As I heaved several kilos of white and sweet potatoes into my shopping cart last night, preparing for yet another, hopefully final round of Hanukkah latke-making, I started thinking about what I could do with the leftover taters, assuming there will be some left in the bin following that final fry-up.
We’re regular potato eaters, often roasting sweet potatoes — usually with olive oil, coarse salt, a few grinds of pepper, and sometimes tossed with a lime dressing — and I’ll frequently toss a potato into a pot of vegetable soup, while potato-leek soup is a standard as well. (On the street, I’d always rather grab a sabich — pita stuffed with fried eggplant, potato, egg and chopped salad — over falafel.)
That said, the potatoes in the bin sometimes get neglected, particularly after a potato-full week like this one. I’m not against peeling or paring potatoes with small soft spots or sprouts, but when a potato looks more like Mr. Potato Head gone mad rather than its usual smooth pate, it’s better to come up with other uses. Same goes for sweet potatoes; once there are too many black spots that require paring, it’s time to toss them.
But wait. For the tail end of Hanukkah, which is as much about potatoes as it is about oil, a top five list of potato activities, both for filling those last hours of vacation and before (or after) those final spuds grow hair.
1) Use potatoes as stamps for gift cards and tags. Cut the potato in half, and draw a shape onto the flesh of the potato with a pencil. Using a utility knife (or any knife with a thin blade), carve the outline of the design, and cut away the background to a depth of a quarter-inch. Dip the potato into a dish of paint (gouache mixed with a little water is best, recommends MarthaStewart.com), and then press the potato onto the blank paper. Each print will be slightly irregular, making it look unique and homemade — in a good way.
(You can also use potato prints on plain canvas grocery totes, using fabric or acrylic paints instead of gouache.)
2) Potatoes are great for relieving inflammation and pain, whether used warm, which helps penetrate deep into body tissue, or cold, to relieve swollen areas. For muscle and bone pain, boil several potatoes in their skins until tender, and then place them in a cloth towel and mash them. Apply the towel-wrapped potatoes to the affected area, keeping it close until the potatoes have cooled down. For bruises, stings, sties and bites, grate a raw potato, wrap the shreds in a cloth and place on the affected area for quick relief.
3) My sons’ ganenet tried this project the other day, using the potatoes that were left over from their latke-cooking to make “real” potato heads. For the potato heads, they used celery and carrot sticks, olives and chopped tomatoes for the face and body parts, connecting eyes, ears and arms with toothpicks and glue. Once the potato heads lose their charm, we’re planning on scooping out some of the flesh, planting some seeds and soil inside and leaving them outside, where we’re hoping they’ll become potato planters.
4) I’m still on my Ottolenghi kick, perusing the Jerusalem-born, London chef’s new cookbook, “Jerusalem,” for recipe ideas and inspiration. But I liked this blogger’s take on his sweet potatoes and fig recipe, which isn’t as relevant right now when figs are not in season. Yams, by the way, have a rough, somewhat shaggy skin, and a bland flavor, whereas sweet potatoes have a smoother skin, and a rich, sweet flavor. Both are often available in these parts.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes (makes 6 servings)
- 3 medium yams
- 2 medium sweet potatoes (or use all of one kind, if yams aren’t available)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 8 twists freshly ground pepper
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon light honey
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 11⁄2 bunches green onions (scallions), cut in half lengthwise, then into 11⁄2-inch-long pieces
- 1 mild chili, such as a jalapeno or Serrano (red, if available), seeded and thinly sliced (I leave this out if I’m serving this to kids)
a. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees (240 Celsius, very hot)
b. Wash and halve the sweet potatoes and yams lengthwise. Cut each half into three lengthwise wedges.
c. Toss the wedges in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil and the salt and freshly ground black pepper. Arrange the wedges skin side down on a parchment-lined baking pan.
d. Bake for 30 minutes until the potatoes are soft and their edges are deeply colored.
While the potatoes are roasting, reduce the balsamic vinegar and honey in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for 1-2 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat.
e. Remove the roasted potatoes from the oven. Begin heating a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and stir in the green onions and chili. Sauté them together until the scallions brown.
f. Remove the roasted sweet potatoes and yams to a serving platter. Scatter the scallion-chili mixture on top of the potatoes. Drizzle with the warm balsamic reduction.
5) While it’s looking to be a potato-filled weekend, much of the potatoes will be sweet potatoes (see above), so that will cut down on the starch content. Still, I’m going to go ahead and toss a few sweet potatoes into the weekend brisket, as well as carrots and pitted prunes, creating a brisket with tzimmes, simply because it goes so well with — you guessed it — potato latkes.