Potatoes never go out of style, nor do herbs. So when they are combined, you get au courant yet down-to-earth balancing flavors.
Whether the potatoes are baked, roasted, stuffed, fried, boiled and buttered, and mashed or smashed, herbs are fantastic team players, and they don’t even have to be fresh and verdant. Dried thyme, rosemary and oregano can be roasted with new white potatoes and dried dill or parsley work just fine in casseroles.
Split open a baked potato and fill it with a handful of chives, a dollop of sour cream, crumbled goat cheese and pecans, or perfume a potato-leek gratin with sprigs of thyme and parsley or take crisp latkes on a sage spin and add the fresh herb to grated potatoes and onions and mix them with flour and eggs.
“Potatoes and herbs are two amazing mediums that anything and everything goes,” says cookbook author/chef Raghavan Iyer. “The potato is like a painter’s empty canvas, and can absorb it all.”
Herbs are assertive depending on which stage they are added. They are mellow when they are mixed in early in the cooking process and contrastingly sharper in the end.
Although the potato also can be gussied up with cheeses, creams and dairy sauces, herbs have a down-to-earth way of adding a chic flavor.
“When you add ingredients that might seem to make no sense and are diametrically opposite, the potato pulls it all together,” Iyer says. “That’s the brilliance of the potato.”
Thanks to the mint, the potatoes, which are crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, have a sparkling accent.
▪ Two preserved lemons.
▪ Two pounds petite white potatoes.
▪ Quarter cup olive oil.
▪ Salt and pepper, to taste.
▪ Half a teaspoon chili flakes.
▪ Four garlic cloves, minced.
▪ About 20 mint leaves, torn
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the flesh from the preserved lemons and discard it. Cut rind into slivers; set aside.
Wash potatoes and drain well. Place them in a shallow roasting pan or glass baking pan, where they can lie in a single layer. Coat potatoes with three tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper.
Roast them in oven for 30 minutes, tossing in chili flakes after 15 minutes and stirring well. Potatoes should be tender right through. Gently fry the garlic in remaining oil, until pale gold. Toss garlic in potatoes; mix well. Scatter mint and lemon rinds on top of potatoes.
Serves six as a side dish.
Adapted from “Simple: Effortless Food & Big Flavors” by Diana Henry (Octopus Publishing; September 2016)
Kung pao potatoes
Don’t let the number of red chilies deter you from making this wonderful spin on the typical chicken kung pao — you need them. The crunchy potatoes get a lot of pizzazz from the snipped chives and the salt, spicy, sweet and sour flavors.
▪ 1.5 pounds russet potatoes.
▪ Canola oil, for deep-frying.
▪ Half a cup cornstarch.
▪ Half a cup blanched raw peanuts.
▪ 12 to 16 whole dried red chilies.
▪ Eight slices fresh ginger, cut into thin shreds.
▪ Quarter cup soy sauce.
▪ 2.25 tablespoons rice vinegar.
▪ Two teaspoons unrefined granulated sugar.
▪ Two teaspoons toasted sesame oil.
▪ Half a cup finely chopped fresh chives.
Fill a medium-size bowl with cold water. Peel potatoes and slice into half-inch-thick planks. Submerge them in the water to rinse off surface starch and to prevent them from discoloring.
Heat three inches of oil in a wok until candy thermometer (without touching the wok bottom) registers 350 degrees.
While the oil heats up, drain potatoes in a colander and then shake it to get rid of the excess water. Add cornstarch to potatoes and toss to completely coat them.
When the oil is almost hot enough, line a cookie sheet with several layers of paper towels. Gently drop the potatoes in the oil. Fry, turning them occasionally with a slotted spoon, until they are caramel brown and crisp all over. Remove them and spread on the paper towels.
Repeat the process with rest of the potatoes.
Heat another wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove two tablespoons of hot oil used for frying and add it to the second wok.
Add peanuts, chilies and ginger. Stir-fry them until peanuts turn sunny brown, chilies blacken and ginger is a light caramel color and smells fragrant, one to two minutes.
Pour in soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Add potatoes and toss well to coat. When potatoes are warm again, stir in sesame oil and chives. Serve immediately.
From “Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked — And Fried, Too!” by Raghavan Iyer (Workman Publishing; November 2016)