On crisp autumn days, we welcome our return to a warm home. It increases our pleasure to be greeted by the scrumptious aromas of potatoes baking in the oven and a savoury soup simmering on the stove.

Vegetables such as potatoes and yams are welcome features of fall menus. The potato originated in what is now Peru and was taken to Europe by explorers in the late 1400’s. Potatoes were a mainstay of the Irish for centuries, until crops failed in the 1840’s. Potatoes are more nutritious than you may realize, providing our day’s supply of vitamin C, plus plenty of B vitamins (thiamin, niacin, pyridoxine or vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid) and minerals (copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc). A large baked potato provides 325 calories and 7 grams of protein; if we add 1/ 4 cup tahini dressing (recipe below), we’ll get 12 grams of protein (about 20 to 25 percent of our day’s recommended intake).  

Building a Meal Around Baked Potatoes

It’s easy to center our a meal on the simple potato by adding some of the tasty toppings listed below. The oven-baked method gives an aromatic, flavorful crust. While our oven is on, it makes sense to bake plenty of potatoes and have leftovers that can be quickly warmed the next day. We can complete the meal with soup, salad, or chili.

Quick Oven-Baked Method for Potatoes

Although we may have viewed baking potatoes as a lengthy process, our time can be halved if we cut the potatoes, thereby allowing more surface area to contact the heat. To bake in half an hour or less, cut large potatoes in halves or in quarters wedges and place them on a dry baking sheet or directly on the rack in a very hot 450° or 500°F oven. If whole potatoes are used, pierce them 3 to 4 times with a fork to let steam escape, so they don’t burst when cooking. The exact cooking time will depend on the size of the potato sections. Potatoes are done when a knife, fork, or skewer can be easily inserted into the potato.

Microwave Method for Potatoes

You won’t get the crusty skin by this method, but it’s quick. Cook whole, pierced potatoes in a microwave on high for about 5 minutes. The exact time required depends on the size of the potato.

Speedy Pressure Cooker Method for Potatoes

Another quick approach (though without the baked crust) is pressure cooking. Quarter the potatoes; add the minimum amount of water required by your cooker; place the potato pieces on a stainless steel steamer rack in the cooker, cover and bring up to high pressure over high heat. Reduce the heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook for about 4 minutes. Let the pressure come down naturally or use a quick-release method (see your cooker’s instruction manual).

Toppings

Sesame Tahini Dressing (recipe below)

Liquid Gold Dressing (see July 2006 Common Ground or books below)

Your favorite low-fat salad dressing

Buttery Spread such as Earth Balance

Salt and freshly cracked pepper

Nutritional yeast flakes

Extra virgin olive oil

Flaxseed oil

Miso, thinned with a little water

Gravy (such as the Naam Restaurant’s famous gravy)

Salsa

Seasoning blends (such as Spike or Mrs. Dash)

Finely diced red or green pepper, tomato, or cucumber

Shredded carrot or zucchini

Dulse or kelp powder or flakes

Chopped fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, or basil)

Veggie (soy) bacon bits

Mashed avocado

Sesame Tahini Dressing

This tasty, zesty dressing is a favorite on salads, baked potato, or steamed broccoli.

1/2 cup                     tahini
1/4 cup                     lemon juice
1 tsp                           Dijonmustard
1 clove                       garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp                         tamari
1/2 tsp                        pepper (or to taste)
1 /2 cup                      water

Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. This with a little added water if desired.

Vesanto Melinais co-author of seven food and nutrition classics and a consultant for individuals. These recipes and menu ideas are from “Raising Vegetarian Children” (Stepaniak and Melina, McGraw-Hill) and  “The New Becoming Vegetarian”(US title) or “Becoming Vegetarian” (Canadian title), Melina and Davis. Web: www.nutrispeak.com Email: vesanto@nutrispeak.com ; Phone: 604-882-6782.  

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