In defence of the humble spud

I love reading blogs and I love the connections you can feel with strangers. I read some awesome food blogs , blogs about love, life, women. I’ve noticed lately in the health/lifestyle type blogs alot of fear (verging on hysteria) about the good old humble potato. Something I read last week moved me to make a stand, to defend the good old spud. My ancestors came from Russia so perhaps I am genetically predisposed to loving potatoes?

But firstly I must add – enjoy them, but not too much and preferably not chipped. Because they are rich in carbohydrates and tend to release their energy quickly ie. they are high GI (glycaemic Index). But, in their defence, if you want a real food, not processed, you can’t go past the ease and versatility of a spud. All they need is cooking and they taste good au naturale. They are the only vegetable to have a year dedicated to them (2008 was the International year of the potato) owing to their importance as a food crop in combating world hunger.

So here are some tips and suggestions for using and enjoying potatoes

If you are watching your weight, enjoy your potatoes with at least 3 non-starchy vegetables. Enjoy lots of greens and I am happy to class carrots and pumpkin as non-starchy. They do contain some carbohydrates but I really think that the amount in non-consequential in a moderate serve size. The potato portion should take up about one quarter of the plate.

In summer, I like to make a variation of the salade nicoise using fresh salmon.  I like to make it and serve it on a big platter.  Start by boiling some potatoes, draining and allowing to cool.  Don’t overdo it – I use one good potato if the meal is for 2 people. Do the same with some green beans – I refresh them in iced water.  Boil some eggs to your liking (traditionally the recipe was with hard boiled eggs but I like the centre of the yolk to have some creaminess).  Cook a piece of salmon using any method you are comfortable with (you could grill, pan fry, steam or microwave it). I would use a piece around 300gm for a 2 person meal. Now you can assemble the salad. Line the platter with a bed of mixed lettuce (I love the butter head varieties of lettuce like mignonette) and scatter with cut up tomatoes, blanched green beans and the boiled potato. You may also add black olives or thinly sliced red onion. Now add the flaked fish and arrange the quartered boiled eggs on the platter. The classic dressing is an olive oil – vinegar – french mustard mixture but I suggest that you take a free-style approach with a dressing of choice. With my russian heritage, I love serving the herb dill with potato and salmon. I have made a dressing using dill, good quality mayo and thinning it with lemon juice. You could thin and lighten the sauce with a greek yoghurt. I have also seem the herb basil used in a salade nicoise.

Try different potatoes for different cooking methods. I totally love making mash with Dutch Cream potatoes. Kifler potatoes are wonderful roasted. Use a floury potato like a coliban or King edward for big, hand cut, oven baked chips. I pre-boil then for about 5 minutes, drain then transfer them carefully into a pre-heated baking pan at high temperature. They sizzle, they go golden and cook within 30 minutes. I use an oil that can handle high temperature like peanut or rice bran or, even better, if I have some rendered fat from an organic duck or pig, I use it. You might think that sounds unhealthy, but these rendered fats can handle really high temperatures and a little bit goes a long way without burning. One day I will write about the organic pork from Bottle Tree Organics and my thoughts on eating meat.

Again, if you are watching your weight, you could make a mash that is half potato and half cauliflower. I get the potatoes boiling and then add the cauliflower in the last 10 minutes of cooking.

So, please don’t buy into the hysteria around potatoes, unless you are addicted to potato chips its unlikely that they are the cause of ill-health or obesity. In a world where people eat too much processed foods (even bread is processed people) and not enough natural foods, please don’t go blaming a vegetable for poor health. My favourite little food bible “Food Rules” by the brilliant Michael Pollan has just be re-released with the best illustrations. Try this link