Potato Soup and Why Spuds are Good for the Soul

Fall, In Season, Ingredient, Recipes
on September 20, 2013
Potato Soup 2
Denise Woodward

I’m often asked what my last meal would be if I got to decide, and I always come back with “potatoes or a dish made with potatoes.” They are a staple in my home. Unfortunately, with all the fad diets out there, potatoes have recently gotten a rap as the “bad vegetable”. But did you know one 5.3 ounce potato (considered medium in size) with the skin left on contains 45 percent of the daily value of vitamin C? And that same medium potato has more potassium than spinach, broccoli or bananas?

Mashed Potatoes

Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes by Chef Chris Koetke. Click image for recipe.

So yes, while potatoes are starchy and contain carbs, they are not in and of themselves unhealthy for you. The USDA actually recommends that women aged 31-50 who get at least 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity have 5 cups of starchy vegetables (such as potatoes) per week. Plus, potatoes are an excellent source of energy as they are a complex carbohydrate.

In the U.S., the most common potatoes found at local markets are Russets, Yukon Gold  and New Potatoes—here are the differences:

  • Russet potatoes, also known as Idaho or baking potatoes, are the starchiest of the trio and are used to create that ideal fluffy mashed potato dish. Their skins are thick, dark brown and rather rough; but, the peels are great when left on and baked. I always use Russets for soups, gnocchi or pastas, as these recipes benefit from the potatoes’ starchy texture.
  • Yukon Golds or other yellow fleshed potatoes are denser and only moderately starchy. They are slightly sweet, and really flavorful—best used in gratins and hash browns or for steaming and boiling.
  • New Potatoes, or other red-skinned potatoes have exactly that, red skin.  They tend to be a bit more earthy tasting, and are the least starchy of all varieties.  They are great roasted as well as in potato salads.

To understand the difference between waxy and starchy potatoes, here’s a buying guide from Relish Chef Steve Petusevsky.

Now that you know potatoes can be good for you, and which work best where, I recommend getting your potato-fix by adding batches of soup to the weekly menu plan. The Roasted Potato Garlic Soup featured below is a favorite of mine and inspired by my Basque grandmother. She would make a side dish of potatoes simmered in water, parsley, and enough garlic to keep a vampire away. I never tired of eating big bowls of it.

Potato soup, a velvety puree of potatoes, leeks and cream, is a classic often referred to as Vichyssoise. No one can settle on where it came from, but it seems to have ties to Wales, Ireland and France. Typically the soup is served cold, but is also lovely when warm. Since I prefer warm potato soup, my Roasted Potato Garlic Soup is far from being a typical Vichyssoise. I also make it both dairy- and gluten-free, avoiding thickeners such as flour or corn starch since the high starch content of Russet potatoes is more than enough. To make the soup more like my grandmother’s side dish, I drizzle parsley oil over the top just before serving. This would definitely be my last meal.

For more from Denise Woodward, visit her prolific and delicious blog Chez Us.