Mashed potatoes, Sweet potatoes -- Divine roots

By Charleen - November 27, 2020

Although generally playing a supportive "side-dish" role, potatoes and other underground treasures are so comforting and delicious that they are frequently the first to disappear in any holiday spread. Here are some of our family favorites. 

Country-style mashed potatoes (recipe below)

Who doesn't love a steaming plate of mashed potatoes, ready to absorb and deliver all those fabulous oils and juices emanating from well-seasoned vegetables and roasted meats? At our large Thanksgiving gatherings, we find ourselves tripling, then quadrupling recipes -- and still running out. 

Cottage Pie - using Elise Bauer's recipe

And potatoes are so inexpensive, you don't have to confine your enjoyment to the holidays. Mashed potatoes form an admirable base for all sorts of savory comfort foods such as Shepherd's pie (which happens to be gluten-free) and Mennonite chicken and noodles (served with buttered corn over mashed potatoes).


A brief primer on foods hidden underground

Not all underground plant-based foods are root vegetables. Some, such as potatoes and ginger, derive from specialized stems or runners. Others are bulbs and still others represent true root vegetables.

Modified Stems

Although they grow underground, some starchy vegetables originate from modified stems. These all have "eyes," which are tiny buds, each with a scale leaf, which can develop into a new plant.

Rhizomes are fleshy underground stems with eyes from which either stems or roots can grow. Rhizomes are connected to the main stems of these upright plants. Examples: ginger, tumeric, galangal, lotus, bamboo

Tubers are specialized bulbous stems emanating from branches of stolons (runners) that extend horizontally just above or under the ground level, although the tuber is always underground. Examples: potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, taro, yams

Then there is the celeriac or celery root, which has a bulbous hypocotyl or lower stem from which roots arise at the base.

Cider Mashed Yams

Bulbs

A true bulb contains a miniature sprout surrounded by layers of modified leaves. Examples: garlic, onion, daylily bulbs.

Then there is the delicious bulb-like fennel. A member of the carrot family, the "bulb" is formed by swollen layers of the stem base with its slightly sweet, anise flavor. The feathery leaves are reminiscent of dill and the entire plant is edible. Other bulb-like vegetables such as artichokes are actually flowers.

True Roots

Tap root vegetables exhibit swelling of the main root. These include carrots, radishes, beets, horseradish, Daikon, parsnip, turnips. Like parsley, another tap root plant, the leaves of many of these plants are also delicious. Beet greens are particularly tasty in my opinion, carrot tops less so.

Tuberous roots are modified secondary roots with enlargements involving the entire storage root or along the ends or middle of the branch. These include sweet potatoes (morning glory family) and cassavas.

From boxed to scratch - an easy transition

When we were first married, my husband used to make mashed potatoes using boxed potatoes -- not bad as far as convenience foods given that the ingredients are typically just dehydrated potatoes (check the label and avoid brands with additives). But then we visited his grandparents in their tiny white Florida home -- the first time I had Mennonite chicken and noodles. His grandfather laughed and pointed out how easy it was to make mashed potatoes from scratch. We really didn't save much time as we had to wait for the water to boil with both methods, and the potatoes could be washed, peeled and cubed while waiting. 
Boiling a bunch of potatoes for mashing
His grandmother used the same water for boiling the chicken to cook the wide flat egg noodles for thrift and additional flavor (no need to heat water twice), and shredded the chicken from the bones while the noodles cooked. 
Chicken & noodles, corn and mashed potatoes
The final assembly -- genius. I understand that each of her two grandsons have claimed credit for this presentation: A generous base of mashed potatoes with butter, then chicken and noodles, then corn, then more butter and a fresh sprinkling of salt and pepper on top.
Mashed potatoes and butter at the base
Layered up with noodles cooked in a poultry broth with sweet corn kernels
My husband never made boxed mashed potatoes again. We discovered that different potatoes yielded different textures and flavors. While waxy Yukon gold potatoes are fabulous cut into chunks and roasted, they yielded a gluey texture when mashed. Reds and blues are quite nice roasted or mashed. In general though, nothing beats the texture of starchy Russets and Idaho potatoes for mashing.

One of the tastiest mashed potatoes we have enjoyed was the one year my sister grew a variety of heirloom potatoes in raised black bags that made for easy harvesting (no digging required). We used Elise Bauer's shepherd's pie recipe and it was sublime.
Prepping vegetables and 3 types of heirloom potatoes for Cottage/Shepherd's Pie
"Shepherd's Pie" with ground beef (aka Cottage Pie), vegetables and heirloom mashed potatoes

Country-style mashed potatoes - our 25 year favorite

In those early days of potato discovery, back in the 90s, we tried lots of recipes some more cumbersome than others (squeezing 20 or more roasted garlic cloves from their papery skins for example). We soon settled on a favorite that we have been making for the past 25 years. It has been modified from the February 1995 issue of Food & Wine magazine, and features loads of scallions. They claim it serves 6.

Country Style Mashed Potatoes

3 lbs Idaho or Russet potatoes (the larger the better for peeling), peeled and cut into ~2" chunks
1 stick (8 Tbs) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
3 large scallions, chopped
Several dashes of Tabasco sauce to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Kosher salt to taste
Optional: chopped roasted Anaheim or Hatch chiles, cheddar cheese

1. Fill large pot with water and 1 tsp salt. Add potatoes to the water as you cut them.
2. Bring to a boil and cook ~20 min. Make sure they are soft to a knife.
3. Drain and return to hot pot, shaking over high heat for 30 seconds to dry them.
4. Mash with butter, leaving small lumps. Stir in remaining ingredients.

A 200 g serving has ~369 calories if using Russets, ~367 calories if using blue, and ~356 calories if using red potatoes. We have enjoyed it with all three, but prefer the higher starch potatoes.

Cider-infused, baked mashed sweet potatoes

Another long term favorite for the Thanksgiving table is this make ahead sweet potato casserole. According to the November 1993 Food and Wine recipethis dish was inspired by a Jeffersonian menu. Click here for other make ahead sides and desserts for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. 
Sweet potatoes (or yams - it also works) are boiled in cider and all the seasonings needed
Featuring only five simple ingredients, the sweet potatoes are cooked in apple cider, adding a rich sweet-tart dimension. The puree can be refrigerated for several days, with butter dotted on top and heated in the oven after the turkey comes out. A microwave can also be used if oven space is tight -- just stir and check that it is warmed through with either method.

4 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ~ 1" chunks
2 1/2 cups unsweetened apple cider
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
cinnamon stick, ~ 2"
1 stick (8 Tbs) unsalted butter, divided

1. Combine sweet potatoes, cider, brown sugar, cinnamon stick and 6 Tbs of butter in a large pot. Bring to boil over medium heat, then lower heat and simmer, partially covered. Stir occasionally until potatoes are very tender, ~ 45 min.

2. Let the mixture cool a few minutes, then remove cinnamon stick. Transfer the potatoes and all their liquid to a food processor. Process to your preferred texture. Transfer the puree to a 9 x 13 glass dish. (This can be refrigerated up to 4 days at this point. Return to room temperature for at least an hour before proceeding.)

3. Preheat oven to 325°F. Dot the remaining 2 Tbs of butter across top of potatoes. Cover with foil and bake, stirring once or twice, until steaming hot for 20-30 min. Remove foil and bake an additional 5 min.  Serves at least 8. 


Tips: 
🐾 Blue cheese or cheddar cheese are great stirred into mashed potatoes!

DID YOU TRY THESE RECIPES? What are your favorite root vegetables/tubers?

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