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The good spud: How to kick our bad potato habits for better ones


Poor potatoes.

Despite being a culinary pillar around which countless societies have evolved, the humble spud has faced many challenges in the past few decades, mostly due to our conflicting feeling about carbohydrates. The high-carb fad of the 1980s led to the low-carb boom of the ’90s and 2000s, and potatoes are still recovering from the hit.

But according to dietitian Beth Barnett-Boebel and food coach Jessica Pearson, who co-own Path Nutrition in Austin, potatoes aren’t the carb you should worry about today — as long as you’re not serving them covered in sour cream, cheese and bacon bits every night.

“It’s important to not villainize any one food group,” Barnett-Boebel says. “Fats, proteins and carbs are needed, and how much depends on your body and the amount of activity you do. Carbs can play a big role in supporting your activity.”

If you are active and need a higher carb intake, potatoes are a wiser choice than what Barnett-Boebel and Pearson call “floured product” — products ranging from tortillas and bread to pasta, even the gluten-free kind, that are made from some kind of powdered ingredient.

To process wheat, rice, almonds or even potatoes into a flour and then make another product to cook again leads to reduced nutrients that must then be reintroduced. Our bodies thrive when fueled by whole foods, and potatoes fall into that category, even though they’ve been maligned in the past, Barnett-Boebel says.

Potatoes are naturally low in calories (about 170 calories for a medium, skin-on potato) and packed with vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6, manganese and dietary fiber. But how you cook them greatly affects their nutritional quality, Barnett-Boebel says.

Frying potatoes is never a good idea if you’re on a calorie- or fat-restricted diet because they soak up oils. And Barnett-Boebel says over-browning them in a pan or in the oven can cause inflammation in your body because of what are called advanced glycation end products produced with the high heat. Barnett-Boebel says this also happens when you char protein, and inflammation in the body can worsen health issues like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers.

Beware overcooking the potatoes, no matter how you prepare them. White potatoes are higher on the glycemic index than sweet potatoes, and the softer they are — including those pillowy mashed potatoes you love — the less fiber they have and the quicker they will cause your blood sugar to spike. That’s hard on the body, even if you don’t have diabetes.

One final thing to keep in mind, Barnett-Boebel says, is that potato skins are where the nutrients and fiber are most dense, so don’t peel potatoes before cooking. You’ll want to scrub them to remove any lingering dirt.

She pointed out that potatoes frequently land on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen, the list of produce that has the highest amounts of residual pesticides, so always buy organic if you can.

Roasted Potato Salad With Mustard-Walnut Vinaigrette

This potato salad celebrates its namesake ingredient, the humble and excellent spud, instead of allowing it to drown in a bowlful of gloppy white dressing. Roasted until browned, the potatoes themselves are the stars and, after a light mash, get to bathe in a mustardy vinaigrette. Basil adds a surprising freshness, toasted walnuts play up the potatoes’ roasted side, and all of the flavors together will speak to you even at room temperature. So without the soft-boiled egg on top, this salad is good for potlucks, picnics and backyard parties.

— Editors of Food52.com

4 pounds mixed marble potatoes or other small potatoes

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

6 to 8 eggs

1 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Leaves from 1 bunch basil, torn

For the vinaigrette:

2 garlic cloves

Sea salt

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons walnut oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on two parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheets, drizzle with olive oil, and toss to evenly coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast, shaking the sheets occasionally, until tender and brown, 40 to 45 minutes.

To make the vinaigrette, place the garlic on a cutting board, sprinkle with a couple of generous pinches of salt, and finely chop and smash it into a paste with the side of a chef’s knife. Whisk together the garlic paste, lemon juice, vinegar, and both mustards until smooth. Gradually whisk in the olive and walnut oils until emulsified. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl. Toss in the scallions and the vinaigrette. Using the back of a mixing spoon, gently smash some of the potatoes just enough to break the skins. Be careful not to make mashed potatoes. Allow the dressed potatoes to sit at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes.

About 15 minutes before serving, bring a pot of water to a boil. Lower the eggs, a few at a time, into the water and boil for 6 minutes. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, plunge them into an ice bath until cool enough to handle, and then peel them.

Just before serving, stir in the walnuts and basil. Arrange the salad on plates. Top each serving with a soft-boiled egg and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serves 6 to 8.

— From Shannon Hulley in “Food52 Mighty Salads: 60 New Ways to Turn Salad into Dinner—and Make-Ahead Lunches, Too” (Ten Speed Press, $22.99)

Baby Potato, Greens, Garlic and Chickpea Hash

A simple, comforting supper with just a few ingredients, this dish was inspired by a freshly dug batch of red gold potatoes from the garden. Nutty-tasting yellow-fleshed red golds are delicious, but of course not required, in this recipe — any baby potato will do. The potatoes get boiled first, then crushed and sauteed with the other ingredients for a delicious crispy finish. I also love that this recipe showcases another tasty way to use chickpeas as a protein: in a rustic “hash.” Sauteing the chickpeas until golden is the trick to giving them extra flavor. It even works with drained canned chickpeas. Choose your favorite tender greens for this, and be generous with the garlic, too.

