try cooking them and cooling them, then reheating or using in other recipes. The cooling step actually changes the makeup of the starches and reduces the glycemic impact by 40 per cent.
Or make that creamy mash made with potatoes and (mostly) cauliflower, a sneaky substitute for the usual starchy side.
So, pass the potatoes and celebrate the humble spud — mashed, smashed, fried, baked, or gooey in a gratin, potatoes are the universal meal maker!
BOILED AND MASHED:
· Boil or steam potatoes whole, if small, or cut into large cubes until tender, then mash with butter, milk or cream and season with salt and pepper. Rustic mashes, with the skin, include all of the healthy nutrients and fibre.
· Add whole cloves of garlic to the pot while cooking potatoes for a garlicky mash.
· Fold in finely chopped green onions or chives and top with extra butter for Irish Champ, add dill and feta, or make Parmesan potato mash with sour cream, grated cheese and butter.
· For rustic Colcannon, boil your spuds with chopped onions, parsnips and cabbage, then make a chunky mash with butter and cream.
· Use leftover mash for salmon cakes, to top pot pies, and in potato griddle breads such as Norwegian Lefse, Scottish potato scones or Irish farls.
· I like an old-fashioned ricer to crush cooked potatoes that are destined for dishes like gnocchi or potato breads. It keeps the potatoes dry and fluffy. Don’t be tempted use a food processor — the results will be gummy, not light.
ROASTED AND BAKED:
· Bake whole, washed russet potatoes in their skins. Stab with a fork (to prevent explosions), rub with oil and salt, bake at 400 F for 45 minutes, until soft. Then slice the top lengthwise, squeeze to fluff and top with butter, sour cream, chopped crisp bacon or green onion.
· For a perfectly crispy potato, do this: Steam or boil whole nugget potatoes, skin on, until barely tender (I like Yukon Gold), place them on a parchment lined baking sheet, press them lightly with a potato masher (just to break the skin, flatten a little and expose some of the fluffy interior), drizzle with olive oil (or duck fat) and sprinkle with sea salt, then bake in a hot 400 F oven, until golden brown and crisp (about 45 minutes).
· For easy roasties, peel and cut larger potatoes into big chunks, boil five minutes then drain and shake in the dry pan to rough up the edges. Toss with olive oil (or duck fat) and salt and roast in a hot oven until brown and crispy.
· Tossed with a spicy paprika sauce, crispy roasted potatoes become Patatas Bravas, a popular Spanish tapas dish. Or use them as the base for a hearty breakfast hash, topped with sauteed mushrooms, scrambled eggs and melted cheese.
· Oven fries start with scrubbed russet potatoes, cut lengthwise into wedges. Heat a baking sheet in 450 F oven until hot, toss potatoes with olive oil and salt, place on hot pan and bake 20-30 minutes, until brown and puffed.
Inspired by a flatbread served at Category 12 Brewery Bistro, my recipe for this carbs-on-carbs pie is pure comfort, one that evokes my favourite perogy flavours — potatoes, fried onions, bacon and sour cream!
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
3 pieces lean, double smoked bacon, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 cups mashed potatoes
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/4 cups shredded cheese (I like the Italian mozza/Parm mix), divided
2 single serve pre-baked pizza shells, Naan, pita or other flatbread
Pinch of crushed chili flakes
Sour cream and chopped green onions to garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
In a saute pan, cook the chopped onion in olive oil with salt over medium low heat until browned and caramelized, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
Cook the bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels.
Stir about ¼ of the onions into the mashed potatoes, with the melted butter, half of the chopped green onion and ¼ cup of the shredded cheese.
Place the flatbreads on a baking sheet and top each with half of the the mashed potato mixture, smoothing it into an even layer. Top each with half of the remaining cooked onion, chopped bacon and shredded cheese. Sprinkle each pizza with a pinch of chili flakes.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until bubbly and beginning to brown on top.
Serve perogy pizza drizzled with sour cream and sprinkled with additional green onions. Serves 2-4.
POTATO AND GREEN BEAN CURRY
I love to cook this simple potato curry with fresh green or yellow beans — feel free to substitute other vegetables (think cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts) to change it up. Roti (Indian flat bread) is nice on the side or serve with rice.
2 tablespoons butter or ghee
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (methi)
2 large Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped (about 1½ cups)
2 cups potatoes, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 cups (1 lb) green or yellow beans, stems removed
½ cup water
1 teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon Asian chili paste (or to taste)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
In a large saucepan, heat the butter over medium-high. Add the cumin seeds and stir until they sizzle and pop. Add the onion and ginger, and cook together for 5 minutes, until onion is softened and starting to brown.
Stir in the turmeric, methi, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, and water, and combine well. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and braise for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender.
