Potatoes

native to: Andean mountains
in season here: late summer-fall
DSCF1992_700
Potatoes are a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, related to tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. The potato plant will produce an inedible fruit resembling a tomato, but its true value lies underground — harvesting potatoes is a bit like digging for buried treasure. Potatoes are generally thought of as mature potatoes, generally larger and with a thicker skin, or new potatoes, with a thinner skin that is usually eaten.

Spanish explorers brought potatoes home from South America in the 16th century, using them to prevent scurvy during voyages. They were slow to catch on in Europe, many people viewing them with suspicion as related to nightshade and reputed to cause leprosy. In the 18th century, a French agronomist named Parmentier and a Royal Society member named Count Rumford came up with schemes to popularize potatoes, including the invention of mashed potatoes and a mush of potatoes, barley, peas and vinegar, both designed to disguise the vegetable. Irish immigrants probably brought the potato to the U.S. in the early 18th century, but it didn’t catch on here until the 1880s.

We think of potatoes as comfort food and not a very healthy choice, but most of the problem is the grease the fries or chips are cooked in and the assortment of fats and salt that we add to them. Plain boiled or roasted potatoes — a nice potato soup, for instance — are actually pretty good for you.

Potatoes have more potassium than bananas, protein of a very complete and easily-digested form, fiber, and vitamins B6 and C. They also contain plenty of antioxidants; red and purple potatoes have lots of anthocyanins while carotenoids are more abundant in yellow and red potatoes. They also provide thiamin, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. They also provide a particular kind of starch that is not readily digested in the small intestine and thus benefits the colon and supports those probiotic bacteria that are so good for the gut.

Avoid sprouting potatoes and those with a greenish color; they contain solanine, a toxic alkaloid caused by exposure to sunlight. Store potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place, away from onions (they both emit gases that are bad for the other), in a paper or burlap bag. Wash them only when you’re ready to use them. Freezing potatoes, cooked or raw, is not recommended.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for raw potatoes
label-style nutrition information for cooked potatoes
World’s Healthiest Foods
Washington State Potato Commission

Index to all blog posts.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Corn

native to: Central America
in season here: late July – September
DSCF1986_700
Corn, or maize, comes in many different colors and two basic types, sweet corn and field corn (the source of corn chips, corn meal, and cornstarch, as well as animal food and ethanol). In the U.S. “corn” usually means sweet corn, that you eat off the cob with butter, salt, and other possible seasonings. In Europe, “corn” means grain in general, and sweet corn is uncommon; “maize” is more likely to mean field corn. Aren’t cultural differences fun? Corn is technically a fruit, although it tends to get lumped in with the grains, being the fruit of a grass.

So, each color of corn has its own blend of phytonutrients. Yellow corn is high in carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin. Corn is a good source of fiber, and it’s a kind of fiber that nourishes both the probiotics in your gut and the intestinal cells themselves. It’s also a good source of manganese, B vitamins, phosphorus, and protein. Corn is fairly high in sugar, but has a low to medium glycemic index. By regulating the speed of digestion in general, corn can help even out blood sugar spikes and drops. There have even been studies that suggest that the lectins in corn can inhibit HIV. Popcorn has fewer vitamins than sweet corn but is higher in minerals, and is one of the most popular whole-grain foods in the U.S.

Corn was first domesticated in Mesoamerica over 8000 years ago, where it was considered sacred. In the modern world, corn is less highly regarded, being the source of high-fructose corn syrup. It contains phytic acid, which can impair the absorption of minerals; this is not serious enough to be a problem in a varied and well-balanced diet but can be a concern in a more limited grain-and-legume diet.

Corn is susceptible to microbial contamination when exposed to heat, so look for corn that has been kept in the shade. While modern varieties of corn are slower to convert their sugars to starch, freshness is still an important consideration. While many people partially shuck corn and examine the kernels when selecting it, this can damage the corn; with a little practice, you can feel how full the ear is instead. Corn isn’t as bad as some vegetables when it comes to pesticide residues, but it’s still a concern; buying organic corn is also the best way to be sure of avoiding genetically modified varieties.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for yellow corn
label-style nutrition information for white corn
Authority Nutrition
Eating Well

Index to all blog posts.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Fresh Corn Frittata with Smoked Mozzarella

1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 3 ears)
butter or oil for cooking
1/4 cup (1 oz.) shredded smoked mozzarella cheese, divided
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
5 large egg whites, lightly beaten
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Saute corn in an ovenproof skillet coated with butter or oil about 5 minutes. Remove to bowl and whisk with 2 Tbsp. cheese and the remaining ingredients. Return to oiled skillet and cook, covered, over medium heat about 5 minutes or until almost set. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. cheese and broil 5 minutes or until set and browned.

Adapted from Cooking Light, Aug. 2004.

