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SRB: Grab and Mash

Popular Potatoes by Simon & Alison Holst
HYNDMAN PUBLISHING, $25. Reviewed by KATHRYN HUTCHINSON for the Scoop Review of Booksscale_img.jpg
Potatoes, as you may well be aware, are good. This is not only because they are textually pleasing, tasty and of course psychologically satisfying. They are also good for you, at a physiological level.
This is because potatoes are rich in carbohydrates, making them a good source of energy. They have the highest protein content (around 2.1 percent on a fresh weight basis) in the family of root and tuber crops, and protein of a fairly high quality, with an amino-acid pattern that is well matched to human requirements. They are also very rich in vitamin C - a single medium-sized potato contains about half the recommended daily intake - and contain a fifth of the recommended daily value of potassium.
Curiously, they are also good for a globally sustainable environment. Why? It is because the potato is ideally suited to places where land is limited and labour is abundant, conditions that characterise much of the developing world. The potato produces more nutritious food more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop - up to 85 percent of the plant is edible human food, compared to around 50% in cereals.
At the same time, the potato – unlike major cereals – is not a globally traded commodity. Only a fraction of total production enters foreign trade, and potato prices are determined usually by local production costs, not the vagaries of international markets. It is, therefore, a highly recommended food security crop that can help low-income farmers and vulnerable consumers ride out current turmoil in world food supply and demand.
Isn’t it pleasing to see the positive politicization of the potatoe? Credit is due to the government of Peru, where the potato (Solanum tuberosum) originated some 8 000 years ago in the Andes. Thanks to them, via the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) we are now enjoying the International Year of the Potato, 2008.
To celebrate this on our own shores, the indomitable duo of Simon and Alison Holst have published Popular Potatoes, 100 Easy and Delicious Recipes. A valuable aid in our consumption of the tastiest of tubers, the book runs the gamut of possibilities with potatoes, encompassing great culinary heritages, and not being flashy about it.
The best sort of cook book is a visual feast, informative and enabling. This book is all of that, and even goes so far as to show you how to grow your own, (pages 92-93). The recipes are uncomplicated and use readily available ingredients.
What more could an avid cookbook reader want? It’s a small point, but it would be pleasing to read about the varieties known collectively as Maori potatoes (in fact thought to be varieties brought to New Zealand by first Europeans prior to 1840, and adopted by local iwi), as although they are not nationally available for supply, they are a developing feature of our potato landscape, and local supply is building. Perhaps this is material for the next edition?
From the first edition, a recipe for home made Hash Browns:

Boil or microwave as many large floury potatoes as required until they are just tender (it’s not necessary to peel them first). Refrigerate at least 8 hours, then grate coarsely.
Heat a large frypan with just enough butter to form a film. When the butter is a light straw colour, spoon in the grated potatoes. Fill the pan to form a layer of potato about 2cm thick. Pat down evenly with a fish slice or turner so it forms a large flat topped cake. Brown over moderate heat for 10 – 15 minutes or until a crisp, golden brown crust forms underneath. Slide the potato cake onto a plate, then flip it back into the pan, uncooked side down. Add a little extra butter down the sides of the pan and cook until crisp underneath.
Remove from the pan and cut into wedges. Serve with bacon, eggs, tomatoes, and/or mushrooms. Enjoy.

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Kathryn Hutchinson is a Wellington reviewer and teacher.

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