November 25, 2016
Vol. VIII No. 24
Tasty Tubers
If you celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, you probably ate tubers. If you didn't eat a traditional Thanksgiving meal, there's a good chance you had them anyway!

Tubers are a family of root vegetables that grow underground. They include potatoes, sunchokes, taro, and yams, and they have been feeding people around the world for millennia. Because tubers are easy to grow and can survive harsh weather conditions, they have been an especially important food during famine, drought, and other times of food insecurity. They are a universal, affordable comfort food. 

In the Mediterranean, potatoes can be found in soups, vegetable stews, and in stuffing for savory pies. They are often used as a base layer under whole fillets of fish or cuts of poultry because of their wonderful ability to absorb flavors.  Potatoes are also celebrated in their own right and cooked alone with simple seasonings. Spanish Patatas bravas (potatoes with the bravery of a fighting bull), are made by simply pan-frying potatoes in olive oil and sprinkling them with chili powder and pimentón paprika. They are usually served as a hearty tapa option to enjoy with a glass of wine. In Spain, potatoes are ever-present. It's almost true that no meal is complete without potatoes.

Variations of potato salad, using olive oil, vinegar and a few herbs and spices, can be found in cuisines around the Mediterranean. Try one of these flavor combinations in your next potato salad:
  • Turkish: coriander + crushed chile flakes + garlic
  • French: marjoram + oregano + Dijon mustard
  • Greek: fennel seeds + dill + lemon juice
  • Lebanese: cumin + mint + paprika
Or, even simpler, try a baked potato with olive oil instead of butter, and a dash of your favorite spices. You'll be pleasantly surprised!

Traditional Western diet methods of preparing tubers, with lots of sour cream, butter, and mayonnaise, have given them a bad reputation. When prepared healthfully, tubers are an excellent option for a healthy snack or side dish. In the eastern Mediterranean, for example, potato kibbeh is a healthy, heartier alternative to classic American mashed potatoes. The dish is made from boiled, mashed potatoes mixed with fine bulgur, chopped walnuts, spices - chile pepper, thyme, mint, and nutmeg, for example - and olive oil. 

Potatoes are used in many other unique ways too, from Italian gnocchi to Greek skordalia (a traditional dip made from capers, potatoes, day-old bread, and garlic). But, they are not the only tuber used. In Cyprus, taro root - a white-fleshed tuber commonly used in African, Oceanic, Indian, and Japanese cuisines - is mashed in a skillet with olive oil, crushed coriander, wine, and fresh cilantro for a melt-in-your mouth side dish. In Lebanon, taro is cooked with lentils, sumac, and dried mint in a scrumptious stew.  

Keep in mind that tubers are fairly interchangeable in recipes. For example, yams can be substituted in potato recipes to achieve similar results. Check out the recipes below for more great ideas for cooking with tubers, Mediterranean-style.

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe.

No time for breakfast? Try this simple microwave combination of eggs, hash browns and cheese for a quick and filling option. Top with sliced tomatoes and fresh herbs. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of the Egg Nutrition Center

One of the signature dishes of Spain, this tasty potato and onion based dish can be eaten any time of day, served hot or cold. Tortilla is commonly served as a tapas or picnic dish throughout Spain. Serve with a simply dressed, mixed salad. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of International Collection Oils

Capers are the lifeblood of the diet in Pantelleria, Italy, an island between the coasts of Sicily and Tunisia. They are the main seasoning for this traditional potato salad. Serve it like an islander, with fish.

Oldways recipe and photo.

For even more ideas, check out one of our most popular resources:

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.