I haven’t had time to cook lately. I haven’t had time for anything, aside from ceaseless house projects. Every bit of digging unveils another distressing issue. E.g., a substantial pile of mouse droppings behind the old kitchen cabinets—not desirable in the state where hantavirus first surfaced in 1993 (incidentally, I had a reporting internship at The Albuquerque Tribune that summer and covered the story when researchers announced they had finally determined what was killing people across the Southwest). Ergo, we shall have no more mouse in the house!
I’m slightly overwhelmed.
But I recall fondly those nights a few weeks ago (seems so distant), while still in the house-hunting stage and not yet in the house deconstruction-reconstruction phase, when we had time for dinner on the back patio. One night I made a dish that had been a Chiang Mai favorite, a dish I’d create when The Vegetable Lady had potatoes and I had a hankering for something un-Asian. Mashed potatoes!
Not just any mashed potatoes, but vibrant, lemony, herbal mashed potatoes. This dish took on several forms, depending on the ingredients available. I’d check the Royal Project store for its latest installment of non-Thai-style herbs (parsley, oregano, rosemary, tarragon) and mash those taters accordingly. The keys remained consistent:
Lots of garlic, lots of herbs, lots of lemon (if we had it), a good shake of sea salt and a decent glug of olive oil. Not a problem here in Albuquerque. Our lovely hosts have a gigantic oregano bush growing in the backyard herb garden, a perfect source for the quantity needed here. I scoured the pantry and paprika lodged itself in my brain. And cumin. Feel free to substitute the fresh herbs of your choosing, and complement with dry spices accordingly:
Chop your potatoes into cubes, rinse and boil with numerous crushed garlic cloves and a dash of sea salt. When tender (but not mushy), rinse, return to warm pot and mash. I do this roughly. These are not creamy-smooth mashed potatoes; they’re chunky and delightful. Set aside and cool.
I usually include heaps of onion, one form or another. In this case, shallots. Slice finely and toss into bowl. Chop your herbs. When your taters are cool, add to the bowl, douse in olive oil and squeezed lemon, add your herbs, more sea salt and dry spices (in this case, lots of sweet paprika, a bit of cayenne, a fair amount of cumin). Plus a little half-and-half or whole milk. Taste frequently along the way. I aim for an upfront herbal bang that immediately fills the mouth, countered with lemon and salt, to a solid background of accompanying spice, just a hint of heat, and absolutely no dryness, thanks to the olive oil.
Then take it outside on a warm summer night.