Ingredients

Taro and yautia

Other Names: Taro: cocoyam, colocasia, dasheen. Yautia: malanga, malanga blanca, new cocoyam, ocomo, tannia.

General Description: Taro (Colocasia esculenta) is a starchy tuber that has brown, fibrous skin and gray-white (sometimes purple) flesh and comes from Asia. Yautia (Xanthosoma sagittifolium) is a similar plant from the American tropics. Taro is a wild tropical plant native to Asia that was first cultivated in India 7,000 years ago. From there it spread through Asia, South America, and the South Pacific islands that today are its largest consumers. In Hawaii, taro cultivation is tied to cultural and religious beliefs. The famous poi is made from steamed, mashed taro. The word “lu’au” refers to the leafy tops of young taro plants cooked in coconut milk (a dish at a traditional feast).

Taro ranges in shape from fat oval to oblong. Its flesh, which can vary from white to yellow to pink, turns mauve-gray or violet when cooked and is often speckled with purplish red or brown markings. Its flavor and texture fall somewhere between potato and coconut. The main tuber of the taro plant is about the size of a turnip and covered with shaggy brown skin circled with distinct rings. Along the roots that spread deeper into the soil are smaller tubers called “eddo.” The large edible taro leaves (called “callaloo” in the Caribbean) are cooked in soup.

Yautia, a Hispanic staple, is a New World plant similar to taro. From America, the yautia reached West Africa, which is now the major producer. It has shaggy, scaly skin that does not quite cover the flesh, and it is elongated, tapered, and bumpy. Yautia blanca, which is the most common type in the U.S., can be earthy and waxy to mild and smooth. Yautia lila has gray-lavender flesh and a heavier texture. Yautia amarilla is barrel-shaped, ridged, and dense. Cooked, it is sweet, nutty, deep gold in color, and so dry and dense that it is often used for making dough.

Season: Taro is available year-round especially in Asian markets. Yautia is available year-round especially in Latin American markets.

Purchase: Taro roots should be firm to the touch at both ends, with hairy roots. Freshly dug taro will be pinkish or whitish green at the stem end. For a rich and creamy consistency, choose medium to large taro with a dark muddy look and clear, reddish veining on white flesh. Choose firm, light-colored yautia tubers. Prick with your fingernail; the flesh should be juicy and crisp.

Avoid: Pass up taro or yautia with any soft spots, traces of mold, sprouts, or shriveling at either end.

Storage: Store taro in a well—ventilated area, such as a hanging basket, and do not refrigerate, for this will prolong the cooking time. Store yautia in a cool, moist place.

Preparation:

Note: Never eat raw taro, as the sap may irritate the throat. This compound is quickly transformed by cooking. If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves when peeling and cutting taro.

  1. Wash in cool running water.
  2. Slice the ends off the roots.
  3. Pare away the hairy skin and trim until you get to firm, white flesh. Place in cold water at once.

Serving Suggestions: Layer sliced taro and sweet potatoes in a baking dish, dot with butter, brown sugar, raisins, salt, and pepper, and bake till soft, then top with a flour, macadamia nut, butter, and coconut milk streusel and bake till brown. Steam cubed taro with rice. Make taro or yautia chips, fries, or fritters. Simmer half-inch cubes of taro in coconut milk sweetened with sugar and a small amount of salt till soft and thick.

Flavor Affinities: Almonds, capers, coconut milk, ginger, green olives, hot chile peppers, lime, nuts, onion, queso blanco.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com