July 16, 2014

I Say Batata.

I am certain there is a word for “potato” in almost every language.  After all, it is one of the most prominent and best loved foods in the world.  The potato sits at number 3 in terms of worldwide human consumption, after wheat and rice, and the latest statistics show global crop production at a staggering 300 million metric tons annually.    

Batata is the old Spanish term from which the word potato is said to have originated.  It is also the Arabic term for the word.  In Beirut, where I grew up, we ate lots of Batata.  Fries were this fat kid’s favorite food! 

Boiled, fried, baked, roasted or even gnocchi’d, potatoes are a workhorse veg.  “The Mariah Carey of vegetables, reaching many depths and stratospheres”, as one witty food critic once wrote.  

There are over 4000 recorded potato varieties worldwide, most of which are grown in the Andes region of South America.  Traces of its cultivation have been found in Peru dating back 10,000 years.  It even grows in incredibly harsh climates like that of Greenland, where they call it naatsiiat - which literally translates to ‘something for which one waits a long time to grow’.

I love ordering "Pommes Landaises" whenever I spot it on restaurant menus.  My favorite French bistro in San Francisco, L’Ardoise is famous for them.  Slices of Yukon Gold fried in duck fat.  No need for a recipe here!  Just add salt.

My dear friend and home-cook extraordinaire, Tamara sent me one of her fabulous recipes for a Lebanese baked potato pie, called Kebbet Batata in Arabic.  The word “Kebbet” sounds similar to Cabot, as in Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, from the popular 80’s TV series Murder, She Wrote.  Here’s how you make it:

delicious onion and walnut filling between the two layers of potato

Lebanese Potato Pie (Kebbet Batata)
6 servings

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large yellow onions, sliced into wings
3 large Desiree potatoes (new potatoes are also great), peeled and cubed
1 cup fine bulgur wheat (#1), soaked in water for 1 hour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1.5 tablespoons sumac
1 cup regular bread crumbs or panko
2 cups chopped toasted walnuts
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C).  Heat the vegetable oil in a good-size skillet and fry the onion wings with a sprinkle of salt until pale.  Add a good pinch of pepper, sumac & walnuts and mix to combine.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Potato Dough:
In a large pot, cover the potatoes with water, add a generous pinch of salt and bring to a boil.  Cook the potatoes until fork-tender.  Drain and set aside to cool slightly.  Once cooled, mash the boiled potatoes well.  Squeeze the excess water out of the pre-soaked bulgur then fold it into the potatoes.  Add the cilantro and knead a few times until a dough-like texture is obtained.  Taste for salt and add more if needed. 

Brush your favorite baking dish (I like to use the classic oblong Pyrex dish for this recipe) with a little vegetable oil to coat the base.  Spread a thin layer of the potato mix (about 1 inch) evenly around the base, then top with the onion filling.  Repeat with another layer of potato mix on top of the filling to cover, also about 1 inch thick.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and bake until the bread crumbs become golden brown, 20-30 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature with your favorite salad!   

Note: Dip your hands in a little vegetable oil as you build the pie layers.  This will prevent the dough from sticking to your hands and makes the assembly a breeze.  My classic Lebanese salad dressing which you can find in an older Ten Potatoes blog post is perfect for making a salad that can stand up to the bold flavors of the potato pie.

Bon App├ętit, and thank you Tamara!