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This weeks recipe was an experiment that just worked out well. It’s nice when that happens. Eating a gratin usually gives me a food belly the size of a football, but this version is quite a bit kinder on your digestion, thanks to a few more wholesome ingredients and a vegan ‘bechamel’ sauce.

Before I get to it… a few things I’ve learned about taters. I often come across recipes that call for waxy or floury potatoes. But I’ve never known which are which and wonder whether it really matters. Well here’s the low down.

Potato & Leek Cous Cous Gratin

Floury potatoes have a high starch and low water content. They’re great for baking, mashing and turning into gnocci but they’ll fall apart when boiled. (I’m having a light bulb moment right now!) Varities include: Home Guard, Maris Piper, Rooster, Coliban and King Edward

Wazy potatoes are the opposite, they have a low starch but high water content. They’re great for boiling and in potato salads but not so good for mash or chips. Varieties include: Anya, Pink Fir Apple, Bintje, Dutch Cream, Kipfler, Nadine, Patrone and Pink Eye (Southern Gold)

Then there are the all purpose, inbetweeners such as Desiree, Purple Congo and Nicola, Golden Delight, Kennebec, Otway Red, Pontiac, Red Rascal, Royal Blue, Sebago, Spunta and Toolangi Delight. Apparently these guys do it all!

Be choosy! You can eat taters brown, red, purple, yellow or white. Just don’t eat them green. The green tint indicates an increase in the presence of a toxic alkaloid solanine. Not only does solanine taste unpleasant, it can cause unwanted symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea and diarrhoea*. Picture Into the Wild.

Store them right. Ideally potatoes should be stored in dark dry places at 10°C/50°F. Higher temperatures cause the starches to turn to sugar leading to dehydration and sprouting. My kitchen barely drops to 10º in the depths of winter so the bottom shelf of the pantry will have to suffice. Don’t store potatoes next to onions as the gases they both emit speed up each others degradation. (I separated mine since reading that and it’s made a huge difference!)

The healthy bits… potatoes are very good sources of potassium, the vitamins B3, B5, B6 and C and of dietary fibre.* The key to getting all these nutrients is to eat the skin. That’s where they’re all hanging out. Potatoes got a bit of a bad rap when the low-carb trend came through. Ignore that. It’s a vegetable and nothing but gold!

Potato & Leek Cous Cous Gratin

Potato & Leek Cous Cous Gratin
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
1 cup of cous cous
1 cup of warm water
4 tbsp coconut oil (ghee works great too here)
5 medium potatoes – 1/2 cm slices (any kind will work)
1 -2 tsp of smoked paprika
1 leek – thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of parsley
5-10 chive stems

‘Bechamel’ Sauce

500 mls almond milk
50 gms arrowroot flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
salt & pepper
1 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes (optional)

You will also need a 25cm baking dish

Method
1. Preheat over to 180C. In a small bowl, combine cous cous and water and set aside.
2. Heat 1 tbsp of coconut oil in a frypan on medium high heat. Add enough potato slices to cover the fry pan and sprinkle with salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Fry for two minutes, flip them and then fry until a little translucent and slightly brown around the edges. Continue in batches. When each batch is finished, add them to the baking dish, spreading them out to make an even bottom layer.
3. Cut the leek in half lengthways, rinse well and then thinly slice. In the same fry pan, heat another tablespoon of coconut oil on medium. Add the leek, bay leaf, parsley, chives and a sprinkle of salt. Saute until leeks have softened, about 5-10mins, stirring intermittently.
4. While the leeks cook, sprinkle the cous cous over the potatoes, creating another even layer. When the leeks are ready, add them as the top layer.
5. Finally, prepare the ‘bechamel’ sauce. I make mine in a thermomix by throwing in all the ingredients for 7 mins/90 degrees/speed 4. I have not tried this on the stove top but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. Heat the remaining 2 tbsp of coconut oil on medium in sauce pan. Add the arrowroot flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring regularly. Add the almond milk in batches of 100mls, whisking continuously. As the sauce thickens a little, add more milk. Finally add the cinnamon, nutmeg, nutritional yeast flakes, salt and pepper to taste. This might take 10 minutes or so.
6. Poor the sauce over the gratin and bake for 30 minutes, before grilling for 5-10 minutes to brown the top.
7. Serve on its own or with a simple side salad.

Variations
Gluten Free – use millet or brown rice, I think the size of quinoa or amaranth would be too small

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