Skip to content

Carb Solution: Potatoes Au Gratin

By Dennis Linden

Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].

Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.


A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
    • The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.

    • The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.

Two reasons for presenting this month's featured recipe: As a practicing carb-counter, I am always on the lookout for a good potato substitute. It was also a good excuse to revisit a favorite childhood side dish served once a week, my mother's scalloped potatoes. While this article's research has caused some doubt about the dish's real legal name, I was hoping to capture that same flavor memory using a radish! The project was inspired by two faux potato chip recipes that I came across using a daikon radish as the main ingredient. One claimed that daikon takes on a different, more potato-like flavor and texture when sliced thin and boiled in olive oil; the other suggested that a chicken broth boil would accomplish similar results. I was intrigued and decided to combine both methods in prepping this vegetable, a staple in Southeast Asian cuisines, to replicate a dish with French origins.

Firstly, for the sake of culinary correctness, let's define our terms. Per a culinary dictionary, "Scalloped potatoes consist of thinly potato slices layered in a casserole dish and baked in heavy cream that has been seasoned with garlic, onion, or fresh herbs. Potatoes au gratin has grated cheese sprinkled between the layers and baked in cheese-cream sauce, resulting in a more decadent dish." To be honest, after reading these definitions, I have no idea which of the two I was served as a kid; the family called the dish scalloped potatoes. My recollection can only attest to a wonderfully creamy, comfort food goodness that might have had cheese in it, or not. However, as an adult who now makes his living with words, decadent is also a favorite gastronomic adjective, so I decided to go for the cheesy option for this article!

The word daikon comes from two Japanese words: "dai" (meaning large) and "kon" (meaning root). These radishes can range from two to four inches in diameter and twenty inches long. Daikon radish as a crop has been traced to China's first cultivations around 500 B.C. Today, more daikon is produced in Japan than any other vegetable. The root is also known and marketed as Asian radish, Japanese radish, Chinese radish, White radish, or Icicle radish. In the U.S., year-round commercial productions are primarily in Texas and California. Raw daikon radish has a sweet and lightly spicy flavor that is much milder than the peppery red radish. The root is very crunchy and juicy. Cooked, daikon's texture becomes quite tender, and the flavor sweetens.

One of the most surprising nutritional facts about daikon is that it's packed with vitamin C — like 124% of our daily requirement! Daikon is also rich in folate, a B vitamin that promotes cellular growth, red blood cell production, and DNA synthesis. Foods rich in folate are particularly important during pregnancy, as this nutrient plays an integral role in the unborn's growth and development. Since daikon is high in fiber, a nutrient that decreases hunger levels by slowing digestion and increasing fullness, daikon helps with weight loss if one is dieting, as well as controlling blood sugar spikes. Glycemicly speaking, the root has a low G.I. score of 32, and, more germane, a token G.L. score of just 1. So, in theory, it's the perfect low-carb stand-in for a potato.

But what about in practice? Did the radish come close to replicating mom's potato au gratin or whatever it was? I thought so. The texture and taste were very similar to the potato after the boil in oil and broth. Compared to the raw daikon, the peppery accent was almost undetectable with maybe just a hint of pepper-spice remained, though very much in the background to an overall mild sweetness. However, since this carb counter removed potatoes from the menu years ago, I questioned my own palate's judgment on that particular tuber. So, I gave half the casserole to a couple of married friends, asking that they give the dish a "spud score," so to speak. He could not tell the difference from real potatoes and loved the dish. While she agreed that it was delicious, she tasted more radish than potato and also 'thanked' me for all the extra calories. Venus vs. Mars, as the saying goes. At least there was agreement about the casserole's tastiness, and I am certain about its low carb count. Flavor is such a subjective thing. I guess the readers will have to break the tie in your kitchens. Enjoy!

Daikon Au Gratin
Serves 6


Ingredients for Daikon Au Gratin

Ingredients

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cups chicken broth
1½ pounds daikon radish, peeled, sliced thin crosswise [use mandolin]
½ white onion, sliced thin
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons almond flour
¾ cup heavy cream
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (divided)
Salt & pepper, to taste
Dash of paprika pepper (garnish)

Preparation

In a large pot, boil sliced daikon in oil and broth until fork-tender, about 10 minutes; drain, discard the onion, and set aside the radish slices.

In a large pot, boil sliced daikon in oil and broth until fork-tender, about 10 minutes; drain, discard the onion, and set aside the radish slices.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, add almond flour and whisk for 30 seconds.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, add almond flour and whisk for 30 seconds. Add heavy cream and bring to a boil, then quickly lower heat to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in 1 cup cheddar cheese until smooth and melted—season with salt & pepper to taste.

Place half of the sliced radish in one layer in a greased casserole dish.

Place half of the sliced radish in one layer in a greased casserole dish. Pour half the cheese sauce over the slices, then top with half (4 oz.) of remaining cheddar. Repeat with the second layer of radish, then cheese sauce.

Top with the last half-cup of cheese and sprinkle with a light dusting of paprika.

Top with the last half-cup of cheese and sprinkle with a light dusting of paprika. Bake at 375°F for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top is golden and bubbly.
Previous article Carb Solutions: Holiday Stuffed Tomatoes
Next article Carb Solution: Hard Squash Reboot