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The potato (Solanum tuberosum) is the most important vegetable in the world. Annual production hovers around 700 billion pounds. This is almost twice as much as the total for the number two vegetable, the cassava, and roughly triple production totals for the next three, which are, in descending order, the sweet potato, the tomato, and the watermelon. Four of these five are native American plants unknown in Europe, Asia, or Africa before 1492. The watermelon came to the Americas with the slave trade from Africa.

The next five are Old World crops (bananas, cabbages, grapes, oranges, apples), but the potato is king without rival. And given that it is familiar to every culture, there is not much point in my describing it to anyone likely to read this book. I do mean, however, to defend it against the inevitable snobbery that faces something cheap and universally available, even though it is very good to eat.

Just before the end of communism in Russia, I was in Moscow as a journalist and decided to cook dinner in the full-time correspondentโ€™s apartment with ingredients bought at an unofficial hard-currency market. I bought steak hacked from a quarter steer on a makeshift table. Then I looked for potatoes. The thugs who dealt in them were used to selling potatoes in 20-kilo sacks. I wanted six. Six potatoes. They laughed at me, handed them over, and refused to take money for such a paltry purchase.
So here, as a belated retort to those Circassian wiseguys, is the grandest and most splendid potato recipe thus far devised by human beings. Followed by two more down-to-earth but no less delicious potato classics.

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