What’s better than mashed potatoes? How about a crispy potato peeling topping?
If we forgot mashed potatoes at the Thanksgiving table, there would be a revolt. But since we need to please all eaters with this important dish, making it vegan friendly is as simple as it is important!
I think I would definitely rate mashed potatoes in my top five foods. They are perfect ––carbs, fat, and salt all rolled into one, just like potato chips, only creamier. In fact, I doubt there was a week in our lives growing up when we didn’t have this luscious mound of buttery, creamy, delicious vegetable anchoring our plates – the potatoes flanked by a protein and another vegetable probably green, but sometimes orange in the form of carrots, or dark red in the form of beets. The mashed potatoes made everything else all right.
Once in a while, Dad pitched in!
Mashed potatoes were one of the few things I remember my Dad helping Mom with on occasion. Usually he stayed away from the food prep area. The potatoes were actually whipped with a hand electric mixer. Added to the spuds were warm milk, lots of butter, salt, lots of pepper, and an egg. Yes, an egg, and if it was a big pot of potatoes at Thanksgiving, two. They made the potatoes even richer, and lighter in the process. My sister still makes her mashed potatoes this way.
Frequently, Mom added some finely grated onion as well, and that’s one of my favorite secret ingredients when I’m making a mash.
Make sure the potatoes are cooked!
Patience is rewarded. I’ve made my share of lumpy mash, and learned early on that one of the secrets is to make sure the potatoes are cooked all the way through! If they are not, you will indeed get lumps, so you can’t rush this. Test with a fork, not a knife. A knife could be too sharp and slip into the potato easier than a fork, perhaps even before the potatoes are completely cooked. If the fork says they are done, they are done.
A food mill. If you don’t have one, get one!
The second technique is to put the potatoes through a food mill or ricer so they are the perfect texture to receive the warmed milk or cream. It really makes a difference, but it is also fun too! If you don’t have a ricer or food mill, look for a hand-held potato masher with a flat mashing plate of little round holes instead of the loopy wire head. This will do a good job on other root vegetables as well. I use the food mill.
Leave the skins on to cook
Some folks like to keep the skins on the potatoes, but if I’m making a fluffy bowl of mash, I take the skins off. However, if you are attached to peeling first, then that’s what you should do. Cooking the potatoes whole and unpeeled takes more clock time than cut up, but, there is far less hands-on time because after cooked, they peel quickly. You also waste less peel, and I think the potatoes stay more moist and retain more nutrients. You do have to work fast.
Start in cold water
You need to start the potatoes in cold, salted water. If you start them in hot water, the exterior or the potatoes will overcook before the interior is ready. That’s how Mom did it, and that’s how I do it! You also need to add a lot of salt to the water, potatoes and other starches like pasta really need this step for the best flavor, and that’s what we are aiming for here.
Always warm the milk
Warming the milk or cream is also important for two reasons. The potatoes absorb the warmed liquid easier, and a cold liquid would cool them off too much and might not mix in well, another potential for lumps!
Make it the way you like
If we have a large gathering, there will also be dietary restrictions, so when I can make something that is friendly to a variety of needs, it saves time and frustration for the guests. Mashed potatoes are easily made dairy free and vegan, so this is at least one dish that everyone can enjoy. They also happen to be gluten free, nut free, and soy free!
Something for everyone
Mom used evaporated canned milk when she made her potatoes, but I decided to use light coconut milk this time around since I wanted to make this vegan and nut friendly. You can any plant milk, but the light coconut adds nice creaminess without coconut flavor. You can also use regular milk, canned milk, half-and-half, or even stock. I think a really heavy cream, even half-and-half, can sort of be too heavy and detract from the flavor of the potatoes, but use what you like. Whatever liquid you use, make sure it is hot! The hot liquid is also a great place to infuse even more flavor with the use of herbs.
You want to use starchy russets or all purpose yellow or white potatoes for mashed, not a waxy potato. The potatoes I used here were a premium Maine potatoes called Cold River Gold, which is both starchy and flavorful. Yukon Gold is widely available and works beautifully in a mash, as do all-purpose white potatoes and the russets, favored by many for a mash. Stay away from waxy potatoes with shiny flesh such as Red Bliss. The wrong potato is another reason for fluffy mashed potato failure, so beware.
