Close your eyes and tell me what you see when I say comfort food. Did you see potatoes? Chances are they were mashed with a pool of butter or gravy on top. Or perhaps the spuds in your mind’s eye were deep-fried, crispy and brown, and cozied up to a little paper cup of ketchup.
The USDA reported that potatoes are the most commonly eaten vegetable in America. (http://time.com/2818849/these-are-the-most-popular-foods-in-america/) Tomatoes, another member of the nightshade family, came in a distant second. Our rocky love affair with potatoes started a long time ago (7,000 years at least) in the rugged Andes mountains of South American where the soil was poor and thin and the climate was harsh. The indigenous people had already domesticated the potato when Francisco Pizarro and his band landed in Peru in 1532. The Spanish Conquistadors took a few of the tenacious tubers back home to Europe with them, probably ones left over from their own provisions for the voyage.
The new food, reportedly called the devil’s root, by the clergy, was viewed with fear and revulsion at first, but was eventually planted on a massive scale that fueled a population boom among the poor. It became a staple food, especially in Ireland, where roughly 40 percent of the population ate no other solid food. (The combination of potatoes and milk are capable of sustaining life. (Larry Zuckerman. The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World, 1999.)
Since all Europe’s potatoes were grown from pieces of the original tubers, not seeds, they were all clones, making them the world’s first mono-crop. The dangers of planting thousands of acres of identical plants did not become apparent until the great famine of 1845 to 1852. Their lack of diversity made them an easy target for disease. A million Irish people starved to death and two million more emigrated to American due to the potato blight. (//www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-the-potato-changed-the-world-108470605/#vZSYxgCAFp5RdjqA.99)
Wild potatoes contain solanine and tomatine, toxic compounds whose purpose is to defend the plants against attacks from their enemies, such as fungi, bacteria, and humans. (To this day, we are told to avoid eating any part of a potato that has turned green.) Defensive plant chemicals such as these can often be neutralized by cooking, but heat has no effect on solanine and tomatine. Wild guanaco and vicuña (relatives of the llama), who share the potato’s natural habitat, lick clay before eating poisonous plants to absorb the toxins. Native people mimicked the animals’ behavior by dipping potatoes in a sauce made of clay mixed with water. Over time, they domesticated potatoes to be less-toxic, but some poisonous varieties continue to be grown because they are more resistant to frost. Clay dust is still sold in Peruvian and Bolivian markets to accompany them. (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-the-potato-changed-the-world-108470605/#z4qovQlEZeUeUGsJ.99)
We get most of our 50+ pounds of potatoes per person per year as french fries fried at high temperatures in polyunsaturated oil (PUFAs), the most fragile and easily oxidized kind of fat
McDonald’s used almost pure beef fat for their fries until 1990 when fear of saturated fat led them to switch to hydrogenated trans fats. Oops. When trans fats proved to be much worse, rather than going back to natural, saturated fat, they opted for a frying medium made mostly of PUFAs. Their current label lists canola, corn, soybean, and hydrogenated soybean oils with TBHQ and citric acid as preservatives and dimethylpolysiloxane to reduce splattering and make clean up easier. In addition to potatoes, the actual fries contain canola and hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor (derived from wheat and milk), citric acid (a preservative), dextrose (i.e., sugar), sodium acid pyrophosphate (to maintain color), and salt.
Vats of unstable fats kept at high temperatures, often for days at a time, can react with everything they contact, producing an unknown and unknowable slurry of potentially toxic new chemicals. The food industry went, as Nina Teicholz says, from the fat to the fire. (Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise, 2014).
Although McDonald’s recently announced some improvements to their menu, the fries and frying oil have not changed. When we place an order for a burger and fries, perhaps the server should ask, ‘Want clay with that?”
If not potatoes, what?
Eliminating potatoes leaves a big hole on our plates. What can we eat instead? Quite a lot, actually. And you may be surprised to find that they are better than the high-carb potatoes they replace. Below is one of my favorite alternatives for french fries and I’ve listed some of the most popular potato substitutes from my books and blog at the end of this post. You can find many more online.
FRIED ARTICHOKE HEARTS
French fries are the most popular side dish in America. They were probably the first solid food you ate as a baby, especially if you were born after the fast-food explosion that started in the ‘50s when a burger and fries became the iconic American food for our newly mobile society. (The Merriam-Webster dictionary included the term, fast food for the first time in 1951.)
After reading The Big Fat Surprise (Nina Teicholz, 2014). I swore off fried foods except the ones I cook myself. Even under the best of circumstances, frying is not the most healthful way of cooking, but if you use fresh, heat-stable fat, it can be done more safely for an occasional indulgence.
