Given a choice between potatoes and another vegetable, most people will choose the potato. Year after year, potatoes top the chart as our favorite vegetables. In fact, the average American eats over 100lbs of potatoes a year.

What is the appeal? People enjoy the mild flavor and pleasant texture of potatoes, as well as their versatility. Potatoes are suited to almost every cooking method: frying, roasting, baking, boiling, steaming and stewing. Chefs and consumers also love the fact that potatoes respond well to a variety of seasonings, absorbing the flavors of herbs and spices in the most delicious ways.

French fries are universally popular and universally available. Creating a unique seasoning blend is one way to make fries stand out from the competition. True to the title of his book, Big Flavors, Jim Fabel’s Cajun fries are crusted with a gutsy combination of cumin, ground red pepper, oregano, thyme, salt and black pepper. Similarly, familiar baked or fried potato skins get a new lease on life, when sprinkled in an imaginative way with a seafood seasoning blend and black pepper, for example.

For Italian-style roasted potatoes or home fries, toss the pieces with olive oil and rosemary or sage leaves before placing them in the oven. Thick-skinned, low-moisture russet potatoes (such as Idaho) have the right texture for frying and roasting. They also work well in saucy, baked dishes, such as scalloped potatoes, or a savory potato gratin seasoned with ground nutmeg, black pepper and garlic powder.

When fluffy mashed potatoes are the goal, reach for russets. Medium-starch, “boiling” potatoes or thin-skinned, new potatoes--with the skins on or off--make a mash with a denser texture. Salt, white pepper and a touch of nutmeg are the traditional seasonings for a delicately flavored puree. To create a more boldly seasoned mixture, try curry powder or a combination of cumin, coriander seeds, salt and black pepper. Mashed potatoes “go Asian” when sesame oil, ground ginger and sesame seeds are added to the mix.

Tiny croquettes formed from mashed or grated potatoes are terrific hors d’oevres, while larger ones make satisfying vegetable side dishes or toppers for entrée salads. The addition of dried dill weed results in potato cakes that are a perfect partner for wiener schnitzel or other Eastern European specialties, such as pork chops in paprika sauce. Alternatively, an Italian seasoning blend can be mixed with flour or potato flakes to bread the outsides of the croquettes.

To pump up the flavor of potato salad, add seasonings such as basil, chervil, chives, paprika or chili powder to a mayonnaise dressing or vinaigrette. Dill weed, parsley flakes, onion powder and ground white pepper all enhance the mustard-laced dressing used in German potato salad.

Brothy soups get much of their appeal from the seasonings that infuse into the cooking liquid and other ingredients. A robust cabbage and potato soup, from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, is simmered with salt, black pepper, ground allspice and brown sugar. Potatoes and watercress are a winning duo in another soup, which is accented with crushed rosemary leaves.

In India, slow cooking allows a complex seasoning blend to penetrate potatoes. Cubed potatoes might be braised or stewed with cauliflower, green peas or eggplant, together with a small amount of liquid and garam masala, a dry-toasted spice blend that traditionally includes ground coriander seeds, turmeric and ground red pepper. Cumin seeds and curry powder add interest to a skillet supper of curried rice with potatoes and black-eyed peas. pf
Pilot recipes for these potato dishes had originally been adapted exclusively for Prepared Foods by the test kitchen of the American Spice Trade Assoc.  (FR0300)  

2 lbs small red potatoes
1¼ cups beef broth
¼ cup cider vinegar
3 tsp dill weed, divided
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp parsley flakes, divided
1 cup coarsely chopped, unpeeled red apples
1tbsp lemon juice
1½ cups unpeeled cucumber, cut in ½-inch chunks
1⁄3 cup vegetable oil
1½ tsp Dijon-style prepared mustard
¼ tsp salt
1⁄8 tsp ground white pepper
 

Place potatoes in a large saucepan; add enough salted water to cover. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, until tender, 13-15 minutes. Cool slightly; peel. Slice ¼-inch thick; place in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring to a boil beef broth, vinegar, 2 tsp dill, onion powder and 1tsp parsley. Pour over potatoes; let stand at room temperature until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Pour off excess liquid.

In a small bowl, toss apples with lemon juice; stir into potatoes along with cucumbers. In a small bowl, combine oil, mustard, salt, white pepper and remaining 1tsp each dill and parsley; gently stir into potato mixture. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about one hour.

Yield: 6-8 portions (7 half-cups)

¼ cup instant minced onion
1½ tsp salt
1tsp ground ginger
¾ tsp ground coriander seeds
½ tsp instant minced garlic
¼ tsp ground turmeric
dash ground red pepper
½ cup long grain rice
2lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
¼ cup butter
½ cup frozen green peas


In a skillet, combine first seven ingredients and 3 cups water; bring to a boil. Add rice; simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Add potatoes and butter; simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes and rice are nearly tender, 10-15 minutes. Stir in peas; simmer, covered, until tender, about 5 minutes.

Yield: 6-8 portions (6 half-cups)