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Nutritional nuggets

Over the years, potatoes have gained a bad reputation and have been seen as a dieter's foe. However, potatoes are extremely nutritious if consumed correctly and need not be shunned away. So let's demystify the honorable potato.

Potatoes are a nutritious addition to countless dishes and just dynamo on their own. The idea that they're fattening is an urban legend. Naturally, potatoes just happen to team well with richer foods. Despite a tough history, their simple goodness has triumphed.

Potatoes are a New World crop. The Incas of South America grew them thousands of years ago. European explorers tried to introduce them at home, but the locals were unconvinced because the potato is a member of the poisonous nightshade family.

Sir Walter Raleigh finally won over the critics when he planted potatoes on his land in Ireland. More recently, the vegetable was at the root of a political debacle when former Vice President Dan Quayle misspelled potato at a spelling bee during the 1992 presidential campaign. He told a sixth grader to add an "e" on the end. Aides said he was working off an incorrect flash card but Quayle never lived down the gaffe.

In "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone", author Deborah Madison recommends the following test: "If you're not sure what kind of potato you've got, slice one with a sharp knife. If the knife is covered with a foamy substance or the potato grabs onto the knife, then it's starchy and a baker. If not, it's a boiler. So-so, it's all-purpose."

Despite their versatility, potatoes have an image problem. Indians love to eat them fried as potato chips or French fries, but potatoes are actually a nutritious, fat-free vegetable. It's all in how you prepare them.

Potatoes are high in Vitamin C and potassium. They're also a good source of fiber and even contain some protein. Some of their goodness is only skin deep-so don't peel them. Potatoes can be roasted, baked, mashed, boiled, steamed or grilled and are fabulous in everything from pancakes to stews.

Pick firm potatoes that smell sweet. Avoid potatoes with sprouted eyes or a greenish tint to the skin. With new potatoes, look for small potatoes with thin skins. New potatoes are not a particular variety, but refer to any potato harvested young.

Keep potatoes in a cool, dark, dry place, preferably in a paper bag and away from any onions. Sunlight makes potatoes turn green, while refrigeration turns some of their starch into sugar. Cut away any sprouts or green spots on potatoes before cooking.
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