Thursday, April 19, 2007


High in the Andes Mountains thrives a species of plant so alluring and tenacious that it has crept into, and in some cases taken over the cuisine. My familiarity with them was so intimate; I rejected the sweet variety loudly as a child; watched my nephew pile heaps of them on his plate to the exclusion of anything else; until the day a purple one showed up.

Yes, the adoptable potato has conquered more lands than the British Empire could have ever hoped. I decided t was time to make a pilgrimage to the land of its origin to hunt the wild potato. I knew the Russet and Idaho, and was very knowledge, from my childhood, with canned baby potatoes but once the purple Peruvian showed I realized I knew nothing. Visiting markets throughout the Andes I saw red, purple, black and white skinned spuds with textures that ran from chalky to buttery. I managed to smile my way into a kitchen and with my pigeon Spanish I cooked up my dirt covered treasures.

It is sad to me how limited the varieties in North America are in our supermarkets. However, in my local farmers market I am able to secure one of my favorites – papas amarilla. This particular potato is creamy with a taste of chicken – yes, I said chicken. It is my ideal potato for making a soup and all it needs to accompany it are onions, garlic, salt, pepper and water. Though there is another variety coming from the Caribbean that draws my attention – batata. This tuber has a mottled reddish skin that I always peel, and a seductively sweet white flesh.

Store potatoes in a cool, dark place uncovered. A quick guide as to how to cook a particular potato is that if the skin is smooth roast, sauté; if the skin is rough the potato is most likely best boiled, baked or steamed.

Whipped Feta Potatoes - serves 6 to 8

2 pounds Russet potato (approx. 3 large potato)
2 garlic cloves - crushed to a pasted
1 lemon - zest and juice
1/2-cup olive oil
1/2-pound Greek feta
salt and pepper to taste

Peel the potatoes and cook in boiling water until fork tender about 15 to 20 minutes. Place the potatoes on a baking tray and place in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes to evaporate off any excess moisture. Mash the potatoes to smooth and set aside.

Place the garlic, lemon zest, juice, olive oil, feta, salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until creamy. Mix the feta and potatoes together, by hand, to thoroughly incorporate. Correct seasoning. Serve warm.

Batata Mash with Cumin - yields 6 servings

2 pounds batata potatoes
1/4 pound butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1-teaspoon ground cumin
2-tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel the potatoes and bring to a boil in pot of cold water. Cook the potatoes until tender about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let sit for 10 minutes to drain any excess water. Mash the potatoes by hand or in a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix in the butter, oil, cumin, lime juice, salt and pepper. Keep warm until serving.

No comments: