Sinfully Rich (But Humble)
By Tim Hazell
By the fifteenth century at the start of the short-lived Inca Empire, Pachacutec, emperor of the Tsinsantsuyu, or four corners of the world, had designed terraces of stone to create raised, level fields that hugged the steep Andean hillsides, and they are still in use for cultivation throughout the region. In addition to retaining soil and water during heavy rains, these elevations were irrigated naturally as water flowed downward from higher altitudes through an ingenious system of channels until reaching the lush gardens of sun temples and palaces.
Most important of the highland root crops is the potato, grown up to an altitude of 16,500 feet. The tuber is Peru’s national treasure, of which there were 220 varieties. Able to withstand the extreme temperatures—including nightly frosts—of the Puna, or highland plateau, potatoes are freeze-dried through exposure to sub-zero temperatures until the moisture has been extracted, creating chunya. Chunya will keep for months and provides a staple, along with 20 varieties of corn.
The vast empire of the Inca lasted just short of one hundred years, until the arrival of the Spanish in 1533. The potato gradually made its journey in the holds of galleons bound for Europe shortly before the seventeenth century. Until its arrival, European diets had included starches such as broad and butter beans. The potato is related to the nightshade family, and its leaves are poisonous, slowing down its acceptance by the middle and upper classes. Considered food for prison inmates and the underprivileged by the Spanish colonists, the potato was finally adopted as a staple by the people of Ireland in the late eighteenth century due to its benefits as a nutritious food containing most of the vitamins needed for sustenance and able to produce a bounty on small land holdings.
Modern cultivation of the potato has had an impact upon diverse environments and cultures. An amazingly adaptable food staple, the root tuber has spread throughout the world through genetic modification and importation. With skillful yet simple techniques of preparation and cooking, potatoes produce dishes with a distinction of their own. For vegetarians, they provide indispensable nutritive benefits. Here is a sinfully rich-tasting combination of “smashed” potatoes in garlic butter!
Garlic Butter and Soy Sauce Smashed Potatoes
2 pounds boiled small potatoes
1 stick butter
5 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup soy sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Using the smooth side of a meat tenderizer, smash each potato to 2/3 of original size.
Melt butter in a heavy bottomed skillet. Add garlic and cook for 3 minutes over medium-heat until lightly browned, stirring very frequently. Do not burn the garlic. Add the smashed potatoes in batches. Fry on one side until golden brown, then flip and cook until golden. Flip again and drizzle with soy sauce. Pour remaining garlic butter over the potatoes. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper. Garnish with chopped parsley.