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Potatos - second-class starch?

Fettucine Alfredo is an entree. Macaroni & Cheese can be either a main course or a side dish. Ditto vegetarian risotto which includes cheese. Cheese strata is an entree. So why, in America at any rate, are Potatoes au Gratin always and only a side dish? Is it an entree elsewhere? Just curious. I made it tonight and as I reheated some leftover meatloaf to go with it, I wondered why...

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  1. Good question. Personally, any starch with cheese is good by me. I have seen loaded baked potatoes as entrees, and a potato strata (idaho and sweet potatoes with a cheesy cream sauce) popped up at a local joint recently...

      1. re: PorkButt

        New one on me, but according to Wikipedia tartiflette always contains some form of meat, which puts it in a different category. Poutine might qualify even though the gravy is a "meat-cheat" in this context.

        1. re: greygarious

          Tartiflette typically has lardons or, rarely, bits of ham as a flavoring. Meat is never a substantial part of the dish and I've had versions (in the Savoie) that were meatless and served as the main dish with no accompaniments.

          That wiki article also omitted the inclusion of minced onion.

          Raclette is another meal that comes to mind that can be just cheese and potatoes.

      2. I make a gratin which isn't true with just potatoes, but with some fennel or mushrooms. That I do consider a main dish.

        Potatoes has such a reputation as just a side, where again it is more marketing and reputation than anything. They are baked, mashed, fried, french fries, etc. all sides. True stuffed baked can be a main dish. Pasta however is considered as a main dish. Why I am not sure. Growing up pasta was a side other than mac and cheese, tuna fish and pasta salad or a cold pasta salad. I think more is marketing, advertising and Fads.

        I personally love potatoes. I make scalloped potatoes and ham. Also, a casserole of tomatoes, mushrooms, fennel and potatoes is one of my favorites, Also one with carmelized onions, butternut squash and roasted red peppers is another. They are definite main dishes. And my favorite my baked potatoes rough chopped and then fried with pancetta, red and green pepper and onion with some spicy chipolte and melted cheese. Almost hash like but not. It is great and so easy. So many ways.

        Main Dish has my vote.

        1. Whole grains plus dairy combines 2 different sources of protein to give you all 8 of the essential amino acids that our bodies can't synthesize ourselves. (Foods of animal origin--meat/eggs/milk--and I think maybe quinoa are the only foods that contain all 8.) Vegetarian dishes usually combine 2 different types to get all 8 in, eg grains and legumes; other groups include nuts, and seeds. Cheese being made from milk does contain all 8, but I think adding it to a grain dish helps your body use more of the protein in the grain so you need less cheese to make a satisfiyng meal (vs chhese plus carrots for example).

          Although potatoes contain a lot of carbs, they are not grains and so the amino acids they contain are different (I think they do have some protein, though). Since cheese is complete on its own you still get complete protein from a potato-cheese meal, but I suspect you would need more cheese, or else get hungry again sooner.

          4 Replies
            1. re: labeille

              Potatoes + dairy (including whey, importantly - like real old-fashioned buttermilk) is a relatively complete diet. That diet has supported massive population booms in the world in the past....

              1. re: Karl S

                You reminded me of one of my favorite Lenten meals when I lived in Poland: boiled potatoes covered with caramelized onions, served with a big glass of fresh buttermilk with dill. Thanks for the memories!

              2. re: labeille

                Well, I am not a vegetarian, but I believe as long as one is eating a variety of foods (and enough calories) throughout the day, you need not worry about the 'completeness' of your protein. I think the old-school way of carefully combining proteins at each meal has gone the way of the family Station Wagon :-)

              3. I think the grain/protein explanation makes sense, and we as a society (as a major generalization) don't maintain the potato as an item around which to base a meal. Some women would say a baked potato and a diet coke is plenty a meal for a diet.

                There aren't many examples of vegetable or tuber centric dishes -eggplant parmesan (closest to a potato gratin concept as a main dish that I can surmise); portabellos subbing as a meat; kebabs (mushrooms, pepper, onions, etc.); a veggie frittata would have eggs/milk so that doesn't really count in my book...

                Open a restaurant that celebrates the potato: call it Tuber :)

                1. Potatoes have nothing to complain about! All of the major carb crops provide maybe a few mains but more sides:

                  Wheat: Pasta from wheat often is a part of mains, but in combination with a lot of other stuff. Bread as a part of sandwiches can be mains. Wheat based dumplings, momos, empanandas, and more can be mains. But couscous and breads can be sides. What is pizza crust?

