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Tater Tutorial: Preparing Potatoes

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If you know me, there a few things that are consistent and true:

1)      I’m one of the biggest Chicago Cubs fans on earth (hasn’t been easy).

2)      Unless someone is dying or giving birth (or Stacey Dash wants to get married), do not call me on Sundays during football (that includes my mom).

3)      I looooooooooooove potatoes.

Whereas loyalty to my Chicago Cubs and Bears has brought little joy since the 1980s, I’ve enjoyed a long lasting and deep love affair with most varieties of the great potato.  Whether Yukon gold, purple, new, red or russet varieties, I’ve always found a way to work them into breakfast, lunch and dinner meals (see below for best usage of a few varieties).

Known as America’s most popular vegetable, potatoes (non-fried and without being smothered in sour cream, butter, etc.) are high in nutrients and low in calories.  Whereas each potato provides different nutritional value, overall this vegetable is high in Vitamins C & B6, potassium and manganese (pancreas function, cholesterol metabolism).  Sweet potatoes in particular also pack high amounts of Vitamin A (great for your skin and vision) and good amounts iron and calcium, and help in preventing prostate cancer& diabetes.  This potato, which comes in several colors to include purple, red and white, also protect against liver disease, several other cancers, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart attack, stroke, and a LOT MORE!!

When picking them at the market (it’s best to buy organic so reference my past column HERE), make sure they are firm, the skins are smooth and that there aren’t any sprouts, as that is a sign of flavor loss.  Store them in a dark, cool, well-ventilated area– never in the fridge or in direct sunlight.    Here’s a guide to preparation, plus a recipe for sweet potato and pear soup.

BEST PREPARATIONS FOR POTATOES 

Russet potatoes: Best for mashing, baking, potato pancakes and frying.

Red potatoes: Best for soups, pan-frying and potato salads.

Yukon Gold: Best for steaming, mashing, soups and potato cakes.

Purple potatoes: Best for potato salads, mashing, soups and fries.

Sweet potatoes: Best for soups, roasting and steaming.

New potatoes: Best for steaming, potato salads, pan-frying and roasted.

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RECIPE ALERT (You’ll want to add this to your files, stat.)

Sweet potato & pear soup

1 ½ lb sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

3 large pears, cored, peeled and cut into chunks

1 medium Vidalia onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, pressed

3 c water (or broth) + 1 cup hot water/broth, reserved

1 Tablespoon maple syrup

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

½ teaspoon fresh mint, chopped

1 Tablespoon olive oil, or as needed

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Kosher salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

OPTIONAL – Pumpkin seeds, for garnish

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onions, reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and cook until translucent (about 8-10 minutes), stirring often. Add the pressed garlic & sweet potatoes, recover the pot and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring often.  Then add the pears, maple syrup, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, recover and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes, stirring often.  Add 3 cups of water/broth, 1 t salt and bring this mixture to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the potatoes are tender (about 10-12 minutes).

Blend the soup in batches until the consistency is smooth; if you want it thinner, add some of the reserved water/broth.  Adjust the seasoning with the salt and pepper.  Pour in a bowl and garnish with chopped mint and pumpkin seeds; serve immediately. IF HAVE SOME SOUP LEFT, LET IT COME TO ROOM TEMPERATURE FIRST, THEN STORE IN THE FRIDGE.  To do this quickly, put in a metal bowl (not plastic, as it keeps the heat in) and stir occasionally to release the steam.  FYI – if you let the soup sit for a day in the fridge, the flavors will be much more intensified.