Market Fresh: Potatoes

These terrific tubers are the chameleons of the produce bin: mash 'em, roast 'em, turn 'em into soup. No matter how you cook them, potatoes are a perfect food.
There are few things more highly anticipated than the first ripe strawberry of spring or a crisp fall apple, just days off the tree. In our Market Fresh series we look at the produce in season this month and offer quick and easy suggestions for how to enjoy it.

The potato suffers from an undeserved reputation as a fattening food, when in fact it has relatively few calories and is packed with nutrients. It's not the potato's fault, after all, that people smother it with butter, sour cream and bacon bits.

First cultivated by the Incas as long as 4,000 years ago, the potato has always been valued as a source of sustenance. It was even once used as legal tender: When the Gold Rush hit Alaska, potatoes were traded for pieces of gold. America's love affair with potatoes continues to this day. According to the North Carolina Potato Association, the average American eats 142 pounds of potatoes a year, making the potato the United States' most-consumed vegetable. For those looking for additional ways to honor this terrific tuber, potato festivals are held from Posen, Michigan to Nampa, Idaho (Nampa bills its event as "America's Most Apeelin' Spud Fest").

Do it for your health
Bursting with complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber (mainly in the skin), potatoes also offer major amounts of potassium, as well as vitamin C. They're also rich in glutathione, an antioxidant thought to be a cancer preventative. No wonder folk remedies have employed the potato to fight everything from stomach upset to toothaches, frostbite and burns.

Selecting and storing
Pick firm, unwrinkled potatoes that are free of sprouts, "eyes," dark spots or green areas. For best quality, buy loose potatoes rather than those in pre-packaged bags. If you're planning to bake them, russets work best; for steaming whole, choose tiny red or white new potatoes or some of the more exotic fingerlings or Peruvian blues. For roasting or mashing, most types will work, though Yukon golds are always a favorite for their distinctively rich, buttery taste. Store potatoes in a cool, dark place; do not refrigerate. To maximize taste and nutrition, keep the skins on, scrubbing them gently with a vegetable brush to remove bits of dirt. Peeled or sliced potatoes can be kept in cold water to prevent discoloration, but the longer you soak them, the more nutrition seeps out of the potato and into the water.

What to do with potatoes
Layer them with flavor
Slice a baked potato in half the long way and top with a drizzle of sesame oil and oven-roasted sesame seeds, spicy tomato-based salsa, low-fat pesto, julienned and stir-fried vegetables or a dusting of sweet paprika.

Make a simple salad
For an easy and delicious potato salad, steam new red potatoes or mixed white and purple fingerlings whole in their skins. Cool, cut into quarters, toss with diced celery and red bell peppers (1/2 cup each per 6 potatoes), and top with your favorite vinaigrette.

Dress up mashed potatoes
Mashed potatoes, possibly the world's best-loved comfort food, can be dressed up in any number of ways. Use herbs such as basil, oregano or rosemary to add flavor and color. Or combine with chopped, steamed leafy greens such as spinach, mustard greens or arugula.

Put them on a meaty pie
For a hearty shepherd's pie, boil and mash 6 medium potatoes with 1/2 cup nonfat milk and 1 teaspoon pepper; set aside. Sauté one diced onion in 1 tablespoon canola oil; add 1 tablespoon flour and 1 cup vegetable or fat-free beef broth, stirring until thickened. Add 2 cups cooked, diced lamb or beef and 1 cup diced, steamed carrots. Spread into a casserole sprayed with nonstick spray, top with mashed potatoes and bake 40 minutes at 375°F. For a vegetarian version, replace meat with 3 cups chopped, steamed green beans, mushrooms, zucchini and bell peppers.

Simmer a rich soup
A thick, rich potato soup doesn't have to be fattening. Simmer one pound unpeeled, cubed potatoes, one diced onion and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley with 1 cup fat-free chicken broth and 2 cups nonfat milk. When vegetables are tender (about 20 minutes), cool slightly, add some black pepper and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (if desired), pour into a blender, puree until smooth and reheat slowly until warm.

Make baked "fries"
Don't write French fries out of your weight-loss plan; just make them in the oven. Cut potatoes into wedges or strips of desired thickness and place in a pan coated with nonstick spray; cover with more nonstick spray. Bake 10 to 20 minutes at 425°F, depending on thickness, turn them over, and bake another 5 to 10 minutes.

For more recipe suggestions check out the links below:
Au Gratin Potatoes
Potato-Wrapped Salmon
Cumin-Spiced Oven Fries

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