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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Food journal number 61: Reflections about a blue potato

When we run out of inspiration to cook new food experiments at home, we usually stick with our tried and trusted easy-cooking staples. Our staples-list vary from time to time. About a few years ago, we were really hooked on fish soup and red beet salad. Then, it was chicken with pesto and pasta salad. Nowadays our staples-list includes shrimp sandwich, a créme fraishe-based pasta dish, and pork chops. And at the end of the week, if we still can't think of anything else we'd like to eat, we either browse the cookbooks or I run to the grocery and buy "inspiration". This week's inspiration is the blue potato, a variant called Blue Congo.

But first, a little about potatoes in general. They're the fourth largest crop in the world, yet seldom used in Asian cooking except as a stew vegetable. The've also got the bad rep of being fattening and unhealthy when on the contrary, potato starch has the same good qualities as fiber and (even if cooking methods vary nutritional content) more nutritious and more filling than an equivalent amount of white rice or bread:

The average baked potato provides the recommended daily intake of riboflavin (viamin B2), three to four times the necessary amount of thiamin (vitamin B1) and niacin (vitamin B3), one and a half times the quantity of iron, and ten times the amount of vitamin C. It has almost no fat or salt and offers more potassium than a banana. It is one of the easiest types of starch to assimilate and contains two and a half times fewer carbohydrates than a similar quantity of bread, which makes the potato popular with diabetics.
According to mom's cookbook The Popular Potato, where that quote was from, the bad rep of the potato derives from the traditional practice of serving them with salt and fat, in the form of fries with ketchup (fat + salt + sugar), creamy sauces, etc. I recommend a warm potato salad with a small amount of mustard vinaigrette, thinly sliced onions, and capers. It tastes much better than mayo-based potato salad, and if you make the dessing yourself with a healthy kind of oil, it should be better for you too.

Another "threat" to the potato — and other crops grown in large monocultures — is that commercial demands, by e.g. fastfood chains that demand long fries, usually force farmers to grow a single kind of potato: the Russet Burbank in the case of the US. In Sweden, King Edward and Asterix are the ones usually sold in groceries, but other varieties occasionally appear in limited amounts (e.g. Amandine, and lately, Blue Congo). The Incas however, as story has it, grew all kinds of potatoes in different colors and shapes: they were much less smooth than the potato-shape we know and prefer, and came in all shades of red and blue and yellow. This diversity made sure that, in case one variety failed due to plant disease, the Incas still had lots of potatoes to eat. It also diversified the potato gene pool.

It isn't really the time to talk about environmental-philosophical questions, but it does make you wonder about how our preferences (e.g. for round, large, firm potatoes) changed the landscape of potato varieties while also helping the potato, as a species, become the world's fourth largest crop by increasing their chances of survival. Are you reading Micheal Pollan's books yet? Do!

Back to my blue potatoes, the Blue Congo. It's exotic, it's interesting. According to internet sources, they also have higher antioxidant content than regular potatoes, and keep more than 75% of these antioxidants even after cooking. Why did I buy them? Mostly because it's interesting and I think it might be more healthy, but not for ecological reasons in mind. I followed the serving suggestion at the back of the potato bag and mixed the cooked, diced potatoes together with a green salad. We had an abundance of lemons, so lemon juice was the only dressing. The texture is a bit crumbly, and it tastes like a mild, creamy potato. The potatoes turned bright beet-purple with lemon juice.

Whether increased consumption of other crop varieties (for egositic reasons) will eventually lead to a change in the agricultural landscape (for ecological benefit) and what consequences the demand for slower-growing varieties have in terms of decreased food output on limited tillable land is likely a question that I will not have an answer to today. But did I get food inspiration? Yes. The next experiment will be to roughly mash the blue potatoes and serve it with steak.


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