27 May 2010

Quick and Easy Potatoes, Two Ways

I love a good potato.  As a kid, I was all about greasy, starchy potato snacks like French fries, hash browns, skillet potatoes, twice-baked stuffed potatoes, and potato skins.  Oddly enough, I never really enjoyed potato chips.  On a weekend visit a few years ago, my older sister brought me a massive jar of honey balls, tiny, crunchy, sweet, melt-in-your mouth cookies basically made from potato starch and non-vegan ingredients like eggs, milk, and honey; she found them at an Asian grocery and was reminded of our shared childhood obsession for the odd, chalky little munchies.  If that doesn't sound particularly appetizing, it's because honey balls probably aren't appetizing to adults unless they happened to acquire a taste for them practically from birth (as my sister and I did); these cookies may truly be something only a child could enjoy.  Taste and nostalgia aside, the goofy cartoons covering the jar certainly gaves us a good laugh, as they depicted sturdy youngsters in various outfits--our favorite was the kid in his karate outfit, breaking a board, quiver lines and all--with product claims like, "the most nutritious snack for children."  Hmm, I don't know about that.  I just happened to find another blogger's review of the cookies, and we seem to share our doubts about the nutritional value of honey balls.

Anyway, so given the long history of my starchy carbohydrate love and my continued weakness for them (including the occasionally odd manifestation), you can expect to see some sort of bread, pasta, or a potato or two around here.  It had been quite some time since I'd eaten a regular (non-sweet) potato, so awhile back, I bought a 1- to 2-pound bag of small red potatoes with no specific plans for them.  I decided to steam them whole whilst preparing another meal, storing the cooked potatoes in the fridge to later either crisp in the oven or skillet.  Eventually I went with the latter plan to pull together a quick, very easy side dish using only a handful of ingredients.
The process went like this: I put a nonstick skillet over a medium flame and added the slightest touch of extra virgin olive oil.  After halving the pre-steamed potatoes (quartering the larger ones), I tossed them with a few dashes of a no-salt seasoning blend (I like Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute), red pepper flakes, and salt, then threw it all into the hot pan.  I stirred the potatoes only occasionally in order to get a golden crust to form on all sides.  They were hot and crisp, but still tender in the middle, in a matter of approximately 20 minutes, maybe fewer.  Just before serving, I a bit more salt to taste and tossed the potatoes with two tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley.  Despite its simplicity, the dish was quite tasty and comforting.  It would be a wonderful side dish alongside breakfast- or brunch-type entrees.

Speaking of starchy comfort food, I also recently had a craving for mac n' "cheese."  What was most strange about this phenomenon was that even in this age of impressively cheese-like vegan products, my craving was more specifically for a nutritional yeast-based (aka, "nooch") sauce.  Strange, right?  Some people loathe the stuff, but I really don't mind it in moderate quatatites.  Anyway, the leftover sweet potato puree in my fridge reminded me of this recipe for Nutritional Yeast Quick Mac N Cheese, which utilizes sweet potato puree to thicken and color the sauce.  I have a feeling the ideal sweet potato for the task is the orange-fleshed type (which I don't prefer), but nevertheless, I ran with the potato idea for my own spontaneous version of mac 'n "cheese."  I implemented grated carrot to achieve more of that familiar orange hue and also threw in some blanched chard just because I felt like the dish would do well with some green added to it.  The dish ended up being sweet-savory (very unlike mac n' cheese, even for nondairy versions), probably due to the type of sweet potato I used, which happens to be quite sweet.  If sweetness sounds too odd for you, perhaps try using orange-fleshed sweet potato, or else just regular potato; the goal is primarily for the body the starchy potato contributes to the dish.  I still want to tweak the recipe a bit, but I thought I'd share what I used for the first go-round anyway, in the event that anyone is curious and wants to try to improve upon it.

Easy Noochy Shells and Chard (printable recipe)
Yields 2 to 4 servings

6 oz (approximately half a standard box) dried whole wheat pasta shells
2 c swiss chard, chopped, then blanched and drained
1/2 c sweet potato, cooked and pureed; regular potato is a fine substitute
1/4 c finely grated carrot
1/4 c nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp white (shiro) miso
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
3/4 to 1 c unsweetened nondairy milk (I prefer almond milk)
Salt to taste

Cook pasta in salted, boiling water according to package directions, until al dente.  Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine sweet potato, carrot, nutritional yeast, miso, garlic powder, onion powder, mustard powder, and cayenne pepper.  Slowly add 3/4 cup nondairy milk, stirring well and cooking until the mixture thickens slightly and is heated through; if the consistency seems too thin, add more nondairy milk.  Add salt to taste.

Add the drained pasta and chard to the sauce and stir to combine.  Serve warm.
The use of potato in the sauce made preparing the dish very easy and the consistency of the sauce much like a bechamel (roux-based cream sauce), albeit less rich.  I didn't mind this novel sweet-savory version of noochy pasta, but I tend to enjoy that taste combination in general, so this might not suit all palates.  The starch-on-starch pasta served its comfort food purpose for me and was rather enjoyable--I particularly liked the chard addition--but if you are seeking something that tastes more "traditional" and is less carb-laden, this may not be your dish.  )I'm actually likely to make more changes to the dish; for example, I probably go the more savory route next time by using a Russet potato, rather than sweet potato, as the sauce base.)  In any case, if you want a quick-fix batch of comfort food, you can't really go wrong with potatoes, whatever form they take.

2 comments:

  1. When I saw the word "sweet potato" in the ingredients list, I knew I would like the recipe :) I've substituted the regular potato with sweet potato too (I even don't remember when was the last time I ate it). And I love the savory-sweet combination, so this won't be a problem for me :D

    Now sweet potatoes are not in season and are rather difficult to find, but I bookmarked the recipe and I'll try to use it the next time I have the ingredients :) This sauce would be perfect with the kamut pasta I still have in the pantry ^^ I don't have nutritional yeast though :S

    ReplyDelete
  2. When I saw the word "sweet potato" in the ingredients list, I knew I would like the recipe :) I've substituted the regular potato with sweet potato too (I even don't remember when was the last time I ate it). And I love the savory-sweet combination, so this won't be a problem for me :D

    Now sweet potatoes are not in season and are rather difficult to find, but I bookmarked the recipe and I'll try to use it the next time I have the ingredients :) This sauce would be perfect with the kamut pasta I still have in the pantry ^^ I don't have nutritional yeast though :S

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for reading! Your comments are always welcome and appreciated. :)