— Susie Middleton

10 baby red potatoes, preferably yellow-fleshed (about 10 ounces)

2 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/3 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 generous tablespoon minced fresh garlic

3 cups stemmed and chopped or sliced tender greens, such as Swiss chard, spinach, broccoli leaves or young kale

Freshly ground black pepper

Hot sauce or vinegar of your choice

1/4 cup sour cream

2 to 3 teaspoons chopped fresh chives

Put the potatoes and 2 teaspoons of the salt in a large saucepan and cover with a generous amount of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer until just tender, about 25 minutes. Drain.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large (12-inch) nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the chickpeas and cook, shaking or stirring, until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the greens and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, tossing or stirring, until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.

Move the greens and chickpeas to one side of the pan and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Let it melt and then add the whole boiled potatoes. Using a potato masher or spatula, crush the potatoes into large pieces (you don’t want to mash them completely, just break them up), then sprinkle them with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and several grinds of black pepper. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir everything together. Press down on the mixture with a spatula and cook until the bottom is somewhat browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the hash over in pieces and cook again until the other side is somewhat brown, 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove the hash from the pan and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper and a splash or two of hot sauce or vinegar. (You can also serve the hash with a bottle of hot sauce alongside it.) Garnish with the sour cream and chives and serve right away. Serves 2.

— From “Simple Green Suppers: A Fresh Strategy for One-Dish Vegetarian Meals” by Susie Middleton (Roost Books, $24.95)

Leek, Red Potato and Feta Galette

A galette is simply a flat, round, freeform pastry. You can fill it with whatever you’d like, and it is not supposed to look neat. Here, I combine thinly sliced red potatoes, leeks, dill, feta and lemon for a fresh bake. Adapt this combination to your own tastes — perhaps trying crumbled goat cheese in place of the feta or tossing in a handful of leftover crumbled bacon. Keep in mind that if you freeze the dough you will need to thaw it in the refrigerator overnight and then allow it to warm up on the counter for 15 minutes before rolling it out.

— Sarah Waldman

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 cup ice water

3 leeks, white and light green parts thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 cups)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 medium red potatoes, sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds

5 grinds of black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

4 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

Juice of 1/2 lemon

To make the crust, measure the flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt into a food processor, then pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter cubes and continue to pulse until the butter bits are the size of peas. Next, turn the motor on and stream in the ice water, starting with 1/4 cup, then adding a bit more if the dough looks really sandy. Continue to run the motor until the dough just begins to form a ball. Turn the motor off.

Dust a work surface with flour, then turn out the dough and gently form it into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic and store it in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes and up to 24 hours. (Or place the wrapped dough in the freezer to use at a future date.)

To make the galette, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Clean the sliced leeks in a large bowl of water — gritty soil often hides between the vegetable’s layers. Dry the washed leeks well on a kitchen towel.

In a large sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, sliced potatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are soft, gently tossing, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add in the chopped dill, crumbled feta and lemon juice. Allow the filling to cool slightly as you roll out the pastry dough.

Dust the counter with flour and roll the dough disk into a round that is about 14 inches in diameter. Fill the middle of the pastry with the vegetable mixture, leaving a 1-inch border of dough all the way around. Fold the border of dough up around the filling and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the crust is slightly golden. Serves 4 to 6.

— From “Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work” by Sarah Waldman (Roost Books, $29.95)

Crab, Spring Potato and Watercress Salad

Succulent crabmeat, watercress and small creamer potatoes provide the versatile base for this lightly dressed salad.

1 pound small white creamer potatoes or fingerlings

Kosher salt

12 ounces jumbo-lump crabmeat

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons red chili paste, such as sambal oelek

1/3 cup creme fraiche

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 large bunch fresh watercress (tough stems discarded), coarsely chopped

1 small handful minced fresh chives

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan set over high heat and cover with 1 inch of cool water. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook the potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander and let them sit until they’re cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, place the crab in a large bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and the chili paste. Stir gently to combine and season lightly with salt.

Whisk together the remaining oil and lemon juice in a large bowl along with the creme fraiche and Dijon mustard. Season lightly with salt.

Cut the warm potatoes in half or into bite-size pieces. Add them to the bowl of dressing along with the watercress and toss gently to combine.

Transfer the potato mixture to a large serving platter and top with the crab salad. Sprinkle with the chives and serve right away. Serves 4.

— From Julia Turshen for the Washington Post



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