To peel or not to peel
While I might make mashed potatoes on a week night without peeling them, for this recipe I wanted fluffy white potatoes, so off the peelings went. But, of course, I didn’t wast them…
One day, after I had made my potatoes, I gathered up the peelings and a little lightbulb went off. We pay good money in pubs for filled potato skins, what if I just crisped these up and used them to top my mash. I heated some oil, and threw in the rest of the onion I had grated, and the result was a crispy, crunchy topping for the potatoes. This is indeed a keeper idea!
Dinner’s ready. You can keep the turkey, now pass me the potatoes, please!
Mom’s Perfect Mashed Potatoes with Potato Peeling Topping!
3 lbs. starchy potatoes, whole
1 cup to 1 1/4 cups light coconut milk, other plant milk, or milk
1 bay leaf, fresh if possible
4 tbsp. Vegan butter or butter
1/2 yellow onion
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large egg, beaten, optional
Scrub your potatoes well and place in a large pot. Cover with cold water and add a few tablespoons of salt. Over high heat, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer.
Cook for 30 to 40 minutes depending on their size. A fork inserted in the middle should meet no resistance.
In the meantime, place the milk on medium low to heat and add the bay leaf. Cut your onion in half at the equator and pull the skins back on the root side, forming a little handle with which to grated the onion. Grate on a box grater, smaller holes, but not the tiny fine ones, and grate over a bowl. You will need about half of this onion half, a couple of tablespoons of the juicy pulp. Set aside. (don’t worry, we’ll use the rest of the onion).
When the potatoes are cooked, dump into a colander to drain, then return to the pan, covered, for a few minutes to absorb any extra moisture.
Remove the peelings from the potatoes using the tip of a paring knife or your fingers. This is fairly quick work if you have teflon fingers. (Don’t worry, we won’t waste the peelings either, set them aside).
Put the peeled potatoes through the ricer or food mill over a large bowl. Once they are all riced, add the butter and the onion, salt and pepper, and the egg if using.
Your decision: At this point, you can either whip them with a hand mixer, or just gently stir it all together as you slowly add the warmed milk of choice, almost just a nudge. I used the hand-mixer method here because I always feel like I am channeling Mom when I use it, but use a low speed and only until everything is blended. They will be fluffier and lighter, but the hand mixed potatoes will be every bit as delicious, just a little more dense. It’s up to you what texture you want.
Serve immediately! Mashing the potatoes is the last thing you should do. If you must make them ahead, keep them warm by placing the bowl, covered, over some gently simmering water (don’t let the water touch the bowl), for up to a half hour.
If you like, top with Crispy Potato Peelings, below!
Crispy Potato Peelings Topping
Heat a large skillet over high and add some olive oil. Blot any moisture from the peelings and add them and the rest of the onion, chopped, to the pan. Add salt, pepper, and a little paprika, and cook until nice and crispy. Top with your potatoes, or another vegetable.
While straight up mashed potatoes are pretty perfect as is, here are a few variations we’ve made in the past that were hits (especially the garlic mashed potatoes!).
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Our family loves these, so that’s how I usually make them. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the top off a head of garlic, place on a square of foil, and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap it up and tuck it in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the foil and squeeze out all the pulp from the garlic. Add to the potatoes during the mash.
Rosemary Parmesan Mashed Potatoes
To the steeping milk, add a tablespoon of finely minced fresh rosemary. While mixing, add a half cup of Parmesan cheese, grated. Sprinkle more Parm on top. You can also make this vegan friendly by omitting the cheese and adding some nutritional yeast, and more sprinkled on top.
Cheddar and Chive Mashed Potatoes
To the steeping liquid, add two tablespoons of fresh minced chives. When mixing everything together, add a cup of grated sharp Cheddar cheese. To make vegan-friendly, omit the cheese, and add four ounces of vegan cream cheese and 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast.
Less Carb Mash
Use half potatoes and half rutabaga or cauliflower for your mash. You will cut the starchy carbs considerably, and add a unique flavor! Most of the time, if it isn’t Thanksgiving, I do the mash this way. It’s really good, and still tastes like potato.
One more tip from Mom: Don’t toss the potato water!
If you happen to be baking bread in the next day or two, save some of the potato water to use in the dough. The yeast love the feast, and you’ll have really soft, delicious bread! Just replace the water with the potato water.
For more thoughts on making mashed potatoes:
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