With the end of my first semester of grad school nearing, I've started contemplating the joy of winter break -- an entire month of slothfulness, which I haven't experienced in seven years.
The best part of this break is that I'm spending the second half in Peru, scrambling around the Andes with llamas and dining (okay, gorging) on the cuisine of the Incas and the various fusion dishes of the country, like ceviche and chifa
. I may even eat the distant cousin of one of my childhood pets
Who knows? Winter break! WOO!
Shameless Plug Note: For more on Peruvian cuisine, check out this week's review of Mango. - Ian]
I was dreaming of the Inca Trail as I sliced up some potatoes on Thanksgiving morning, terrace farms just a glimmer in my eye. I was lucky enough to have scored a good variety of locally grown purple and red Yellow Wood Farm potatoes that were beautiful and vibrant and practically glowed in the morning light. It was majestic, y'all. It got me excited to go to the place where potatoes where born -- where thousands of different varieties are still farmed today. Thousands! And to think, we limit ourselves to Russets and Yukon Golds most days.
The amazing thing about potatoes is how quickly they insinuated themselves into food culture around the world after Machu Picchu fell in 1536. Think about it. Latkes, samosas, gnocchi, knishes, the entire spectrum of British cuisine: All of it happened after some potatoes made it back from the New World. Ireland became completely dependent upon that one little tuber in a little over 300 years.
Potato dishes have become so insinuated into our cultural consciousness that removing them would completely disrupt everything we've come to expect from our cuisine.
Best Skillet Potatoes Ever
Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
I'm not even sure what to say about these, other than: Holy crap, dudes, you should make these. They are easy, require almost no attention and are amazingly delicious. They will change your breakfast life.
1/4 cup oil of your choosing (I recommend olive)
1 pound waxy potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (generally most young potatoes will work, but avoid the varieties you would usually use for mashing)
1 large shallot, thinly sliced (onions would also be good)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.
2. Add the potatoes, toss once, then leave them to cook for 10 minutes, until they brown and separate from the pan. DO NOT TOUCH THEM DURING THIS TIME. Just set a timer and walk away.
3. When the potatoes are cooked on that one side, then -- and only then -- flip them to cook another side. It shouldn't take quite as long to cook, but it will take another 20 minutes to cook the potatoes on all sides.
4. When all sides are golden, crank up the heat a bit to crisp up the edges. When they are just about cooked to your liking, add the shallots. Do wait until the end -- I didn't, and they wound up charred. You just want them brown and crispy.
Salt and pepper to taste. Just try not to dream of llamas.
Alissa Nelson is a graduate student and compulsive buyer of cookbooks. She
enjoys scouring seed catalogs and thrift stores alike. Every Wednesday she seeks the bounty of local farmers' markets -- and then cooks it.