Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update

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Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update
Healthy Tips and Recipes for Institutions

Volume IX, Number 3 Summer 2001


By Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RD, CCE

Why pick potatoes for a vegan food service article? Potatoes are boring and bland, just good for taking up space on the plate, right? Statistics on this would beg to differ. In 1997, the last year for which there are completed data on the subject, there were over 23 million tons of potatoes produced in the United States and annual consumption of processed potatoes was over 140 pounds per person.

Modern society isn't the first to discover the versatility of the potato. In the Andes of Bolivia and Peru, potatoes have been cultivated for more than four thousand years. There are said to be over four hundred words for "potato" in Peruvian dialects.

The potato has played an historical role in feeding and curing the world. Potatoes may be 80% water, but the solid 20% is an excellent source of potassium and vitamin C and a good source of vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, and niacin. In the sixteenth century, Spanish explorers discovered that potatoes prevented scurvy. In the Middle Ages, people thought potatoes were a diuretic and a sedative, and had healing properties. Not just eaten, potatoes were used to treat burns, sunstroke, and inflammations.

Throughout the years, the potato was scorned by the aristocracy. It wasn't until the eighteenth century that potato cultivation became widespread throughout Northern Europe. Antoine Parmentier, a French agronomist turned pharmacist, was struck by the potato's ability to nourish and sustain; Parmentier discovered this ability first-hand, since he was fed potatoes almost exclusively as a prisoner of war. There are several potato dishes named after Parmentier - dishes that disguised the identity of the potato itself. Parmentier had won a French government contest to find a replacement food for bread, which was in short supply due to several years of failing wheat crops.

Very few people are allergic to potatoes, and most can find at least some form of potatoes they enjoy. Potatoes are suitable for every age group and health level.

Preschool and school-age children like mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, and the ubiquitous French fry (which is really from Belgium). Teenagers, adults, and seniors can enjoy these potato dishes as well as hash browns, potato pancakes, potatoes au gratin, duchesse potatoes, and more sophisticated dishes, such as potato souffles.

Potatoes fit into health care menus, since they are easily digestible, easy to chew and swallow, and often seen as comforting. Boiled or steamed potatoes tossed with mild fresh or dried herbs, oven roasted potatoes, and baked sweet potatoes will be welcomed in health care facilities. Potatoes can be quickly prepared, and are terrific for when a patient misses a meal or just doesn't care for that day's menu.

To "bake" a potato in the microwave, wash it well, pierce it in several places so the steam will escape, place it on a paper towel, and microwave on high for 3-4 minutes. If you don't have a turntable, turn the potato once for even cooking. Let the potato stand for a minute or two after microwaving is completed to allow the steam to escape. Extra "baked" potatoes (they're really steamed) can be cut up and tossed with vegan mayonnaise and cooked, diced vegetables for a fast vegan entrée.

Potatoes fit into vegan cooking quite well. They add texture, bulk, and flavor to foods, and can be the star of the plate or the supporting cast. For example, a baked potato topped with chopped fresh veggies, marinated cooked beans, and salsa can be a meal in itself, while garlic mashed potatoes can support grilled tofu or portabello mushrooms.

Mashed potatoes appear on more than 60% of all American restaurant menus, and French fries on 70%. The ideas are endless for using both types of potatoes. Flavor mashed potatoes with garlic by adding granulated or powdered garlic as you are mixing them. If you have more time, sauté fresh minced garlic in a small amount of olive oil (don't let it brown, since garlic can become bitter) and add to hot potatoes. Rosemary mashed potatoes can be made with the addition of fresh or dried rosemary. Horseradish mashed potatoes just need the addition of prepared horseradish, and three-onion mashed potatoes can be made by sautéing three types of onions (try yellow, white, and green) and adding them to the hot potatoes.

French fries can be purchased already cut or you can prepare them yourself. Frozen French fries are available skin on, skin off, wedge- or crinkle-cut, and flavored (such as chili or onion). You can also find sweet potato fries. Make them a bit healthier by oven frying rather than deep frying. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees, spray a baking sheet with vegetable oil, and arrange fries as a single layer. Allow the fries to get brown and crispy in the oven. Serve the fries with dipping sauces, such as mango or orange salsa, vegetarian chutney, or dips made with lowfat vegan sour cream or tofu.

Fresh potatoes may be too labor intensive for your operation. We'd all like to offer freshly cut fries, freshly steamed and mashed potatoes, etc.. But if you don't have the time or the labor, there are alternatives such as dried, frozen, or processed fresh potatoes (including pre-peeled sliced, diced, or shredded potatoes). Pre-peeled fresh potatoes cost about a dollar more per pound, but the labor saving is fairly substantial. For example, the food services at IBM at Beaverton, Oregon, have switched entirely to pre-peeled potatoes. The one hundred pounds of potatoes needed daily to make scalloped potatoes would take about 2-1/2 hours of labor. With pre-peeled potatoes, the labor is minimal. The executive chef at South Nassau Community Hospital in Oceanside, New York, uses precut frozen potato wedges to make oven-baked garlic potatoes. He places the wedges on baking sheets, tosses them with dried herb blends, sprays them with a small amount of oil, and bakes them. Leftover wedges can be used to make a flavorful cold potato salad.

Pre-peeled potatoes are fresh potatoes that have been peeled by machine. Depending on your supplier (usually your produce house), they may or may not have a preservative (citric acid is most common); you'll have to inquire. All pre-peeled (or chopped or sliced, etc.) potatoes must be kept refrigerated and have a short shelf life, usually about three days. Frozen potatoes are available in many forms. They often consist of only potato, and are just cut for convenience. We know of shredded, formed (as in hash brown squares or wedges), sliced, and French fry cuts. You generally don't thaw frozen potatoes before use, since they can become soggy and lose some nutrients.

Mashed potatoes mixes are available dry and refrigerated. Be sure to read the label to check for non-vegan ingredients, such as milk solids or butter. Many mashed potato mixes have vitamin C added to prevent browning; this is an added dividend.

Basic American Foods, a large manufacturer of mashed potato products, suggests having a "hot scoops" potato bar that mirrors an ice cream stand. Their ideas include a potato split, which is three scoops of potatoes, topped with crunchy veggies, soy chips and margarine; a potato parfait, which are layers of flavored mashed potatoes alternating with salsa or mushroom gravy in a parfait glass; or single scoops with savory toppings, such as chopped garlic and parsley, caramelized onions, or roasted chilies.


Using pre-sliced potatoes (fresh or frozen)

Using Hash Browns (fresh or frozen)

Using Mashed Potatoes


Excerpts from the Summer 2001 Issue:

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