Don't drop 'em like hot potatoes

True, spuds have gotten a bad name. But as long as they're steamed, they're actually good for you.

potato dish 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
potato dish 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
June is Potato Month. It's not really official, and probably nobody knows it except the farmers who grow them and me, since I just invented the idea. But according to Haim Ben-Ari of "Dod Moshe" produce, June is the spring birthday of the potato, which along with January through April, are the only months of the year when potatoes are fresh from the farm. The rest of the year they come from storage. Who would have thought? Although they are beloved by people around the world, potatoes have unfortunately fallen into disrepute in recent years. Most people think they are fattening (which they are indeed if you're eating French fries or slathering your baked potato in butter) and that they have very few redeeming features (it depends on how you cook them). Some avoid them because like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, they belong to the nightshade family, which some believe can be an irritant to those suffering from conditions like arthritis. The truth is that potatoes can actually be quite nutritious, but only when they are steamed. When you cook them in a pot of water as most people do, the water-soluble vitamins and much of the value of the mineral elements are lost. Fried in fat, potatoes produce acrylamide. As written on the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Web site, "EPA has classified acrylamide as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen," and according to the UK independent Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC), "exposure to DNA-damaging carcinogens such as acrylamide should be as low as reasonably practicable." No joke. Want to have your potatoes and eat them too? The healthiest way is to just slice them in half or quarters and place them in a steamer basket over boiling water, so none of the precious B vitamins are lost. If you're not against microwaving, place the cut potatoes in a glass bowl with a quarter cup water. Cover and microwave about 10-12 minutes, stopping occasionally to stir and test with a fork. Since much of the nutritional value is directly under the skin and the fiber is in the skin, I use unpeeled potatoes in most of the dishes I make. Warm weather is a great time for potato salad, but not with mayonnaise. In summer I try to avoid mayonnaise as much as possible, since it spoils easily, and I season my salads with olive oil, or a yogurt-based dressing. To lower the glycemic index of potato salad, make it the night before, dress it and chill in the refrigerator. For some reason (higher science is beyond me), it works. TIP: The moisture content of potatoes varies. The moister types are suitable for making puree, and the firmer, drier types are best for stews or fried dishes - when we want the potato to keep its shape. To know which type is good for what, check the chart on the various colored "Dod Moshe" packages in the supermarket. MEDITERRANEAN POTATO SALAD Add sliced cherry tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes if desired. Note: When you buy black salt-cured olives in the supermarket, they are often packed with small hot peppers. Those are the ones I use in this recipe. Makes about 4 servings 4 1 kg. red-skinned potatoes 4 Coarse salt to taste 4 1⁄2 cup salt-cured black olives 4 1 to 2 small hot peppers (optional) 4 3 Tbsp. olive oil 4 Squeeze of lemon juice (optional) 4 100 gr. goat's milk (or other) feta (or more to taste), crumbled 4 Fresh basil leaves and sprigs to garnish Cut the potatoes into chunks and steam over boiling water or in microwave till tender. Drain and cool-slightly. In a large bowl, mix olives, squeeze of lemon, olive oil, hot peppers and half the feta cheese. Add potatoes and gently toss to coat. Season with just a little salt (the feta is salty) and black pepper to taste. Cut a few leaves of basil into thin strips and add to the salad. Sprinkle remaining feta cheese on top and garnish with a sprig of fresh basil.