Index to all blog posts.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Celery

native to: the most common variety comes from Europe and the Mediterranean, but there is no clear single source of all celeries
in season here: August (ish)
DSCF1971_700
Celery is another member of the Umbelliferae family, related to carrots, fennel, and parsley. It’s been around for ages; the pharaoh Tutankhamun was buried with some, and it’s mentioned in the Iliad. Celery is a long-season crop, needing cool weather and lots of water, and is often a winter or early spring crop, although around here it mostly appears in farmers’ markets in late summer or early fall. In the U.S., we mostly get the Pascal variety of celery, which is light green, but there are white, gold, and red varieties as well. Other varieties are grown for their roots (celeriac) or leaves.

Celery is one of the “Dirty Dozen”; they get a lot of chemicals dumped on them when grown conventionally and contain a lot of pesticide residues. This is a good time to seek out organic options. Wash celery as you use it to keep it fresher. Freezing celery will make it mushy, but if you keep a bag of vegetable trimmings in the freezer for making broth, the leaves and tiny core stalks are a great addition to it.

Celery is another of those low-calorie, high-fiber foods, useful to dieters and helpful in detox and purification regimens. It’s a great hydrator, with a lot of water and electrolytes, and is gaining popularity as an alkalizing food.

Celery is a traditional remedy for high blood pressure, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that improve both blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Its flavonoid and polyphenol antioxidants fight age-related health issues and its dozen-plus varieties of antioxidant help mitigate inflammation, making it useful against things like arthritis, IBS, skin problems, and urinary tract infections. Celery can even help treat ulcers. It’s a good source of vitamins B6, C, and K, potassium, folate, beta-carotene, molybdenum, and manganese, but its greatest value is as a source of antioxidant phytonutrients. The seeds are also edible, with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Celery has a fair amount of sodium, about 35 mg. per stalk; if you’re watching your salt intake you don’t have to avoid celery but should be aware of how much you’re eating. Allergies to celery are rare, but can be especially severe.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for raw celery
label-style nutrition information for cooked celery
Dr. Axe
World’s Healthiest Foods/a>

Index to all blog posts.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Celery & plum sauce

1/2 cup chopped onion
1 stalk celery, finely sliced
3 Tbsp. butter
3 cups fresh plums, pitted and quartered (or apricots or gooseberries)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. fresh parsley, snipped
sugar or honey to taste

Cook onion and celery in butter over low heat until soft but not browned, about 5 min. Add plums and adjust seasonings. Cook until fruit is softened and liquid is reduced. Stir in parsley and sweeten to taste. Serve with pork, lamb, duck, or fish.

Adapted from Fruit fandango / Moya Clarke. Chartwell Books, c1994.

Index to all blog posts.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Fava beans (broad beans)

native to: North Africa and South Asia
in season here: July-August

Fava beans, Vicia fabas, broad beans, field beans, bell beans, pigeon beans, windsor beans, horse beans, or tic beans are not actually beans, they’re more closely related to peas. Like peas, the plants are nitrogen fixers and protect against erosion, making them a popular green mulch. They can be eaten raw, but cooking is recommended to reduce the chance of allergic reaction. They appear in Mediterranean dishes.

The thing about fava beans, and the reason they’re so seldom seen, is that they’re customarily peeled as well as shelled; each bean has a tough skin that definitely detracts from the beans themselves unless removed. On the other hand, once you get reasonably good at it, peeling beans is a great alternative to knitting as a way to keep your hands busy while watching TV or chatting with friends.
How to peel fava beans
The case against peeling them, at least when they’re small and fresh

They’re high in protein, magnesium, thiamin, vitamin K, vitamin B-6, potassium, phosphorus, folate, copper, selenium, and zinc. They protect against heart disease, cancer, depression (although it should be noted that the tyramine in them clashes dangerously with the antidepressant medication monoamine oxidase inhibitor), arthritis, osteoporosis, and can reduce PMS symptoms. They also have a lot of iron, but it’s not in the most easily absorbed form; adding some meat or something with vitamin C can help with that. They’re a natural source of L-dopa, which is used to treat Parkinson’s disease, although studies of fava beans as a treatment in themselves have given mixed results and L-dopa itself interferes with vitamin B6 metabolism (another reason for caution if you have trouble with depression). However, fava beans have been linked to weight loss in some studies, which is more cheerful news.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for fava beans
Seed Guides
The Guardian

Index to all blog posts.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Vitellian Beans

1 lb. fresh fava beans, shelled and peeled (if desired)
3/4-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped
2 tsp. fresh lovage or celery leaf, chopped
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 cooked egg yolks
3 Tbsp. honey (plus more if desired)
2 Tbsp. fish sauce (your preferred garum substitute, such as colatura di Alici, nuoc mam, or nam pla)
5 fl. oz. white wine
3 fl. oz. white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Cook beans in boiling salted water until tender, 4-6 minutes; drain and puree. Pound ginger, lovage, and pepper in a mortar; add egg yolks and continue until it forms a smooth paste. Add honey and fish sauce; stir until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan, rinsing the mortar into pan with the wine and vinegar. Add oil and simmer gently a few minutes. Combine with beans and reheat if needed. If desired, sweeten with more honey.

Recipe originally from De Re Coquinaria” (compiled in the 4th or 5th century C.E. and commonly referred to by the supposed author, Apicius). This version adapted from The Classical Cookbook / Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger. J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996. ISBN: 0892363940

Index to all blog posts.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.