By Chef Kelly Unger of The Rooster & The Carrot Cooking Studio farm to table cooking classes
We have some things to clear up about potatoes! First of all, potatoes and sweet potatoes are not related. Potatoes are a tuber in the nightshade family, and related to the tomato. Sweet potatoes are a root vegetable and in the morning glory family. What does that mean to you in your kitchen? Different nutrition mainly, but beyond that, nothing really. I just knew you were curious so I thought I’d address it. And don’t even get me started on yams! But I will anyway. Yams and sweet potatoes aren’t related at all either. Both are root vegetables but they are completely different root vegetables. Back in the day, well intentioned Louisiana growers started calling their orange-fleshed sweet potatoes “yams” to distinguish them from other state’s sweet potatoes and varieties such as yellow and red. Unfortunately, the name stuck and still to this day in the grocery store, yams and sweet potatoes ARE the same thing. Check out this article from Bon Appetit on the subject: https://www.bonappetit.com/story/difference-between-sweet-potato-and-yam
The easiest way to tell the difference, a true yam has a tough, brown, tree bark like skin versus the thin, beautiful orangish, reddish or yellow skin of the different varieties of sweet potatoes. But I digress.
Secondly, potatoes get a bad reputation. They are loaded with Vitamin C and potassium as well as other vitamins and minerals. The problem comes with the way we cook them, such as frying them in unhealthy fats, and the foods that we prepare them with, like butter, cheese, cream, mayonnaise, etc. If we keep the skin on the potato and boil or steam them, we get a delicious and healthy combination of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Never peel the potato! It’s a waste of time and you’re throwing nutrients away. Now, of course, we will add some amount of oil or butter to the potato dish (and cheese, if you’re me), but managing the healthy versus unhealthy fats is part of our ongoing battle with proper diet. Just don’t blame the potato for the nutritional downfall of the dish.
Whenever I’m recovering from a cold or flu, or my stomach is just off, a steamed potato with a little drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of chopped parsley and a pinch of salt really soothes my recovery. And it makes sense given the potato’s high potassium and Vitamin C content.
I love how many gorgeous varieties and textures potatoes have. The starchy Russet is great for gratins and baking. Waxy reds and firm whites hold their shape when boiled for a salad. Gold varieties are just so buttery and flavorful on their own, you hardly need to add anything to it! “There are more than 200 varieties of potatoes sold throughout the United States. Each of these varieties fit into one of seven potato type categories: russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling and petite”, according to potatogoodness.com, a fascinating website you should check out.
I love a good French potato dish such as Potatoes Dauphinoise or Potato Pie with Bacon and Comte cheese. And what Pennsylavanian doesn’t love pierogies or the Pennsylvania Dutch Mashed Potato Stuffing at Thanksgiving! Potatoes pair so well with onions and just about anything really. I can’t think of a vegetable that doesn’t get along well with the potato.
Since September 18th is the start of Oktoberfest in Germany, and at the Doylestown market, I thought I’d focus the flavor profile of potatoes towards classic German and share an Oktoberfest recipe this week. Parslied potatoes is simple and super healthy! Parsley is a superfood on its own. Finely chopping half a bunch and tossing it with 4 diced, steamed or boiled yellow potatoes (with a little butter or olive oil) is a traditional Oktoberfest offering and great for soaking up the liters of beer everyone is drinking. Leek and Potato Soup with Pretzel croutons is another hearty dish you’ll find on the Oktoberfest menu. It’s a great way to use celery root and the perfect dish for the russet potato’s starchiness. This soup is as easy as can be. Saute a large, sliced onion and about 2 leeks, white parts only, for a few minutes, add about 4 medium diced potatoes and half of a small celery root with a bay leaf and some salt. Cover that with vegetable stock and cook until all the vegetables are soft enough to be pureed. Remember to remove the bay leaf before pureeing! Add some pepper and a dash of nutmeg, stir in some milk or cream (amount of your preference) and top with toasted pretzel croutons. Viola! I like to leave some potato chunks in my soup and use an immersion blender to puree it. I also prefer to serve a full soft pretzel on the side and garnish the soup with freshly chopped parsley instead. And sometimes a grilled Oktoberfest sausage will also find itself aside my bowl of this soup.
Bavarian Potato Salad with Chanterelles and Bacon is the recipe I’m sharing in full detail from the Oktoberfest Cookbook by Julie Skowronek. You may or may not find chanterelles at the market now, so use the meaty portobello or even cremini in its place. The beauty of this potato salad is that it’s a meal on its own but also works well with a good roasted chicken. For all my vegetarian friends, go heavier on the mushrooms as you eliminate the bacon and add some finely diced kale to the onions in the saute pan. This recipe calls for peeling the potatoes after boiling them, BUT DON’T DO IT! So make this salad or the soup, grab a soft pretzel and some beer and, sauf di zamm! Drink up!