Healthy mashed potatoes! Use garlic, lemon, and olive oil to ramp up the flavor of these potatoes. A great change from the usual high-fat mashers.
I consider myself an honorary Irishman for a bunch of reasons.
First, my name (Maureen). Second, my sister’s name (Peggy). Dan likes to call me Irish, but he doesn’t know I like it too. I have a whole clan of cousins who are, yes, half Irish. Beyond that: my siblings and I all went to school in South Bend, where you are Irish even if you’re really there, like I was, to be a Saint Mary’s Belle. I’ve spent many a Saturday with green clovers on my cheeks and “Go Irish” on my lips. I do believe if you ask my brothers what their nationality is, they might utter “Irish” even though their blood is pure Lebanese.
I lived, too, in Chicago for a lot of years. Need I say more? Okay, I will: I loved its Irish-ness, an aura that permeates the city with jovial people, a green river in March, and a parade in the grand style (which I did not attend—ever—but was happy for the ones who did). In my offices there, people were plenty Irish. They brought Irish soda bread to meetings, talked in fake Irish brogues informed by experience, and loved to tell stories and laugh.
My first trip abroad was not Lebanon, but Ireland. Those rolling emerald hills, the gentle people, the thatch-roofed villages . . . I was smitten, and never quite lost it.
But the thing that makes me most Irish of all? My finesse with the potato. My mother showed me and my Irish sister long ago how to peel a potato swiftly, in just a couple of passes at the thing with a paring knife. None of our kitchens has ever seen a potato peeled with a vegetable peeler. You pull the knife edge back toward the thumb to cut away the peel, and it looks to most anyone watching as though we’re going to cut right through and have an E.R. trip on our hands. Never happened, never will, because there is so much tension as you peel that the knife is easy to control and hold to its task. We take off that skin in less than three peels.
The finesse does not end there, my friends. A pot of mashed potatoes may be a humble dish, but those bad boys know how to sing when they’re handled right. And right in my book means given the flavor of the Lebanese. It’s really quite simple:
We do it with garlic. We do it with lemon. We do it with olive oil.
There is a classic spicy Lebanese potato dish, batata harra, that is fried cubes of potato doused in lemon, oil, cilantro, and chili flakes. I love this dish and it is in my cookbook.
My mashed potatoes echo the taste of the Batata harra, without the frying or the fuss. It can be as simple as drizzling hot chili oil over your mashed potatoes (it’s one of the main reasons I started using, and now offering, our imported Lebanese Hot Chili Olive Oil).
I leave you not just with the Irish potatoes in the Lebanese Way, but also the blessing that is so beautiful and loving that it never feels cliché, and like so much in my life, makes me proud to be Irish:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Mashed Potatoes with Lemon, Garlic, and Olive Oil
Adding garlic to the mix when the potatoes are cooking is a game-changing move! Just mash them together with the potatoes when it's time. Make the potatoes vegan by leaving out the labneh and replacing with a little more oil or almond milk to smooth out the potatoes.
Peel your potatoes, cut them into large chunks, and get them into water right away, otherwise they’ll turn brown.
In a large pot, cover the potatoes and the garlic with cool water. Salt the water with 3 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil and cook over medium high heat the potatoes are tender and a sharp knife tip inserted into them meets no resistance, 20-25 minutes.
Drain the potatoes. Be sure to get every breath of water out of them by placing the drained potatoes in their pot, then back on the warm burner to let any remaining water steam off. Do this quickly and stay close though, to be sure the potatoes don’t start to brown.
Using a potato masher (or a ricer or hand mixer if you’re after ultra-smooth), mash the potatoes with the garlic and lemon juice, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and laban. Taste and add more lemon, oil, and/or laban to get the potatoes to the consistency you enjoy. Taste and season with salt.
Spread the potatoes in a shallow dish or spoon into a bowl. Drizzle with the chili oil and serve immediately.