February 23, 2016
Almost half of the US population has roots in Hispanic, Asian, or African culture – and that percentage is growing daily. This incredible diversity has brought with it an explosion of cuisines from across the world, and even the world of root vegetables has become a lot more exciting. The plethora of large, heavy, hairy tubers at your average ethnic grocery store can be overwhelming if you didn’t grow up with them – but they’re not as scary as they look.
Behind the bark, hair, and rough exterior, you’ll find dense, starchy flesh with flavors ranging from nutty to herbaceous to almost musky. The diversity of textures and tastes can open up a world of culinary possibility. Not to mention they are much more nutritious than your average potato. Rich in potassium, vitamin C, and fiber, they can help manage blood sugar levels. In many traditional cultures they have played the role of healer for centuries.
For now, we'll focus on two of the most common: taro and malanga. Unlike a sweet potatoes, yams, and yuca, taro and malanaga are actually corms - or a swollen part of the plant's stem that grows underground. It's easy to confuse the different varieties, but there are important differences between them. Learn to navigate the world of these often misunderstood corms and you might never go back to a plain old potato again...
Taro is the common name for plants in the Colocasia family. It is native to SOUTH/SOUTHEAST ASIA, and the part of it we eat are actually offshoots of its stem that grow underground called corms. It thrives in tropical climates, which allowed it to spread across the globe from the jungles of Central Africa to South America. It is now a staple crop in tropical regions around the world.
Two main types of taro:
AKA: Yautia/Malanga Coco (Caribbean), Name (Spain), Old Cocoyam (Africa)
Dasheen is the more common of the two varieties of taro. Although it is native to Asia, it is commonly used throughout Latin America, often as Americans would utilize potatoes. It is even fried into a chip! It has become a staple crop in the Caribbean and Central America. Dasheen is much larger than the other primary variety of taro, and drier when cooked. That crumbly texture lends itself well to mashed dishes often used to accompany saucy, rich meat or vegetable dishes.
AKA: Malanga (Puerto Rico), Kalo (Hawaii), Ya (China)
While eddoe is technically a form of taro, it is often considered totally separate from its larger cousin, the dasheen. Eddoe is smaller, blander, and moister than dasheen - the perfect texture to soak up flavorful sauces. Ranging in size from a fingerling potato to a large lemon, the eddoe is utilized in many of the same ways as a potato; it can be steamed, fried, or boiled to serve in a range of different recipes. It's lineage can be traced back to China and Japan, from which it expanded to the Carribbean and Latin America.
A member of the Xanthosoma plant family, malanga is native to the tropical regions of the AMERICAS. The corms of this plant have traditionally been used as a subsistence crop with excess sold at local markets, but in the United States, the growing Latin American population has created a market for commercial production. While malanga is often confused with eddoe, it is actually not related at all, and has characteristics that set it apart, such as being longer, hairier, and more tapered in shape.
Two main types of malanga:
1. Malanga Blanca
AKA: Oto (Panama), Yautia (Puerto Rico), New Cocoyam (Africa)
Long and tapered to a knubby point at one end - and particularly scaly looking - malanga blanca hides a starchy, ivory white flesh inside. They can be used as substitutes for potatoes (boiled, mashed, roasted, or fried) making them a classic Latin American staple crop. Some traditional recipes that utilize malanga blanca are Pasteles en Hoja (Plaintain and Beef Pockets), or Dominican-Style Tamales, and Sancocho Stew, a popular and very traditional Caribbean beef stew. In fact, "Sancocho" is synonymous with "party" in the Dominican Republic, which certainly says something about its importance in Caribbean culture!
AKA: Malanga (Cuba), Ocumo (Venezuela), Tisquisque (CR)
Like malanga blanca, malanga lila is native to the tropical areas of Latin America and spread eastward to Africa as early as the 1800's. It must have been something special to attract the attention of European colonizers travelling between continents back in the day! While it may look like malanga blanca on the outside, a slight purple-pink tint on the ends gives away the lilac flesh within. Malanga lila is especially popular in Cuba, where its earthy taste, with a nutty, chestnut-like flavor is prized in many traditional sweet and savory dishes.
Crema de Yautia (Dasheen Soup)
This rich and creamy Latin American classic is sure to be a great addition to the "Comfort Food" section of your recipe collection! Warm, thick, and hearty, this delicious recipe is sure to leave you full and ready to cozy up on the couch during this last bit of winter. Get the recipe here.
Baked "No-tato" Chips
This is a great variation on the traditional potato chip, and is much healthier as well! Very simple and straightforward, this recipe is just Edo (or any other root veggie), avocado oil, and salt, making it a very healthy choice and paleo-friendly snack. Guilt-free snacking is the best snacking! Get the recipe here.
Puerto Rican Sancocho Stew
This hearty Sancocho Stew is a traditional meal in many Latin American countries, particularly in the Carribbean region, and has been around for centuries. Loaded with delicious Latino roots including malanga blanca, malanga lila, and yucca, Sancocho is a hearty delight. Get the recipe here.
Mashed Malanga, Taro, or Yucca
Looking to try something different, and considerably healthier, than the same old mashed potatoes? Try mashing up malanga, taro, or yucca instead. Packed with nutritious vitamins and minerals, these roots give you that mashed potato feel with a nuttier flavor. Get the recipe here.
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