Potatoes played a central role in our kitchen because that was the only vegetable my hardcore non-vegetarian Ba would willingly eat. The only time my mom could make him eat vegetables properly was when he was down with severe hepatitis in his 50s. But the moment he got better he went back to his choice of protein. The man is 85 now and can still easily digest an entire goat. His idea of eating vegetables was eating mostly the potatoes in the dish along with one or two pieces of the veggies. For example he would eat 6 aloo cubes along with 2 potol halves in aloo potoler dalna. As a result, putting potato in everything was mandatory.
No, my mom never made potato skin fries to curb wastage. She had her hands full raising two daughters and battling an army of hostile in-laws. It was my mashie, who was visiting us, couldn’t bear the sight of so much of potato skins getting wasted and surprised her two nieces with potato skin fries. She lived in a small town with less access to market. So she would use her weekly supplies optimally. Needless to say Di and I were totally amazed. We had no idea something so delectable could be made from what we threw into the bin every day. However, the fries still remained a rarity in our menu, simply because Ba wouldn’t eat them.
Recently a great article by Priyadarshini Chatterjee (Link: Don’t Trash That! Pits, Peels and Pig Brains), revived my childhood memory about the potato peels. As I these days try to watch what I eat, Potato skins instead of the flesh brought me hope. The nutrient-dense skins are less in calories, carbs and sugar and high in dietary fiber, calcium and iron. But what about the taste? Can it compete with regular fries? We Bangali love our jhurjhure aloo bhaja with shona muger daal. We also love fries with our burgers and sandwiches. The answer obviously lied in my kitchen lab.
I washed a medium sized potato thoroughly to ensure no dirt remained. Peeled it keeping a bit of flesh on the skin. Next step was patting the skin pieces dry and then cutting them into thin strips. In a bowl I took one tablespoon of Besan (chickpea flour), salt to taste, half a teaspoon of red chilli powder and mixed them together. Added the strips and coated them with the powder. In a non-stick pan, I put one teaspoon of mustard oil and heated it. Next went one teaspoon of poppy seeds and two slit green chillies (the latter being optional). The poppy seeds are the key ingredient as that adds to the taste and texture. When the poppy seeds started browning, I added the potato skin strips. Fried them in medium heat until those were golden and crisp. In my taste test, the fried peels scored higher than usual aloo bhaja and were perfect accompaniment to a lunch platter.
On another day, I also tried a broader cut to make them go with burgers or work as a snack— a guilt-free alternative to French fries. Instead of mustard oil, I used olive oil this time. My taste buds thanked me immensely for the deliciousness. Though I used this styling for the photo shoot (regret the harsh lights), but my mind was actually wanting মুড়ি আর কাঁচা লঙ্কা (puffed rice and green chillies). So may be for me, this would work better as an Indian snack and not as sides for burgers etc., though using potato peels for fries is prevalent in western countries. The best part was probably the negligible use of oil. Potato skin absorbs a lot less oil than the flesh. One can use even less if he/she bakes these. Baking is ideal for making chips out of the peels. One can use carrot peels as well or a mix of both. Should taste great with a mayo or Greek yogurt based dip.
Apart from the health factor, optimal use of raw food is even more relevant in today’s world. I read a statistical report on food where it mentioned an alarming figure that goes to waste at preparation and consumption stage. It’s time that our home kitchens and the F&B industry rethink the way we use raw ingredients. Why restrict peels to home kitchen?! I wouldn’t mind ordering some in a restaurant too.
Having said the above, I should also advise use of organically grown vegetables to avoid consumption of harmful chemicals as vegetable skins absorb more fertilizers than the flesh.
A couple of great reads on this topic:
Don’t Trash That! Pits, Peels and Pig Brains – Priyadarshini Chatterjee traces the economic crises, resource shortages and culinary ingenuity that spawned some of the most delicious dishes across cultures, where trash ingredients are the star.
Tasty dishes women cooked for themselves with residual food – Rekha Karmakar takes us back to the kitchen of the bygone century and tells us the tales of leftover food