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Earth Day, every day: Paprika Potato Bake

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Ride your bike. Turn off the lights. Use less water. Don't buy plastic. Recycle. Locally grown. Homegrown. Homemade. Oh, it must be Earth Day.

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On April 22, Earth Day will be observed in many countries around the world. Celebrated since 1970, Earth Day brings awareness and appreciation for ways we can contribute to and maintain a healthy and sustainable environment. It's this awareness that might inspire you to develop environmentally responsible practices that become good habits throughout the year. But why wait until Earth Day?

I try to do little things that I hope are supporting a healthier environment and a healthier me. I carry my own grocery totes in my car and most times remember to take them into the store with me. I buy locally grown food whenever possible. I start shopping at my local farmer's market as soon as it opens. I've owned shares of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), allowing me to enjoy the fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers grown by a local farmer. And little by little, I've begun to make organic food choices.

When I first started hearing about organic food, I wasn't sure what it meant. The term "certified organic" refers to produce that has been grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, genetically modified organisms or irradiation. The soil must also have been free of those materials for three years prior to growing. To be labeled certified organic, food must come from a farm that has been certified by a government-sanctioned agency.

Organic foods are now available in most grocery stores. I understand important reasons to eat food that has been grown without pesticides. I think most of us would prefer food made without artificial colors and flavors. All of us want our families to stay healthy. And each of us wants to enjoy a long, healthy life.

Earth Day is a good time to try some fresh produce that has been grown organically. I suggest bringing home an organic fruit or vegetable that has skin that you will eat. The assurance of knowing an apple or potato has not been sprayed with harmful chemicals or grown in earth saturated with fertilizers and pesticides makes the extra cost worthwhile.

Paprika Potato Bake takes food from the earth to your table. You may still have some potatoes from your garden in a cool spot in your basement that you've held from late last fall. If not, try to find some locally grown potatoes or buy some organic potatoes at the store.

A creamy, light sauce seasoned with lots of sweet paprika and whole caraway seeds is poured over layers of red potatoes that have been cooked and sliced. After a short stint in the oven, bubbling hot Paprika Potato Bake is ready to be served with grilled beef or bison, roasted chicken, baked ham or your favorite cut of pork.

I've come a long organic way. All of the ingredients I used to prepare Paprika Potato Bake, other than the all-purpose flour and the fresh dill, were organic. But it all started several years ago when I bought just one bag of certified organic apples.

Turn off the lights, put your cloth tote bag in your bike basket or your car and ride to the store to check out the locally grown and organic potatoes. You won't need much water to wash them off before cooking. In no time at all you'll have a homemade potato dish.

And before you know it, you'll be making every day Earth Day.

Paprika Potato Bake

2 pounds red potatoes, unpeeled

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups chopped onions

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon whole caraway seeds

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups warm low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup sour cream

Fresh dill, chopped, for garnish

Place potatoes in a 4-quart pot and cover with water. Bring water to a boil. Cover pot and cook potatoes until just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain potatoes and set them aside to cool slightly.

Heat olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the onions and sauté over medium-high heat until they are tender and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute. Reduce heat to low and stir in the paprika, salt and caraway seeds. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Increase heat to medium and stir in the flour and cook for another minute. Gradually add warm chicken broth, stirring to thoroughly blend the broth with the flour-paprika mixture in the pot after each addition. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened and bubbling. Remove from heat.

Cut half of the cooked potatoes in half lengthwise. Cut each half crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Peel remaining half of potatoes and cut them in the same way. Layer the potatoes in a lightly greased 2-quart baking dish.

Add sour cream to thickened broth mixture in saucepan. Stir gently until blended. Pour sauce over the top of potatoes. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 30 minutes until heated through and bubbling. Sprinkle chopped fresh dill over the Paprika Potato Bake. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Tips from the cook

--Paprika can become bitter if it is burned over high heat. That is an important reason to reduce the heat to low before adding paprika to the pot.

--Potatoes can be cooked a day or two before slicing and assembling Paprika Potato Bake. Store the cooked whole potatoes in the refrigerator.

--Paprika Potato Bake can be assembled and stored in the refrigerator overnight. Allow for extra baking time.

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