Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto

Recently, I posed this question on Instagram: what's your ultimate comfort food? Some of the responses were expected: anything with chocolate, pizza, pasta, burgers or falafel, ice cream. But one of the most popular responses surprised me a bit. It was potatoes.

If you're thinking, "duh, Nisha, people LOVE French fries," I understand why you might think that. But out of the roughly dozen people who said potatoes were their favorite comfort food, not a single person specified French fries. In fact, one person wrote "I could just eat boiled potatoes with salt and pepper every day."

 Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto

I suppose this popular obsession with potatoes surprised me because I've never had a love affair with potatoes. Growing up, my experience with potatoes consisted of the following:

  1. Potato chips. I never really enjoyed. Except for Pringles. Because once you pop, you can't stop. The reason you can't stop, by the way, is because food companies have engineered snack products to contain irresistible "bliss points." You can read more about this phenomenon here.

  2. French fries. Primarily from fast food joints. I would sometimes get fries with my burgers, but I never really enjoyed them or ate very many. In fact, I recall that most French fries smelled like farts. I still think that. 

  3. Boxed mashed potatoes. Need I say more?

  4. Mushy Indian-spiced potatoes and peas. Did I mention that my mom was a full-time parent to two extremely active kids, worked a full-time job, was the most involved mother at school, and did a kickass job at everything? Plus, she's an excellent cook now that she has more than 30 minutes to get dinner on the table.

Recognizing that I was at a potato disadvantage, I set out to devise a potato recipe that would make me fall in love with potatoes. French fries were out of the question. See above. So were mashed potatoes. Not because I don't like mashed potatoes. I do. But I really only crave them during the holidays. But if you're someone who loves mashed potatoes any time of year, check out my recipe for creamy, decadent vegan mashed potatoes! And potato salad seemed so, well, 1998.

Eventually I realized that the only time I really enjoy potatoes (outside of Thanksgiving) is when they are crispy. Enter these crispy smashed potatoes.

 Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto
 Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto

And I have to admit, I am SO GLAD I decided to embrace potatoes. Because these crispy little potatoes are little bites of heaven.

I use baby potatoes because, hello, cute bite-sized potatoes are adorable (and easy to eat). But if you can't find baby potatoes, use regular sized Yukon gold potatoes and cut them in half or quarters as indicated in the recipe below.

 Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto
 Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto

To get your potatoes crispy brown on the outside but buttery smooth on the inside, you'll need to cook them twice. It sounds time intensive, but it requires very little actual cooking and it is so very worth it. First, you'll boil the potatoes until they're fork tender - that ensures they're soft on the inside. Then, you'll smash them and roast them in the oven - that ensures they develop that nice crispy, browned exterior.

While you can certainly eat these crispy smashed potatoes plain, I jazzed up my potatoes with my favorite condiment: pesto.

 Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto

And since traditional pesto made with pine nuts and basil can get very pricy, I used cashews and a combination of cilantro and basil. Did you know cilantro is packed with antioxidants that help rid the body of free radicals and heavy metals? Or that it can aid in digestion and help control blood sugar and cholesterol? It's one of my favorite superfoods and I use it whenever possible. Like in pesto, but also in salad dressings, curries, soups, and as a garnish. 

 Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto
 Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto

If you've never had pesto without parmesan cheese, you have to try this easy pesto recipe. The nutritional yeast adds a cheesy flavor, and this pesto tastes just as good (if not better) as traditional pesto. Bonus: with simple ingredients like herbs, raw nuts, raw garlic, and extra virgin olive oil, it's basically a health food!

 Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto

I hope you enjoy these crispy smashed potatoes as much as I did! Cheers to my newfound friend, potatoes!

Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto

Vegan, Gluten-Free

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds baby Yukon gold potatoes 
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided 
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste 
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh basil leaves 
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh cilantro leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice  
  • Optional garnishes: vegan parmesan cheese, chopped basil and cilantro leaves, crushed red pepper flakes, tahini 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Rinse the potatoes under cold water and scrub to clean. 
  3. Add the potatoes to a large saucepan and cover with water until the potatoes are just submerged. Bring the saucepan to a boil over high heat. Once it starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium-high heat to achieve a low boil. Cook the potatoes uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and a knife easily slides in and out.
  4. Once the potatoes are soft and tender, place them on the prepared baking sheet and smash down with the bottom of a saucepan. For any larger potatoes, cut them in half and then smash them so they are still "bite sized."
  5. Drizzle the smashed potatoes with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and season with a healthy pinch each salt and pepper. Roast the potatoes for 20-25 minutes or until they are crispy and golden brown.
  6. While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the pesto. Add the basil, cilantro, garlic, nutritional yeast, raw cashews, and lemon juice to a food processor, along with salt and pepper to taste. Pulse all of the ingredients, and with the motor running, drizzle in 3 tablespoons of the extra virgin olive oil. Blend until you achieve a thick paste. This pesto will be a little chunkier than traditional pesto since it doesn't use as much oil. 
  7. To serve, spoon the pesto over the crispy smashed potatoes. Garnish with chopped basil and cilantro leaves, crushed red pepper flakes, and a drizzle of tahini.