In Defense of the Humble Spud
Potatoes have been a popular food for centuries, one of those elemental ingredients that can be cheap food for the masses one day, then whipped or turned into an haute gourmet masterpiece the next. These culinary chameleons originally flourished only in Peru, where hundred of varieties are still grown, each enjoying a different climate at a different elevation of the mountainous region.
And like so many good things, Columbus took the potato around the world, and once it made it past suspicions and skepticism, it became ubiquitous. Now the mass produced french fry and potato chip have risen to global dominion.
The potato had a place in every kichen. Then the anti-carb movement came along and insisted that the carbs in the poor tater were fattening us up. Just this year, a widely reported Harvard study found that the one factor that indicated a higher body weight was the number of servings of potatoes that a person ate. Some saw that as a sign that potatoes are driving the obesity crisis- but to my mind, it might well be that eating French fries, potato chips or rich mashed potato dishes is not just a pretty high-calorie, high fat way to eat potatoes, but also usually a sign that you are eating hamburgers, steak, or the other foods that typically go with them. If you actually delved into the info behind that study, though, the weight gain was highest in people eating fries and chips, not boiled potatoes, but the headlines didn’t get that far.
But the tide may be turning- a new study done at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania fed overweight, hypertensive volunteers purple potatoes. These brilliantly colored tubers are rich in colorful polyphenol antioxidants, which protect the body from free radical damage. All the volunteers microwaved the potatoes, and ate about 218 calories worth per day. All had reductions in their blood pressure, and none gained weight.
Of course, this was just a small study with 18 subjects, but it does make a point. According to the author of the study, Joe Vinson, the process of deep frying to make fries and chips seems to destroy most of the healthy substances, leaving mainly starch, fat and some minerals. That makes sense, since potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, which is destroyed by high heat. They are also a good source of potassium, needed for heart health, and they have lots of fiber, especially if served skin on.
Roasted Purple Potatoes with Avocado Lime Salsa
To celebrate this new finding, I roasted some beautiful purple potatoes. I just cut them in even inch wide chunks, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled on some coarse salt and cracked pepper, and tossed it all in a deep roasting pan. Into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, then a shake and stir and 20 minutes more. To honor the Peruvian origins of these potatoes, I served mine with a lime-avocado salsa, but you can also adorn yours with fresh herbs and garlic.
The salsa is just one avocado, diced in the shell, with a small diced tomato, a clove of garlic, crushed, a large jalapeno, minced, and a generous squeeze of lime. Salt to taste.
Potatoes are back baby, and purple is the way to go!