Gently stir in the garam masala, chili paste and chopped cilantro. Serves 4.
MINI POTATO KUGELS
You can bake this kugel mixture in a butter baking dish but using a muffin tin makes this Passover classic the crunchiest. Like crispy potato latkes, without all of the work of frying, and great for breakfast, lunch or dinner!
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (for greasing the muffin tins)
2 lb. potatoes (about 4 bakers) peeled and grated
1 medium onion peeled and grated
3 eggs beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil + extra for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Use vegetable oil to grease muffin tins. Alternately, you can use cooking spray or parchment liners.
Use food processor with grating disc to grate potatoes and onion. Place in a sieve and drain 30 minutes, squeezing to press out excess moisture.
Combine the potatoes and onions in a bowl and stir in eggs, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Fill muffin tins with potato mixture. Bake 45-60 minutes or until tops are brown and crisp. Loosen from pan when warm.
Serve immediately or refrigerate (or freeze) and reheat on a baking sheet in a hot oven (to retain crispy exterior).
Makes 1 dozen.
Whether you call it tortilla or frittata (the Italian version), start this savoury egg dish with sliced or cubed potatoes and add whatever leftover vegetables, cheese or cured meats you have on hand. Some recipes start with thinly sliced raw potatoes, cooked in lots of olive oil, but this recipe includes preboiled potatoes (you can also use frozen hash brown potatoes to speed up the prep). For a meaty version, add ham or spicy chorizo sausage.
Serve at room temperature or cold as a tapas course, for a picnic lunch or a simple meal with salad.
2 large, yellow-fleshed potatoes, peeled (.5 kg or 1.1 pounds)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 cup diced red bell pepper
6-8 large eggs (8 if you add additional vegetable or meats)
½ teaspoon each, salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cooked chopped cooked vegetables (broccoli, sauteed mushrooms, asparagus, etc.) or meats (ham, prosciutto, chorizo), optional
½ cup shredded strong cheese (Manchego, Gruyere, Cheddar)
Preheat the broiler.
Boil or steam the potatoes for 10-15 minutes, cool and dice or slice (or start with leftover boiled potatoes). You’ll need about 4 cups.
In a cast iron skillet or other non-stick pan that can go into the oven, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté potatoes, onion, garlic and red pepper for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs until well beaten, and season with salt the pepper.
When the potatoes begin to brown, top with additional cooked vegetables of meats, pressing into the potato mixture. Pour the beaten eggs evenly over top, and reduce heat to medium low.
Cook for 15 minutes, until the omelet is nicely browned on the bottom, shifting the ingredients slightly to let uncooked egg run underneath as it cooks.
When the eggs are almost set, sprinkle the cheese evenly over top and place the pan under the broiler. Broil 6-8 minutes, until the pie is just cooked through and browned on top
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly, loosen from pan and slide onto a plate to finish cooling. Serve at room temperature, sliced into wedges. Serves 4.
The French potato gratin, (aka Dauphinois), is the simplest way to take the humble spud into decadent territory. There are many variations, some made with parboiled potatoes and cream sauces, or with addition of a layer of sauteed onions or leeks, but this is easy and elegant.
4 baking Russet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled
3 cloves garlic, peeled and slivered
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup shredded Gruyere or old Cheddar
1 1/2 cup heavy cream (or half cream and half sour cream, whisked together)
Lightly grease a shallow oval gratin dish with butter or olive oil. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Slice potatoes very thin using a mandoline.
Place 1/3 of the sliced potatoes in the bottom of the gratin dish, arranging them in concentric circles. Scatter ½ of the garlic over top, season with salt and pepper, and ¼ of the cheese. Drizzle about 1/4 of the cream.
Repeat with a second layer, then finish with a layer of sliced potatoes. Pour over the remaining cream and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Bake uncovered for 60-70 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown. Serves 4-6.
Potatoes and cheese make a surprisingly satisfying filling for enchiladas. Try this economical and family-friendly vegetarian casserole when you have leftover mash, too
4 large potatoes, about 1.5 lb, boiled and mashed
6 oz strong cheese (extra old cheddar, aged Gouda, etc.), shredded or crumbled
3/4 cup sour cream
4 green onions, chopped
1 130 ml can chopped green chilies (or 4 jalapeno peppers, roasted, peeled, and chopped), divided
1 tablespoon chili powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
24 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 398-ml can plain tomato sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 can chopped canned green chilies (from filling ingredients) or 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1/2 cup chicken stock or water
½ cup cilantro, leaves and stems
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
4 oz mozzarella or old cheddar, shredded
Preheat the oven to 400°F and oil a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
Combine the filling ingredients in a bowl, using half of the can of chilies and reserving the other half for the sauce. Mix well.
