Taste It, Don't Waste It! Potatoes

By Sherri Brooks Vinton

This post is a sneak peek into a series we’ll get deeper into next spring: Taste It, Don’t Waste It! You may know Sherri Brooks Vinton from her forward thinking 2005 book The Real Food Revival, or from her trio of home preserving books. Here, she applies her culinary expertise to the later stages of cooking, dishing up tips on how to use up every bit of tasty food we buy and prepare.

Get the Most from Your Mash

Tasty recipes for using up the whole spud

From the refined Dauphinoise (basically, a fancy potato gratin) to the rustic mash, potatoes are the little black dress of the produce aisle.  Dress them up, dress them down, they’re comfortable – and delicious – in any company, which is why they often make their way into our holiday menus. Potatoes are a staple of the Thanksgiving feast and play well with any number of fall favorites – great with any roast, perfect for sopping up stews. So delicious, versatile and satisfying, so why waste a bite? 

In this “Taste it Don’t Waste it” post, I’m offering up some tricks for getting the most out of this tuber. From piles of peels to the little bit of leftover mash that winds up in the fridge, potatoes’ potential for second-time use is almost as vast as their wide range of cooking options the first time around. So scroll on down for tips on buying and storing to avoid waste, five fresh ideas for up cycling your leftovers and two stellar recipes: once you've indulged your craving for comfort food, samosas are the perfect vehicle to take old school mash to new heights, and on the prep side, my recipe for potato peel chips will ensure you never toss out another vitamin-filled skin.

Potatoes are some of the cheapest whole food calories you’ll find in most grocery stores, and it’s well worth using every bit of them. Whether you want to conserve our natural resources, lower methane emissions, optimize our usable farmland, honor the hard work of the grower or just pinch some pennies, there are lots of reasons for reducing food waste. We’ve got tons of tips on using up holiday leftovers or just everyday extra bits and bobs. Coming up in future “Taste it Don’t Waste it” posts, I’ll bring you more ideas for enjoying every morsel – from using up every bite of the food you buy in delicious and creative ways to “upcycling” your leftovers for a second round of great eating.

5 Ways to “Upcycle” Your Extra Mash:

  • Potato Casserole Blend 2 cups of mash with an egg, and salt and pepper. Smooth into a heat proof dish, top with butter and bake until golden (optional add ins: scallions, sour cream, grated cheese, chopped bacon, diced ham, cooked sausage).
  • Duchess Potatoes  – Pipe rounds of the same mixture onto a greased cookie sheet, brush with butter and bake at 400.
  • Potato Cups Press into the bottom and sides of buttered muffin tin cups, crack an egg into center of each potato bowl and bake at 350 to desired egg doneness.
  • Colcannon Combine rewarmed mash with sautéed greens and a little extra butter for a luscious side dish.
  • Gnocchi Lightly combine 2 cups mash with 1 cup flour and an egg. Roll into a snake, cut into 1” segments and boil in salted water until they float (about 3 minutes).

Buying/Storing Tips

When you’re shopping for potatoes, consider choosing organic or IPM/low spray spuds. According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2014 “Dirty DozenTM“ ranking of produce toxicity, conventionally raised potatoes had more pesticides by weight than any other type of produce. That’s the kind of toxic load that you can’t wash off. I try to get my potatoes from farmers who are doing the right thing or I look for organic spuds when shopping in the grocery store – that way I’m getting all potato, no chemistry. 

All potatoes are not alike. Although we only grow a fraction here in the US, there are thousands of varieties of potatoes. Each one has a unique set of characteristics that makes them best suited for their growing environment. They also have a wide range of flavors and textures from dry and starchy potatoes such as Russets (great for light, fluffy, mashed potatoes) or firm, waxy potatoes such as German Fingerlings (super for salads and soups where you need a potato to hold its shape).

