Latkes With Purple Potatoes
by Michael Croland
I’ve been beyond fascinated with colorful vegetables this year. At the Union Square Greenmarket, I’ve purchased purple potatoes, stringbeans, artichokes, bell peppers, okra, asparagus, and cauliflower—in addition to orange and green cauliflower. This obsession extends past the enthusiasm I had as a child for three- or four-color pasta. There is actually a nutritional basis for it, and as Chanukah drew nearer, I was eager to “apply” it to that quintessential potato dish: latkes.
The core principle is that vegetables with colorful flesh and skin tend to be healthier than those with white flesh and skin. In Food Rules: An Eater’s Manifesto, Michael Pollan explained, “The colors of many vegetables reflect the different antioxidant phytochemicals they contain—anthocyanins, polyphenols, flavonoids, carotenoids. Many of these chemicals help protect against chronic diseases, but each in a slightly different way, so the best protection comes from a diet containing as many different phytochemicals as possible.”
I first learned about purple- and blue-flesh potatoes when I attended a presentation by Dr. Michael Greger in 2008. Although the vegan nutritionist touted the antioxidants and other health benefits of colorful produce, in the realm of potatoes, he pushed for orange-flesh sweet potatoes as packing the best punch all-around for one’s health. I’ve never been a big yam fan, so I focused more on the purple and blue potatoes he mentioned in passing. They still seemed better than typical white-flesh potatoes.
While I do not challenge Dr. Greger’s point that yams are best, there have been numerous studies highlighting the health benefits of certain varieties of purple and blue potatoes. A Kansas State University researcher has been in the news of late after finding, “[O]range-fleshed sweet potatoes are high in carotenoids — vitamin A precursors. But the [particular variety of purple potatoes studied] have higher levels of anthocyanins, dietary fiber and vitamins.”
Truth be told, my latkes came out subpar. I do not blame the purple potatoes. With all the work I put into peeling and hand-grating the spuds, I should have looked harder for a vegan latke recipe with better binding qualities in the absence of eggs. But nobody can take away from the purple potatoes’ prettiness!
Then again, if you’re health-conscious, maybe frying potatoes in oil isn’t the best idea anyway.