Wrap tortillas in a kitchen towel and microwave for a minute until soft and pliable.
Fill each tortilla 1/4 cup of the filling. Place, seam side, down in the baking dish. Continue until all of the tortillas are filled.
Combine the sauce ingredients in a blender (including the reserved half can of green chilies) and whirl to purée. In a mall saucepan, bring the sauce to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then pour evenly over the filled tortillas in the baking dish.
Sprinkle the mozzarella or cheddar evenly over top.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until heated through and bubbly. Serves 6-8.
Leftover mash? Make boxty — potato pancakes that are part of a classic Irish breakfast, and great with smoked salmon and sour cream. This recipe makes a batter-style boxty to easily drop like pancakes, or you can leave out the egg and add extra flour to make a soft, rollable dough for thicker griddle cakes (farls) or thinner flatbreads. A recipe from my Sligo side!
2 cups mashed potatoes, preferably a starchy, floury type
2 cups raw shredded potatoes
½-3/4 cup milk or buttermilk, divided
1 egg, beaten
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons melted butter
Place the shredded raw potatoes in a colander in the sink, sprinkle with salt, and let drain for 10 minutes. Squeeze dry (reserving the starchy liquid to return to the mix when it settles, if you’re a purist).
In a bowl, mix the mashed potatoes with ¼ cup of the milk. Add grated potatoes and beaten egg, and combine.
Sprinkle the flour and baking powder overtop and mix well. Stir in the enough milk to form a thick, spoonable batter. Heat butter in a non-stick pan over medium-low heat and spoon the batter into the pan, making 3-4-inch pancakes (or tiny ones for smoked salmon and sour cream appetizers). Cook for 4 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Serves 4.
TIP: For farls (griddle cakes), leave out the egg and knead in enough flour to make a soft dough, then pat into a thick round, cut into eight wedges and cook in a dry pan until very crisp and brown on both sides. Or divide dough into 8 pieces, roll with flour into larger, thinner rounds, and cook in a hot pan until there are brown spots on each side.
SPICY SALMON POTATO CAKES
Classic fish cakes combine mashed potatoes with tinned or leftover fish (salmon, tuna, cod), a beaten egg and chopped green onions. Take them into more exotic territory with Indian spices, for a golden cake reminiscent of your favourite samosa or dosa filling, for snacks or simple supper for two with a salad.
3 large potatoes, peeled and boiled until tender and drained well 1 tablespoon canola oil 1 tablespoon butter 1⁄2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 small jalapeno or serrano chili pepper, seeded and minced 1 teaspoon turmeric 1 egg, lightly beaten
1 213-g can salmon, drained and mashed (skin and bones removed)
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
salt and freshly ground black pepper
flour or panko crumbs (optional) additional oil for frying cakes
Cook potatoes, mash roughly and chill.
Heat the oil and butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the cumin and mustard seeds. Stir while the seeds pop, for about 30 seconds. Add the chopped onion and cook over medium heat until golden brown. Add the ginger and minced peppers and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the turmeric. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature, and mix with the mashed potatoes.
Stir in the beaten egg, then fold in the salmon and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.
Make into small cakes, about 2 inches in diameter. For a crispier exterior, dip fish cakes into flour or breadcrumbs to coat before frying in a little oil in a non-stick pan, until brown on both sides. Serve hot with chutney. Serves 2-4.
With a couple of baking potatoes and a can of salmon, make an easy and economical meal for two.
Double recipe for the family or prep in advance to microwave whenever the kids return from school or soccer practice. Switch it up based on what’s fresh or what’s in the fridge. Leftover steamed broccoli and cheddar, for example, can easily stand in for the spinach, feta, and dill.
One 7.5-oz (213-mL) can wild sockeye salmon, drained and mashed
2 baking potatoes 1-2 tablespoons butter ½ cup chopped fresh spinach (or leftover cooked vegetables)
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
1⁄4 cup grated mozzarella cheese 2 green onion, chopped 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill (or other herbs)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
Drain the salmon and use a fork to break it into chunks. Discard any skin and bones.
Scrub the potatoes well and pierce with a fork all over to allow steam to escape. Bake the potatoes for 45 to 60 minutes or until soft—the potatoes should yield to pressure when squeezed.
Cut the potatoes in half, lengthwise. Use a spoon to carefully scoop the flesh into a medium bowl, leaving the baked shells intact.
Mash the potato flesh with butter and stir in the spinach, cheese, green onions, dill, salt, and pepper. Fold in the salmon. Pile the mixture back into the potato skins and place the stuffed potatoes on a baking sheet.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Serves 2. Easily doubled.