                  Rice: mostly a side, and the major crop of the planet. If any starch has a complaint, rice is the one. But, yes, then there is rissotto and all manner of fried rice. Not much of a compenstation.

                  Maize: Mostly secondary as tortillas, masa, ugali, on the cob, in chowder, you name it. Also as rustic beer the world over.

                  Cassava: a side starch the world over, farofa in Brazil.

                  Potatoes: mostly a side for everyone in the developed world, but a key staple in the center of origin - the Andes - where uses include chuno.

                  Teff: almost always the side as injera, but crucial to the diet in the Horn of Africa.

                  The small grains and less favored cereals - millet, sorghum, barley, buckwheat, oats, and more - sides, but as important as rice in some places and always - beer.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Potatoes, vodka; oats, Scotch; rye, Canadian whiskey; corn, bourbon (and chicha); rice, So Ju and sake; and mescal; tequilla and pulque! Who said potatoes were not a main course?

                  2. in ecuador poor people up in the andes eat potato soup (only a tiny bit of meat and other veg) with rice, and more potatoes.

                    1 Reply
                    1. Grew up on potato pancakes during lent.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                        Growing up in a Jewish German area - I have to say that potato pancakes/latkes definitely buck the rule of a vegetarian potato dish as a true vegetarian main course (by Western food standards). Given that the dish is just a variation of potatoes, eggs and oil - I'd have to agree that marketing would be why my mom the dietician could accept an occasional dinner of latkes as opposed to a dinner with french fries as the main course.

                        That being said, as a former vegetarian and having grown up with my mom obsessed with all that complete protein stuff - I've never found any main dish that is mostly cheese and carbs (alfredo, mac & cheese, cheese pizza, etc) to be very satisfying. Without fiber, I end up eating way too much dairy fat to be full.

                        1. re: cresyd

                          Don't peel your potatoes if you don't absolutely have to. Many recipes called for peeling potatoes when it's not necessary. Peeling as a standard step in dealing with potatoes comes from a couple of separate strands of impluses - first, if you're a chef used to having a staff to peel and prep vegetables to you, you don't think twice about requiring that step, and second, potatoes used to be far filthier than they tend to be today. I almost never peel potatoes: even when I am mashing them, I use the optimal tool for mashing - the ricer - which takes care of the peel.

                          1. re: Karl S

                            Yep, that peel holds most of the nutrients and fiber in the potato...I almost always leave it on anymore...same goes for eggplant for us now too.

                            1. re: Val

                              Many years ago I read an article in Smithsonian magazine which quoted a potato authority as saying that "if there's any part of the potato you SHOULDN'T eat, it's probably the skin." His reason was that the so-called nutrient concentration under the skin was mostly fictional and grossly overrated, whereas whatever toxins the potato might have generated in response to light would certainly be concentrated there.

                              1. re: Will Owen

                                Well, that's a *partial* debunk. Unless the potatoes are green (a condition that can be reversed with proper storage), you don't need to worry about the toxins. The skin has half the fiber and somewhat less than half of the nutrients of the entire potato: no good reason to discard them.

                        2. re: Passadumkeg

                          My Father made awesome potato pancakes, this was a great main dish. =)

                        3. Marketing I think has a lot to do with it. It has just never been marketed as a main dish. I make scalloped potatoes with small sausages or with ham or with ham and peas. Main dish for me and I love it. Simple comfort food. I also make one dish where I take leftover pork and chop it up with onions and mushrooms and layer betten scalloped potato layers and cheese. Not they have meat but. I admit, but with layers of veggies I could see as a main dish, just potatoes it just would work for me. And yes, pasta with Alfredo and M&C is. confusing I guess. But past to me is fine for dinner, maybe it is just what we see. We see whole plates of pasta with a light sauce, but we don't see whole plates of potatoes. Who knows. I make it often and sometimes very easy ingredients but I don't mind it as a main entree.

                          1. Molly Stevens (All About Braising) has a book called "One Potato, Two Potato" which has a number of main dishes as well as sides, soups, etc. As with her other book, it is excellent.

                            1. We often had scalloped potatoes as the main supper dish when I was growing up, and creamed potatoes with cheese as well, always with a green veg. Said veg often contained meat (always, if it were green beans, which were seasoned with bacon), and frequently the potatoes might have been made with ham, but not always.