Avoid potatoes that have a green tinge to the skin. Potatoes turn green when they are exposed to sunlight. This can happen in the field, if the spuds are too close to the surface or in storage, in the store or at home if the vegetable is exposed to too much light. The green is actually chlorophyll, which is, in itself, harmless. But it indicates another compound that develops when potatoes are exposed to light – Solanine. Solanine is colorless but can be toxic, particularly consumed in quantity.

To prevent the development of Solanine, and to keep your potatoes freshest, longest, store them in a cool place that has a little humidity. Got a root cellar? Super, that’s the perfect place to store these roots. But, if like most of us, you do not have this handy room in your house, you can create similar conditions by storing your potatoes in a brown paper bag in a dark place, such as a cupboard in your kitchen. The bag will keep out the light and keep in the humidity so that the potatoes don’t dry and shrivel. The cupboard keeps the storage temperature constant. Never store your potatoes in the refrigerator. The cold temperatures will convert the tuber’s starches to sugar, leaving your potatoes oddly sweet. In a root cellar, you can expect your potatoes to last for up to 2-3 months but if you are keeping them at room temperature, 1-2 weeks will be the limit before they start to sprout. You can eat a newly sprouted potato but if goes too far – large sprouts, shriveled skin – your window of potato bliss has passed.

Best to eat ‘em up while you can. You can start – or end – with these recipes.

Recipe 1 - Samosas

These tasty little triangles make a lovely hors d’oeuvre to pass with cocktails – who ever thought you’d be able to say that about leftovers! They’re also super served with a salad as a light lunch.

The curry flavor is subtle – just enough to intrigue the taste buds without turning off the curry-wary.  You can double the amount of the spice if you want to up the heat. 

4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, mashed
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 1/2 cups cold mashed potatoes
1/2 cup diced leftover steamed, roasted or grilled vegetables or frozen peas
salt and pepper
4 sheets Phyllo dough

Preheat oven to 350.

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, sauté onion, garlic and a pinch of salt in 1 tablespoon butter until onions are translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add curry powder and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Add the mashed potatoes and vegetables or peas to the pan and stir with a fork to thoroughly combine ingredients.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Melt remaining butter in a heatproof ramekin or small saucepan and set aside. Lay a sheet of phyllo on the counter or a large cutting board, in front of you lengthwise. Lightly brush the sheet with melted butter. (Be sure to cover the remaining sheets of phyllo with a damp paper towel to keep them from drying out as you work). Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the phyllo sheet vertically into approximately 3” strips (you should have 6 strips).  Place 1 tablespoon of the filling at the bottom of each strip. Fold the phyllo diagonally over the filling to form a triangle. Continue to fold the filled triangle over the phyllo, maintaining a triangular shape. Don’t worry if the wrapping job is imperfect – they’ll still cook up tasty.  Repeat with remaining sheets of phyllo.

Place filled triangles on a cookie sheet and brush with remaining butter. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and crisp. Can be served immediately or at room temperature, with a Mint-Cilantro Chutney, if you like.

Makes 24

Recipe 2 - Potato Peel Chips

Nothing says “home economy” like making potato chips out of your potato peelings. But the results taste rich indeed! These are becoming so popular I expect you’ll see them on a hipster restaurant menu any day now.

You can flavor these anyway you want – with chili or curry powder, your favorite rub or seafood seasoning, or just keep it simple with a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

How you peel your potatoes matters here.  If you use a peeler, the skins will be thin and wispy – great on a salad or as a fun garnish. If you want a dipper kind of chip, it’s best to peel your potatoes with a knife so you can keep the peels nice and wide and maybe even take the thinnest layer of potato flesh as well to give these snacks a little extra bite. 

3-4 cups of potato peels from well scrubbed potatoes, any variety
2 tablespoons of neutral oil such as organic canola, safflower or grape seed
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons of any flavorful spice such as chili powder or curry powder (optional)

Preheat oven to 400.

Press peels between a couple sheets of paper towel to remove excess moisture.  Place on a cookie sheet and drizzle with oil.  Sprinkle with salt and spice, if using.  Toss to coat.  Bake until peels are crisp, about 30 minutes.  Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to two days.

Like the recipe? Love the video!