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Melissa MacEwen | The Roaming Fork

The root of the matter

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 08:02

 

You really should know what taro is, if you don’t already. Taro is essentially an improved version of the potato — it’s starchy, easy to cook and easy to grow. For some reason, though, it has only just begun to expand beyond Africa and Asia and into North American grocery stores. From Indian curries, to Hawaiian poi, to African fufu, taro seriously gets around. Considering its high content of vitamins A and C and the fact that it has three times as much fiber as potatoes, it shouldn’t really be surprising. Because taro is just so darn versatile, I decided to cook it two different ways: in a savory dish, and in a sweet dish.

The savory dish was so easy to make that it should probably be considered cheating, but bear with me. While I was perusing the vast selection of Ranch 99 (noticing a trend?), I picked up a sort of taro cake made of taro and rice flour. It was a greyish-pink color and really didn’t look particularly appetizing, but it was cheap and sounded easy to make, so I went for it. I cut it into slices that I prepared two different ways — frying and steaming — and offered it to my family. I was the only one who wasn’t completely put off by the gelatinous mush of the steamed taro cake, but everyone loved the fried taro cake. The taro turned a lovely golden brown color when I cooked it in sesame oil, and it didn’t even need to be seasoned. I kid you not — just about anything tastes better fried.

I started at ground zero for the sweet taro dish that I prepared a few weeks later, which made things considerably more exciting. I (stupidly) took it upon myself to buy the largest taro root in Ranch 99, mostly because it looked like a hilariously engorged ginger root.  Of course, I found the giant root somewhat intimidating by the time I brought it home, so it hung out on my kitchen counter for a couple weeks before I could come up with something to do with it. During this time, the seven-pound root showed exactly zero signs of aging and simply sat there, taunting me until I decided on a recipe for coconut milk-based taro tapioca pudding.

Due to its high concentration of calcium oxalate — a crystalline toxin that can cause organ damage and even death — taro should never be consumed raw. Maybe this knowledge made me expect the worst, but the taro seemed poisonous from the moment I started slicing it for the pudding. It smelled simultaneously sweet and acrid — a strange, pungent combination that was hardly appealing. I became increasingly fearful that I would inadvertently poison myself, and began to contemplate what a horribly embarrassing cause of death undercooked taro would be. Nevertheless, once I started to cook it in the coconut milk, the taro’s fragrance quickly mellowed out to a floral starchiness. Once both the tapioca pearls and taro had finished cooking, the pudding was essentially done. I was unimpressed. The pudding was a purplish, putty brown color, and though the tapioca pearls looked nice enough, the chunks of taro seemed like a hasty last-minute addition. They settled dully on the bottom the glass pudding bowl, blobby and misshapen. Still, the pudding was pretty tasty. It was minimally sweet and just rich enough to be comforting, and it did thicken up over the next day or so — though it remained decidedly bland.

Taro was just as easy to make as I expected, and I would make it again without hesitation, though I’d like to adjust the pudding recipe a little bit. Join me next week for crickets! 

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Melissa MacEwen is a junior majoring in biology and English. She can be reached at melissa.macewen@tufts.edu. 

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