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The Stupendous Spud

Lesley Robinson
From New Beginnings, Vol. 28 No. 3, 2009, p. 44

The humble potato is a delicious and nutritious part of a varied diet of whole foods. A single medium sized potato (around 5 ounces or 150 grams) contains no fat, but is rich in vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber, glutathione (an antioxidant), and even contains calcium, iron, and four grams of protein. Much of the vitamin, mineral, and fiber content of the potato is found in the peel, so leaving the skin on maximizes its nutritional potential. A medium sized potato, baked in its skin, contains as much fiber as six dried prunes, as much vitamin C as two apples, as much protein as half a cup of milk, more vitamin B1 than a cup of whole-wheat spaghetti, and twice as much potassium as one banana.

Cultivation of the sturdy and adaptable potato began thousands of years ago in the Andes Mountains of South America and has spread all over the world. The potato is now the fourth most important world food crop, after wheat, rice, and maize. Following its introduction to Europe by the Spanish Conquistadors, it was adopted widely in royal courts. The potato gradually became a staple food and was later introduced to North America from Europe. It came to play an important role in Irish history. It was responsible both for a surge in population thanks to its abundance, and a devastating famine when potato blight hit in 1845.

Today there are over 150 varieties of potato grown around the world, although many are not commercially viable because they are either prone to disease or do not travel well. Of those varieties commonly available in grocery stores there are several distinct types:

Russet Potatoes are excellent for baking because of their low moisture and high starch content. They have brown, rough skin, and white flesh and are also an excellent choice for mashing.

Round White Potatoes are medium sized potatoes, which contain less starch and more moisture, making them the potato best suited for boiling.

Round Red Potatoes are similar to round white potatoes except that their skin is a reddish-brown color.

Long White Potatoes have a thin, pale grey-brown skin.

Long whites are good for boiling, baking, or frying. Thumb-sized baby long whites are known as "fingerling" potatoes.

Yellow Gold Potatoes have distinctive yellow flesh. These are good for mashing or steaming and for use in soups or potato pancakes.

When my son was in second grade, his class created a potato cookbook as a publishing project. Each student contributed at least one recipe and parents were invited to a Saint Patrick's Day lunch, prepared by the children with a menu based on the new cookbook. Each family received a copy of the book, and a number of the recipes have remained family favorites over the years. Here are some quick and easy recipes that can form the basis of a nutritious meal.

Saint Patrick's Day Soup

9 potatoes, peeled and diced
6 stalks celery, sliced
2 small onions, chopped
3 carrots, diced
3½ cups chicken or vegetable stock
6 cups milk
½ cup flour
4 oz (225 grams) margarine or butter

Combine the potatoes, celery, onions, carrots, and stock in a large pan. Bring to boil. Cover and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Combine a small amount of milk and flour until smooth. Add this mixture and the rest of the milk to the potato mixture. Stir in the butter. Cook and stir over medium heat until the soup thickens.

Pizza Spuds

Medium to large potatoes, 1 or 2 per person
Spaghetti sauce, 1–2 tablespoons per potato
Grated mozzarella cheese

Bake potatoes. This can be done quickly in the microwave by allowing three minutes per potato on full power. Prick them with a fork to prevent them from exploding. Turn potatoes half way through cooking time. Split baked potatoes in half lengthwise and place skin side down in an ovenproof dish. Spread spaghetti sauce on each half and top generously with grated mozzarella cheese. Bake in conventional oven at 375°F (190°C) for 10 minutes until cheese has melted.

Potato Latkes

6 medium potatoes
1 onion
2 eggs
½ cup flour
Salt and pepper

Grate the potatoes and onion. (You don't have to peel the potatoes first.) Mix all the ingredients. Fry in hot oil on both sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Latkes freeze well and can be reheated at 400°F (200°C) for 10 minutes in a single layer on a cookie sheet.

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