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A short blurb from The Associated Press the other day said that the head of the Washington state Potato Commission is tired of potatoes being linked to junk food. He says potatoes are rich in potassium, fiber and Vitamin C, and have a lot of protein. To spread awareness and potato love, he’s eating 20 plain potatoes a day. For 60 days. Hmmm. Well, he’s right that potatoes often a get a bad rap unnecessarily. Other than in the form of French Fries and potato chips, some folks never eat a potato. That’s too bad, because they can be the basis of healthy and usually very frugal meals. But, 20 potatoes a day and that’s it? I’ll look forward to seeing how he fares on his spud-nik mission.
Most of us can incorporate much fewer potatoes in our diet and reap the benefits from a health standpoint and a frugality one. Potato contains vitamins and minerals, as well as an assortment of phytochemicals, such as carotenoids and polyphenols. Per Wikipedia, “a medium-size 150 g (5.3 oz) potato with the skin provides 27 mg of vitamin C (45% of the Daily Value (DV)), 620 mg of potassium (18% of DV), 0.2 mg vitamin B6 (10% of DV) and trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. The fiber content of a potato with skin (2 g) is equivalent to that of many whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals.” Potatoes are well known as complex carbohydrates, but they also contain protein as the commissioner stated. To be honest, that was news to me. Again, per Wikipedia, most of the protein in a potato is contained in a thin layer just under its skin.
There are many varieties of potatoes. (Surprisingly, there are many GMO potatoes, too … not good news.) Of course, there are more expensive potatoes like Fingerling and Yukon Gold, both of which I do love, but your basic russet or white potato can yield satisfying and healthy results at a much lower cost. Russet potatoes were actually shown to be very high in antioxidants in this study a while back. One can buy a 10- or 20-lb bag of potatoes for the same cost as one bag of potato chips.
You can grow your own, too. Even city dwellers can get in on the fun. A 50-gallon garbage can with holes drilled in its bottom and filled with soil makes a great self-contained way to grow a supply of potatoes. (Read more here.) Whether you use a traditional in-ground garden or a container, “digging” potatoes is one of the most fun gardening chores ever. It’s very exciting to find out how many of those gems are hiding under the soil and what exactly they look like. Is there one worthy of posting on eBay for a big payoff? Even when there are no super unique potatoes, the shapes and sizes also fascinate. I’m a sucker for the ones that somehow end up shaped like hearts. A veritable gardening treasure hunt, for sure, and frankly potatoes just have so many uses.
That’s why I try to always have potatoes in my pantry. Sometimes a baked potato is just right to round out what I have planned for dinner. When we’re camping, potatoes baked in the coals of our campfire are pretty much a given for part of our evening meal. That cooking method produces the best baked potato ever. Period. At home, potatoes often go in the microwave just as they are or get dressed up a bit for Quick and Easy Pan-Baked Potatoes. Other times, a few potatoes get chopped and thrown into my Everything Soup. Potatoes also make wonderful creamy soup with the help of either evaporated milk as in this Baked Potato Soup, or just blended with chicken broth for non-dairy creaminess as in this Slow Cooker Potato-Zucchini Soup. Incidentally, an old rule of thumb for potato soup is to use one potato per person (or double that if you want leftovers).
One of the most common ways I use potatoes is to make hash browns. This dish is a particular favorite when camping because we usually throw a couple extra potatoes in the coals. Even after years of campfire cooking, sometimes a few get burned and sometimes unexpected guests show up (like our neighbor in the mountains), so it pays to have reserve potatoes. However, more often than not, none get burned and we don’t have guests. Then I use the extra potatoes to make hash browns or hash. Okay, I say hash browns, but the chunky potato dish that results is called home fries by some instead of hash browns. However, if you add meat to potatoes made like that, then one calls the dish hash. Confusing, huh? Sometimes the English language defies logic.
We call this dish hash browns no matter how small the potatoes are cut and any time we add other ingredients to the potatoes, well, then we call the dish hash … ham hash, steak hash, etc. Small bits of meat and/or veggies plus a few spices added to the hash browns create a frugal and healthy meal that is never exactly the same, but always comforting and tasty. Think of it the way you think of fried rice or a stir fry; just throw in whatever sounds good. Again, it doesn’t take much. Some leftover ham and green onions, a few shrimp with roasted sweet pepper bits, leftover barbecued chicken with grilled corn cut from the cob … or maybe all of the above if you’re cleaning out the refrigerator and feeding a large family or a group of friends who dropped by unexpectedly.
Simple Hash Browns
About 2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb potatoes, cut into ½ chunks or slices (about 3 cups)
½ cup chopped onion
½ tsp salt
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp black pepper
dash cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
Heat oil in a large, deep skillet.
Add raw potatoes. (If using already cooked potatoes, add them at the point in the instructions below where you uncover your skillet and continue cooking.) Sprinkle with onions, salt, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
Cover. Cook on medium low to medium about 10 minutes or so. Stir once or twice during cooking time.
Uncover and up heat to medium high. Cook another 5 minutes or so. Potatoes should be golden with a crispy outside and a tender inside. Onions should be crispy.
During the last 5 minutes of cooking your hash browns, add your pre-cooked meat, seafood, veggies, etc. If adding any uncooked items, add them earlier (maybe even at the beginning) to ensure that all get cooked well. Additional oil and seasonings may need to be added as well, depending upon how much and what you add.
Shirley’s Notes: I’ve also used butter before when making hash browns when camping, and sometimes leftover butter from dipping our artichoke leaves/hearts. Talk about heavenly hash with that variation! If you have non-onion lovers in the family (often those are children), try using just a little onion powder instead of an onion. You can gradually increase the amount of onion powder to get your non-onion lovers’ taste buds adapted. Son likes the flavor of onions, but not the texture so this was a good option for him when he was growing up. If starting with raw potatoes, try to cut pieces uniformly to ensure even cooking. When I make hash while camping and cooking on a grill, I tend to cut the potatoes into slices for easy flipping and removal from the grill.
There are lots of other wonderful potato recipes in the gluten-free blogosphere:
- Ali’s (The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen) Halibut and Potato Chowder
- Amy’s (Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free) Spinach Florentine Potato Soup
- Jared and Sophie’s (A Kids Cooking Challenge) Potato Cheese Soup
- Diane’s (The W.H.O.L.E. Gang) Potatoes Au Gratin
- Maybe you still have your heart set on potato chips? No worries. Make your own healthy ones using Karina’s (Gluten-Free Goddess) recipe here.
Shirley Braden was diagnosed with gluten intolerance in June 2003. She writes the gluten-free blog, gfe—gluten free easily. She also leads the King George Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Group, which she formed in 2004. Shirley also serves on the core council of a large GIG group, as well as contributing to and editing its quarterly newsletter. Her mission is to educate all about the effects of gluten on one’s health and share her gfe approach, which focuses primarily on real food, but also includes some mainstream processed foods that are gluten free, and a few gluten-free specialty foods. She believes that the gfe approach is a simpler, healthier, less expensive way to eat gluten free. Shirley often shares her gfe approach in local, state, and national forums, such as health fairs and other community events. She will be presenting at the 2011 Gluten and Allergen Free Expo.