Papas/batatas/patatas/potatoes

Americas (English Edition), March-April 1990 | Go to article overview

Papas/batatas/patatas/potatoes


On the wind-whipped shores of Lake Titicaca, pan pipes sigh a wistful tribute to Pacha Mama, the Earth Mother, as Aymara Indians slice open small potatoes and stuff them with coca leaves. Planted first, the impregnated potatoes will guarantee a good harvest. For insurance, the Aymara also plant a cousin of a wild species hardy enough to sprout from the edges of permanent snowbanks at nearly 14,000 feet.

Andean Indians have cultivated Potatoes for 8,000 years, and have developed a staggering array of varieties--perhaps one for every microenvironment tucked away in a valley or hugging a terraced hillside between northern Argentina and Venezuela. South American potatoes can be as small as grapes or as large as grapefruits, and come in every color from white, Yellow, orange, pink and red, to purple, blue, green, brown and black. Their shapes range from round to spiral, their skins from smooth to gnarly, their textures from nutty to watery, their flavors from bland to bitter.

The sweet potato, despite its name, is unrelated to the common potato. Europeans first encountered the sugary orange tuber in the 15th century on the island of Hispaniola, where the Taino Indians called it batata. The Portuguese retained the name, but the Spanish corrupted it to patata, and the English to potato. When the first common potato arrived in Europe half a century later, the English assumed from the tuber's appearance that it was kin to the sweet potato and named it accordingly. The Spanish adopted the Quechua name, papa.

For nearly two hundred years after the common potato's arrival in the United States, North Americans had to content themselves with only a few types--all white. But entrepreneurs have recently introduced purple and yellow varieties, and more may soon appear on the shelves of U.S. markets.

Peruvians, who have hundreds of options, prefer the yellow limenas, which make superb platforms for sauces from ingredients as diverse as peanuts and pigeons. Best is a regal blend of ground nuts, cheese, and chilies from the city of Arequipa.

OCOPA AREQUIPENA (Serves 8)

8 yellow or new potatoes

1/2 cup peanut oil

1 medium onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced 1-1/2 cups peanuts (or 6 ounces walnuts) 1-1/2 cups milk

1 cup crumbled queso fresco (or

grated Munster cheese)

1/4 teaspoon salt (1/2 teaspoon, if using

walnuts)

2-3 teaspoons seeded and chopped

fresh chilies

8 leaves Boston or Romaine lettuce

8 hard-boiled eggs, halved lengthwise

16 black olives

Boil the potatoes until they are tender, then drain thoroughly. Peel them just before serving. Leave them whole, or slice them to allow the sauce to coat them more evenly.

Heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic until they are soft. Grind the nuts for 30 seconds in a food Processor. Add the milk, cheese, salt, chilies, onion, garlic and oil, and puree at high speed for about a minute, to a consistency like that of thick mayonnaise.

Serve on individual plates, placing each potato on a lettuce leaf and dressing it with about 1/2 cup of sauce. Garnish with olives and hard-boiled eggs.

Bolivians and Colombians favor the papa criolla. This small, firm, yellow fleshed potato stars in Colombia's tomato-sauced Papas Chorreadas, a spirited first course, or, with salad, a light meal.

PAPAS CHORREADAS (Serves 8)

8 yellow or new potatoes

1 tablespoon lard

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 scallions cut into 1-inch lengths

2 or 3 habanero chilies, seeded and

minced (optional)

3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and

chopped (or 2 cups canned Italian

plum tomatoes) 2/3 cup heavy cream

pinch of ground cumin (optional) 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (optional)

1 teaspoon minced cilantro (fresh

coriander) (optional)

salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup crumbled queso blanco (or

grated Munster cheese)

Boil the potatoes until they are tender Drain well and peel just before serving. …

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