Eating in the Americas: Potato Head


The humble potato may be the most ubiquitous and iconic new world food there is. Along side corn it has been a food ambassador (or food terrorist – however you’d like to see it) for globalization. Although it was eventually embraced by Europeans, their lack of diversity in selection left their crops vulnerable to disease and eventually this culminated in the Irish Potato Famine.

The potato was first domesticated in the region of modern-day southern Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia between 8000 and 5000 BCE. It has since spread around the world and become a staple crop in many countries.

According to conservative estimates, the introduction of the potato was responsible for a quarter of the growth in Old World population and urbanization between 1700 and 1900. Following the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, the Spanish introduced the potato to Europe in the second half of the 16th century. The staple was subsequently conveyed by European mariners to territories and ports throughout the world. Thousands of varieties still persist in the Andes where over 100 cultivars might be found in a single valley, and a dozen or more might be maintained by a single agricultural household. – Wikipedia

The potato is a poster-child for diversity. It reminds us that we are not, in fact, the most successful species on the planet. It also reminds us that if we want to be one we had also better embrace diversity. I noted to my friend once that multi-racial babies are often the most strikingly beautiful people. It nature’s way of saying, “Thanks for not inbreeding. Please come again.”

Just stop and think for a minute about the amazing variety of  dishes from around the world that we would not have without the potato – Pirogies, Shepard’s Pie, Aloo Papdi Chat, French Fries, German Potato Salad, and Vodka, are just a few. Also, without the potato we wouldn’t have cool science projects or Mr. Potato Head. A drab and monotonous life indeed.

A huge variety of potato dishes still exist in South America today, the homeland of the humble tuber. There are currently over 4000 varieties of potatoes and the common potato has 2 more chromosomes than human beings.

Grilled Jalapeño Potato Salad

20120731-216796-jalapeno-potato-salad

  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon sour cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 pounds new potatoes, washed and cut in half
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium jalapenos
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

To make the dressing: In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, sour cream, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and cumin. Set aside.

Place potatoes in a large bowl. Add olive oil and toss to thoroughly coat potatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill or roast your potatoes and jalapeños until tender.Transfer potatoes to a large bowl. Add dressing and toss to thoroughly coat. Add jalapeños, green onions, and cilantro and toss again to evenly distribute. Let rest for 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Potatoes and Summer Squash with Black Mint Sauce

20110630-158541-black-mint-sauce

  • 1 cup black mint leaves, packed
  • 3 aji amarillo chiles, seeded (if using dried chiles, soak for 20 minutes in hot water)
  • 1/2 pound farmer’s cheese, cotija, or feta
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 4 large zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 1/2 pounds waxy potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick

Combine black mint, chiles, cheese, garlic, half-and-half, and lemon juice in food processor. Pulse until mixture forms a smooth sauce. Add salt to taste and set aside. Makes about 2 cups of sauce.

In a 12-inch sauté pan, heat two tablespoons oil on medium heat until shimmering, then add potatoes. Gently cook, stirring frequently so to avoid sticking, until potatoes are just cooked through, about ten minutes. Add salt to taste, and remove to a bowl with tongs or a slotted spoon, leaving oil in pan.

Increase heat to high and add two remaining tablespoons oil. Add zucchini and cook over high heat until lightly caramelized around edges, about five minutes. Salt to taste, then return potatoes to pan and cook one additional minute. Serve and top with black mint sauce, and hot sauce if desired.

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