                              We are talking about dinner, I think, but lunch can be a different story. Many years ago the old Hofbrau on 4th Avenue in Anchorage (torn down after the big earthquake) sold everything on the menu à la carte, the bargain being a big bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy for 50¢. Lots of underpaid downtown workers made lunch from that!

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Will Owen

                                On frosty Canadian winter nights, my mom often made scalloped potatoes with ham for dinner. I loved that - the potatoes on the edge got nice and crispy, the ham was basted with the liquid so it was juicy and tender, and mom dotted the spuds with butter and flour so that we ended up with a thick, creamy gravy.

                                And, as has been mentioned in other threads, the best lunch/dinner at Wendy's is their plain baked potato with their small chili dumped over it.

                                1. re: KevinB

                                  Scalloped P and ham my Mom always made. I still do and love it.

                                2. re: Will Owen

                                  >>Many years ago the old Hofbrau on 4th Avenue in Anchorage (torn down after the big earthquake) sold everything on the menu à la carte, the bargain being a big bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy for 50¢. Lots of underpaid downtown workers made lunch from that!

                                  And a fine lunch that would've been!

                                  1. re: cimui

                                    Mashed pots. are also great with diced raw onion. I sometimes put real parm. cheese in them also and sour cream. But they are so versatile. Because if you take that bowl of mashed pot. and put a slice of ham turkey or chicken on the bottom, top with gravy you have a good and real fast meal.

                                    1. re: daynia

                                      Mmm, yes. I'll eat almost anything with parm and sour cream, thanks.

                                      On particularly lazy/tired days in the past, I've actually taken a slice of deli meat, spread it with mashed potatoes and cheese and rolled up up like a taquito to eat. Your version is so much classier! =)

                                3. When new potatoes were harvested, we often had supper of only boiled new potatoes w/ butter and fresh dill. I still do it on the first harvest. Gotta thank them Inca Gods, ya know.
                                  We did the same w/ newly harvested corn.

                                  1. We're vegan (so no cheese) and use potatoes as a first-class starch. Among our favorites are masamba (which is based on a dish from Malawi): potatoes with kale or collards topped with a mixture of salsa and peanut butter. We also make the potato salad (with cashew dressing!) recipe from "Pure and Simple" cookbook by Tami A. Benton and have it as a main with veggies.

                                    1. I could live on potatoes... If I did not have to worry about getting thru doors or having the EMS people have to cut me out of my room after a heart attack.

                                      Potatoes need fat.

                                      I could easily have potatoes au gratin as a main dish. Somtimes I make a casserole involving some sort of meat, cheese and potato... potato is the main ingredient, then cheese then that blasted meat.

                                      My husband is on the phone right next to me talking with some strange excitement about trimming a tenderloin and the joy of picking meat from a pig head. His voice is an octave higher and about twice as loud as normal.

                                      We are an odd couple.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                        My real fast probably not as nutritious as it should be is a baked pot. with a prepared salad out of the bag. Add butter, to the potato and bacon bits from the precooked bacon. Then the sour cream and either some feta, cream cheese (yes) or sour cream/ Of course the sky is the limit.

                                        1. re: mogo

                                          Hah. I was just about to post that I could easily make a meal out of a few pounds of French fries. Or latkes. Or hash browns. :)

                                          Even more seriously, a baked potato with toppings (butter, cheese, sour cream, salsa, broccoli, bean chili, fresh herbs) makes a perfectly fine, potentially balanced meal, IMO. A Russian-American friend and study buddy in grad school and I used to eat one or more nuked potatoes for dinner, often, with just salt and pepper and butter or yogurt. If we were feeling lux, we'd add smoked salmon.

                                          Potatoes are an absolutely beautiful starch!!

                                        2. I don't know about second class but my Latte sipping spuddy buddy is deeply concerned about where this thread is headed!
                                          IMO mashed spuds (shhhhhhh) are a whole separate food group not to mention tater salad.

                                          1. That's a good question. Until restaurants begin selling it as such it will remain a non entree.' If they add saute' nion and ham to it the meal is even greater. A salad and some italian bread or rolls. In the winter throw in some soup.

                                            1. My family has always made a hearty German potato salad as a main dish. It is absolutely divine!

                                              1. I make a potato, instead of eggplant mousaka from a recipe from a cook book I purchased in Greece.

                                                1. The Romans make a meal (or at least a lunch) out of potato pizza - just crust, olive oil, thinly sliced potatoes, with salt, pepper, & rosemary. Delicious stuff. Does that count?