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Dig into tasty, nutritious potatoes

Potatoes are a staple of many people's diets. Versatile, affordable and tasty, potatoes are, not surprisingly, included in myriad recipes.

Potatoes are underground tubers that grow on the roots of the potato plant. Potatoes are from the nightshade family, which means they're related to tobacco and tomatoes. Potatoes are native to South America, and were likely brought to Europe, and later North America, by immigrants and tradespeople.

In addition to their versatility and flavor, potatoes happen to be nutritional powerhouses. Potatoes are one of the "good" carbohydrates because they are whole and complex. Whole carbs like potatoes are minimally processed and contain fiber found naturally, according to the health and wellness site Healthline. Carbohydrates are important for mental and physical performance because they provide the body with energy.

Here's a deep look at what a serving of one potato provides in terms of nutritional benefits, courtesy of Potatoes USA.

* Moderate caloric content: The average potato contains just 110 calories. That makes potatoes part of a healthy, low-calorie eating plan.

* Vitamin C: Potatoes are very good sources of vitamin C, although people might not think of potatoes as a major source of this essential nutrient. One potato provides around 30% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C.

* Potassium: Each potato contains about 620 mg of potassium, which is more of this valuable nutrient than one gets from a banana.

* No cholesterol: Potatoes are cholesterol- and fat-free when boiled or baked. There are many ways to prepare and serve potatoes so they remain low in fat and cholesterol-free.

* Vitamin B and Iron: One potato provides 10% DV of vitamin B and 6% DV of iron.

* Fiber: The highest level of fiber in potatoes is found in the skin. Dried skins are about 52% fiber. If you don't eat the skin, one potato will offer around 7% DV of fiber.

* Sodium-free: Potatoes are a smart choice for those watching their sodium intake.

* Gluten-free: People with Celiac disease or those who have gluten intolerances can turn to potatoes to include starchy carbohydrates in their diets. They're perfect as side dishes or dressed up with other ingredients to make a main course.

Potatoes come in many different forms and sizes, so they can be integrated into any meal. Because they can be cooked in various ways, potatoes also can be matched to particular diets and eating plans. Potatoes are a delicious, versatile and healthy option any time of the day.

Potato soup makes a filling meal

Many Irish dishes focus on simple, fresh ingredients that can be purchased close to home. Potatoes have long been a staple of Irish cooking. Brought to Europe by Spanish explorers from the New World, the potato put an end to famine in regions of northern Europe, like Ireland.

Smithsonian notes that, by the end of the 18th century, roughly 40% of the Irish ate no solid food other than potatoes. If that sounds like a boring diet, it's good to note that all that was necessary to make potatoes desirable and more versatile was a little creativity.

Potato soup is one way to experiment with potatoes. There are many different takes on potato soup, but most classic Irish recipes feature potatoes, stock, leeks, and onions. But that does not mean potato soup can't be enhanced by other ingredients, like those found in this recipe for "Potato, Escarole and Country Ham Soup" from "The Culinary Institute of America Book of Soups" (Lebhar-Friedman Books).

Potato, Escarole and Country Ham Soup

Makes 8 servings

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 onion, diced (about 1 1/4 cups)

1 leek, white and light green parts minced (about 1 1/4 cups)

1 celery stalk, diced (about 1/2 cup)

1 garlic clove, minced (about 1/2 teaspoon)

1 quart chicken broth

2 yellow or white potatoes, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)

1 sprig fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2 cups chopped escarole (about 8 ounces)

1 cup diced country ham

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Heat the butter in a soup pot over low heat. Add the onion, leek, celery, and garlic; stir until they are evenly coated. Cover the pot and cook until the vegetables are tender and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the broth, potatoes and thyme. Simmer the soup until the potatoes are tender enough to mash easily, about 20 minutes.

Remove the thyme and discard. Puree the soup. Return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer.

Add the escarole and diced ham and simmer, 12 to 15 minutes, or until all the ingredients are tender.

Season with salt and pepper. Serve the soup in heated bowls.

Tip: Country hams have an altogether different taste and texture from that of boiled hams. They have been cured for lengthy periods and have a unique salty, smoky taste. Ask your deli manager or butcher to help you find country ham or a suitable substitute.

 

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