As reliable as the tuber...

LIVING IN THE KITCHEN

As reliable as the tuber...

Roast it, fry it or bake it. You can never go wrong with the potato in the kitchen, says Swapna Dutta .

Did you know that the potato – a  common vegetable available around the world – is the most important non-cereal crop in the world? Being environment-friendly, cheap, easy to grow and wholesome, it has played an important role in our physical development for centuries. 


The potato (latin name — Solanum tuberosum) is a tuber. Tubers are swollen, underground plant parts that store the food. This means that the potato grows underground, swelling and getting larger, while the top half of the plant matures. Potatoes grow from the “eyes” of the plant, which are cut out from the seed. The American-Indians in Peru were the first people to cultivate potatoes nearly 4,000 years ago.


The vegetable owes its origin to the word ‘batata’ or ‘patata’ – a name used by the people of Peru.  It might surprise you to know that there are more than 1,000 different kinds of potatoes. The texture and flavour varies from variety to variety. They not only taste good whether fried, baked, boiled or curried, but they are also nutritious. As long as you don’t have them fried all the time.  


Potatoes are low on saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol but high in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, iron, potassium, copper, manganese and dietary fibre. They are a good source of carbohydrate too. Did you know that a medium-sized, oven-baked potato contains as much fibre as in six dried prunes, as much Vitamin C as is contained in two apples, as much protein as in half a cup of milk and more Vitamin B1 than in one cup of whole-wheat spaghetti and twice as much potassium as is contained a banana?


Another big advantage is that potatoes are available all year round. One should be careful to choose potatoes. Go for ones that are firm, heavy, with no cuts or cracks. They should be stored in a cool, dark and dry place and not stored in the fridge or in plastic bags. It is best to consume them within a week although they stay fresh for a fortnight if kept in a well ventilated place. You should cut or peel them only at the time of cooking to prevent them from turning dark. Or else the peeled potatoes should be placed in cold water.


And now for a piece of interesting trivia. Did you know that potato chips, the ever popular crunchy snack, was discovered by accident? It was the summer of 1853. George Crum, an American, was employed as a chef in a popular restaurant in Saratoga Springs , New York. French-fried potatoes, highly popular since the 1700s, was a favourite item on the menu. But one of the guests turned down the fries made by Crum saying they were too thick. Crum cut and fried a fresh batch but these too were met with disapproval.

An exasperated Crum made the next lot of fries so thin and crisp that they were impossible to skewer with a fork. Crum’s intention was to annoy the guest. But the guest was ecstatic over the paper-thin crispy potatoes! Very soon, the others wanted them too and these potato chips appeared on the menu as  ‘Saratoga’ chips, a speciality of the restaurant. After that there was no looking back!

 

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