Potatoes and Their Herbal Partners

| October/November 1997

Potatoes are one of the best foods to showcase the flavor characteristics of herbs, and every country in which potatoes are consumed seems to have come up with its own selection of herbs to team with them. This is a culinary tour of several European countries as well as South America, where the potato originated, to show you the diversity of dishes that is possible with this most accommodating of vegetables.

Introduced into Europe in the sixteenth century, potatoes were at first considered strange and were eaten by only the wealthy. Before long, however, they were a staple food of both the rich and the poor. They became essential to the diet of the Irish, who adopted them as their major crop.

Irish people immigrating to New England in the early 1700s introduced potatoes to North America. Americans took their time warming up to them, but eventually, the tubers became a hands-down favorite. Early on, before anyone knew about calories and vitamins, potatoes were valued for being filling and easy to grow. Today, with our increasing concern for maintaining a healthy diet, we appreciate them as a low-calorie, low-fat food that is relatively high in vitamin C. Even though an unadorned 4-ounce potato contains only 67 calories and 1 gram of fat, high-fat preparation methods and sauces can add unwanted calories and inches along with increased ­flavor. As they do in the recipes below, herbs add flavor without adding fat.


  1. Rosemary-Garlic Potatoes 
  2. Potatoes with Prawns and Dill Aioli 
  3. Calcannon 
  4. Potato Garlic Soup with Chives and Lemon Zest 
  5. Pork Stew with Potatoes and Cilantro 
  6. Spanish Eggs with Potatoes and Oregano 

Continental Europe

In sixteenth-century Italy, potatoes were grown in gardens as ornamentals, not for food. Today, Italians rely on pasta, rice, and polenta for their main starches, but they do use potatoes to make gnocchi, a kind of dumpling, and their culuriones de patata are a type of ravioli made of potato dough flavored with onions and fresh mint. Italian cooks also use potatoes in stews and croquettes.

The rich soil of Portugal’s northwestern Minho province produces great crops of excellent potatoes. One of the region’s prized dishes is caldo verde, a simple combination of Minho potatoes that are boiled and mashed, then mixed with the cooking water, olive oil, and shredded kale, all poured over slices of linguiça, a sausage that’s sometimes flavored with fresh mint.

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