12 fresh baby artichokes or about 14 ounces of prepared artichoke hearts from a jar
2 tablespoons lemon juice and a bowl of water if using fresh artichokes)
High heat oil or fat for deep-frying
To make with fresh baby artichokes:
Wash and cut off the stems from fresh baby artichokes. Cut off and discard the top third of each artichoke. Peel away the green outer leaves until only a yellow-colored cone remains. Trim the remaining leaves with kitchen shears to remove any tough tips or thorns. Drop the fresh artichokes into a bowl of water with two tablespoons of lemon juice to prevent browning.
To make with artichoke hearts from a jar (This is by far the easiest way!):
Drain artichoke hearts and trim away any tough outer leaves or leaf tips if necessary.
Cut fresh or prepared artichoke hearts vertically into eight narrow wedges. The jarred ones may be available already quartered so you only need one additional cut per piece. You want narrow wedges with the leaves intact so they will fan out and crisp up. Drain and gently blot them between paper towels to get out as much of the liquid as you can, so they won’t splatter. Prepared artichokes will be soggier than fresh, so upend them on paper towels and let them air dry on paper towels for several hours or overnight.
Heat the fat to 360º F and fry the artichokes in several batches until brown and crisp. Dip out with a spider or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Place in a warm oven until all are cooked. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot.
Servings: about 3 (I really don’t know how to figure serving sizes for something this good–we just eat them till they’re gone!)
Nutrition Data per serving of about 32 pieces (each whole heart makes 8 pieces)
Calories: 35; Fat: 2g; Protein: 2.4g; Total Carbs: 6g; Fiber: 3g; Net Carbs: 3g
Fat content of drained artichokes is estimated.
1. All fats contain a combination of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Beef and lamb tallow, cocoa butter, and palm kernel oil are the most saturated and therefore the most stable to use for frying. Coconut oil is the most saturated fat of all, but some brands list a smoke point of 350º F and set a limit of medium-high heat. Monounsaturated fats, like lard, schmaltz (poultry fat), avocado oil, and olive oil are next. Olive oil is mostly monounsaturated. Virgin or light olive oil can tolerate more heat without breaking down, but it will have lost some of its health benefits. Extra-virgin olive oil is best reserved to use raw on salads.
2. Don’t throw away the most flavorful and healthful part of your food!
You can purchase good fat but why buy it if you can get it for free? When you cook good quality meat or poultry, strain the pan drippings into a container. Chill them so the solid fat rises to the top and can be lifted off. Refrigerate and use for frying, baking, and making salad dressings and sauces.
Here is a list of some of the most popular potato subs from my books and blog. You can find many more online.
Instead of home fries or french fries, try:
Fried Artichokes hearts, above and at https://www.carbwarscookbooks.com/fried-artichoke-hearts/
Chayote Squash from Carb Wars
Maitaki Mushroom Fries https://www.carbwarscookbooks.com/maitake-mushroom-fries/
Rutabaga Home Fries https://www.carbwarscookbooks.com/home-fries-and-faux-potatoes/
Avocado Fries https://www.carbwarscookbooks.com/avocado-fries/
Jicama Shoestring Fries from Nourished
Pumpkin Faux Candied Yams https://www.carbwarscookbooks.com/pumpkin-update/
Kabocha or Red Kuri Fries https://www.carbwarscookbooks.com/kabocha-squash-fries/
Green Bean Fries from Nourished
Pumpkin Faux French Fries https://www.carbwarscookbooks.com/wishing-for-a-blue-moon/
Instead of mashed potatoes try:
Cauliflower Faux Mashed Potatoes https://www.carbwarscookbooks.com/cauliflower-faux-mashed-potatoes/
Celery Root Puree from Nourished
Ginger Coconut Pumpkin Puree from Nourished
Cauliflower Faux Duchess Potatoes from Nourished
Instead of potato chips, try:
Fricos from Nourished
Loaded Potato Skins from Carb Wars
Turkey Cracklin’s https://www.carbwarscookbooks.com/turkey-cracklins/
Instead of potato soup, try:
Celery Root Soup from Carb Wars
Resistant Starch Potato Soup https://www.carbwarscookbooks.com/making-resistant-starch-delicious/
Instead of potato casserole, try:
Roasted Cauliflower with Bacon http://www.carbwarscookbooks.com/roasted-cauliflower-with-bacon-lemon-peel-chilies-and-olives/
Celery Root Gratin from Nourished
This article appeared first in Low Carb Direct Magazine, Issue #2, September, 1, 2016.
2016, Judy Barnes Baker, www.carbwarscookbooks.com