An Awesome Andean Tuber To Try
Last week, the soggy, overgrown garden needed a tidy-up, so I pulled out all the last-gasp zinnias and marigolds, along with some depressed looking tomatoes and a few straggling pepper plants. My final harvest was pretty good, with several quarts of black-skinned tomatoes and some lovely black kale. The most interesting item, however, was the yacon, an edible Andean sunflower with tiny flowers, huge, hairy leaves, and chubby, tuberous roots. I’ve also been doing some garden renovation and expansion and my cheerful garden crew was very excited to see the plump yacon tubers emerge from the sandy loam berm where the plants were growing. They were sure it was jicama, but jicama is a climbing, vining legume while yacon is a tall, husky composite.
Pest free, vigorous, and easy to grow, my two yacon plants needed no fertilizer to yield over 40 pounds of tubers, ranging in size from slender, smooth, and sweet potato-ish to plump and rather lumpy grapefruit-ish. The crown of the plant is thick with knobbly, rounded, reddish tuberettes that will resprout come spring. The crowns can be overwintered in a frost-free place, tucked into a bucket of sand or well drained, dry soil. After all danger of frost has passed, the crown can be divided into new plants for the next season.
Crisp and juicy, raw yacon tubers have a delicate flavor, somewhat like a cross between an Asian pear and jicama, with a texture similar to that of water chestnuts. The sweet flavor comes from oligofructose, a form of sugar that the human body does not metabolize. That makes fresh yacon both wholesome for diabetics with a sweet tooth and a dieter’s dream. As they cure, yacon tubers gain in sweetness as the oligofructose converts to fructose, glucose and sucrose. Stored in a cool, dry place, unblemished tubers can last for months, but any that are broken should be eaten quickly.
For a wholesome snack, top sliced raw yacon with almond butter, goat cheese, or peeled orange sections. Toss chunks of yacon with citrus juice and a little sea salt for enticing appetizers, or dip them in herbed yogurt as a chip alternative. Sparkling with red pomegranate seeds and orange sections, lively with fresh lime juice, crunchy with raw yacon, the bright, sassy salad below makes a delicious lunch or zippy dinner side.
Yacon Winter Jewel Salad
2 cups thinly sliced raw yacon root
2 cups finely sliced savoy or Nappa cabbage
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro
2 Honeybells or any tangerine, peeled and sectioned
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, lightly chopped
1 organic lime, juiced, rind grated
In a serving bowl, toss first seven ingredients with 1 teaspoon lime rind and lime juice to taste, let stand 10 minutes and serve. Serves 4-6.
Yacon Slaw With Dried Tart Cherries
2 tablespoons egg-free mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1-2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
pinch of smoked hot paprika (or any)
1 cup coarsely grated yacon tuber
2 cups coarsely grated cabbage
1 coarsely grated Honeycrisp or Jazz apple
1/2 cup toasted, chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons chopped dried tart cherries
In a serving bowl, combine first five ingredients and stir well. Add remaining ingredients, let stand 15 minutes and serve. Serves 4-6.
Crispy, sweet yacon is terrific in vegetarian sushi, where it can replace cucumber and/or carrots. To make these slightly addictive, totally healthy snacks, I prefer nori sheets that come from Japan, which are more expensive than the kinds from China. Many people say that any kind will do, but I have noticed that the Chinese versions tend to be a little persistently chewy, where the Japanese brands are much less obtrusive in the mouth.
The temperature of your ingredients also makes a huge difference to the end product. For best results, everything should be at room temperature, neither hot nor cold. Thus, it’s good to make your rice well ahead so it has time to cool. If the sticky rice is still even a little bit warm, it can cause the nori sheets to buckle and shrink (as I soon discovered). Chop and mix any extra bits with rice and tuck it into Inari wrappers (I like the refrigerated kind, from Hikari Inari). These are little pockets, like bite-sized tofu pita, that come soaked in soy sauce and mirin. They are irresistible!
Yacon Garden Sushi Rolls
1 yacon tuber, peeled and sliced into long, thin pieces
2 avocados, sliced lengthwise into strips
1 red or yellow sweet pepper, sliced lengthwise
1 tablespoon ponzu or sweet rice vinegar
Nori wrappers (package of 10)
2 cups sushi rice (see below)
1 cup cold water
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
10 leaves mustard greens
1 egg pancake, sliced (see below)
Combine sliced vegetables and vinegar, set aside. Toast the nori wrappers for a few seconds over a hot oven burner (electric or gas). Place one sideways on a tea towel or bamboo roller (the orientation is landscape rather than portrait). Dab four blobs of rice (about a tablespoon each) in the corners of the nori wrapper. Dipping your fingers in cold water (often), smush rice thinly over the whole sheet, leaving about 1/2 inch bare at the top. Sprinkle a band of sesame seeds about 2 inches from the bottom, then arrange slices of vegetables sideways across the sheet. Add mustard greens and egg slices, tuck in tightly and roll up, pressing gently to close roll. Slice completed rolls with a VERY sharp knife, starting with a center cut (slice, don’t saw) and rounding each piece as you go. Each roll makes either 6 or 8 pieces, depending on the size of your nori wrappers.
Variations On A Theme
Other good additions include sliced radishes and radish sprouts, whole baby carrots, green onions, asparagus, young green beans, snow peas or snap peas (whole pods), pickled peppers, and pickled ginger slices.
1 teaspoon avocado or safflower oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Heat oil over medium high heat in a covered pan. Whisk eggs, sugar and salt and pour into heated pan, tilting to spread evenly. Cover and cook over medium heat until puffed. Cool and cut into strips.
2 cups Niko Niko or Japanese rice
12.5 ounces (360 ml) water
4.5 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
Rinse rice until water is clear, drain and put in rice cooker. If cooking in a pan, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Combine vinegar, sugar and salt. Put rice in a bowl and fold in vinegar mixture with a wooden paddle (don’t stir) and let cool.