The first time I ever read about someone making a meal of potatoes was in our Co-op newsletter many years ago, long before I became vegan. My friend Gary MacFarlane, director of the amazing organization Friends of the Clearwater, wrote a delightful article about how he and his girlfriend disagreed about the best way to make a meal of potatoes. I enjoyed the playfulness of the article, and the notion that one could live on potatoes stayed with me.
I was reminded of it again later on when one of the environmental activists living in Moscow during the Cove-Mallard campaign was ahead of me in line at the check out counter. As she waited to buy potatoes, cilantro and green onions, she said those 3 things together were her favorite meal.
Now that I’m vegan and have spent so much time learning from folks like Dr. McDougall, I know the pleasures of eating potatoes as a centerpiece of my meal first hand. My favorite potatoes are Yukon Golds. A long time ago, I went to a naturopath who muscle tested me for all kinds of food, and she said that Yukon Golds were the only potatoes I should eat. I don’t know how accurate that is now, but I do know they are still the ones I like the best and digest most easily.
In Potato Pizzas I Have Loved, I showed you a variety of ways I’ve taken Susan’s Potato Pizzas to innovative heights. But it wasn’t until recently that I remembered my Uncle Danny’s authentic pizza from my childhood, which had no tomato sauce or anything resembling cheese on it, as we Americans like to think of pizza. Instead it was a baked thick crust, lightly brushed with olive oil and dusted with herbs like basil, rosemary, oregano, salt and pepper. It was fabulous, and secretly I liked it better than anything loaded with tomatoes sauce and cheese. Of course I kept that a secret because who would have believed me? But the simple combination of those roasted spices on homemade “crust” was magical.
Sometimes in midwinter I start feeling sorry for myself that I can’t digest the traditional breads others can eat very well. A few weeks ago I was buying spices in bulk at the co-op and came across Frontier’s Pizza Seasoning (no salt added). I read the ingredients and suddenly I just had to buy it, though I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it. Would I break down and make a gluten-free pizza crust? I thought I might, even though that’s not the best idea if I’m not going to share it with others.
But when I got home I remembered I had 3 yukon gold potatoes that had been waiting for me to do something with. And that I love the taste of potatoes tossed in my nasturtium infused white balsamic vinegar . .. and that the pizza seasoning might be really delicious on them tossed in. . .so I made the same potato slices I make for potato pizzas, but instead of a lot of toppings, they got this very simple treatment–and the result was delicious. Sometimes simplest is the best. And with a big salad full of veggies and a handful of beans, I had a very hearty winter meal.
Pizza-Seasoned Roasted Potato Slices
Makes one generous serving, so if you’re feeding others, multiply accordingly.
3 medium sized yukon gold potatoes
1 tablespoon of pizza seasoning (see below for the ingredients in mine)
1 tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar (mine was infused with nasturtium flowers and leaves for a peppery taste)
3 small green olives, chopped fine (an optional afterthought, but good)
Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the potatoes lengthwise in slices about 1/4 of an inch thick (actually, I don’t measure, but not really thin but not really thick either). Put in a medium sized bowl and toss with the pizza seasoning vinegar, and olives. Mix it for a few minutes so the potatoes slices get well coated with everything. Lay them on a cookie sheet lined with a sheet of baking parchment. Bake for 40-45 minutes. No need to flip them over mid-way.
Here are the ingredients of the Pizza Seasoning I happened to use. You can certainly make your own with what you have on hand.
Frontier Pizza Seasoning – Organic
Organic dehydrated onion, organic fennel, organic oregano, organic basil, organic dehydrated garlic, organic bell peppers, organic chilies, organic marjoram, organic parsley, organic thyme.
When I use the olives in roasting my potatoes this way, I like to rinse some of brine off. Also I use the old-fashioned Dr. Swank way of counting their fat: he would say 6 green olives equal 5 grams of unsaturated fat, so 3 of them equals 2.5. I figure these olives into my fat ratio for the day.
It’s inevitable that some of the seasoning ingredients are going to be left in the bowl. To me, this is the perfect opportunity to make a salad to go with the potatoes slices.
I remember the first time I grew yukon gold potatoes in my small garden. Finding them in the ground was literally like digging up Easter eggs. I was thrilled with each one, and removed them as carefully as if they were delicate artifacts at an archeological site. In honor of the magic of food that grows in the earth like potatoes do, I’d like to leave you with a passage or two from the most beautiful words written about potatoes I’ve ever read. They come from The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow:The Mystical Nature Diary of Opal Whitely. You can read a little more about Opal in this overview from the New Yorker, but to summarize, she was an exceptional child living in a series of Oregon logging communities in the early 20th century. She kept a diary with crayons and scraps of paper given to her by neighbors about her incredible relationship with the natural world around her. Beautiful and heartbreaking, she often wrote while being placed under the bed as punishment for her “daydreaming” and her tendency to go on what she called “explores.” It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read, and is now one of my favorite books. Here’s some of what Opal had to say about the potatoes growing in the field around their house near the woods.
“Today the grandpa dug potatoes in the field. Too, the chore boy did dig potatoes in the field. I followed after. My work was to pick up the potatoes they got out of the ground. I picked them up, and piled them in piles. Some of them were very plump. Some of them were not big. All of them wore brown dresses.”
“. . . And all the times I was picking up potatoes, I did have conversations with them. Too, I did have thinks of all their growing days there in the ground, and all the things they did hear. Earth-voices are glad voices, and earth-songs come up from the ground through the plants; and in their flowering, and in the days before these days are come. they do tell the earth-songs to the wind. . .”
“I have thinks these potatoes growing here did have knowings of star-songs. I have kept watch in the field at night, and I have seen the stars look kindness down upon them. And I have walked between the rows of potatoes, and I have watched the star gleams on their leaves. And I have heard the wind ask of them the star-songs the star-gleams did tell in shadows on their leaves. And as the wind did go walking through the field talking to the earth-voices there, I did follow her down the rows. I did have feels of her presence near. And her goings by made ripples on my nightgown.”
I like to think that if Opal and I were to have known each other at any age or in any time, she would have liked my drawing “Listening to the Earth.” When she was a girl and a young adult, she taught many children how to know and appreciate things in nature. Her diary was published to great acclaim until some accused her of being a fraud (the mysteries surrounding her life and writing are controversial to this day), claiming no child could have known and written what she had, and it went out of print. She lived a very difficult life and only toward the end of it were people beginning to understand her gift and revisit what she had indeed written. By that time, though, she had long been institutionalized for schizophrenia. It’s hard to be sure from conflicting accounts how much she knew about the reviving interest in her early writings.
When I eat my simple and delicious potatoes her words help remind me not to overlook the beauty and depth in what is right under my nose, and to believe in my appreciation of these things. We should never underestimate the magic of being alive. Now when I slice my potatoes, thanks to Opal Whitely, I will always think of them as dressed in brown dresses and full of the songs of stars.
And for those among us more focused on football than nature mysticism, I do also believe these potato slices could make some mighty fine Super Bowl snacks.