Just because Maryland's farm fields aren't green this time of the year doesn't mean you have to stop eating locally. In fact it's high season for some of our most delicious vegetables. Chef Jerry Pellegrino and I are big fans of root vegetables, which happen to be packed with flavor and nutrition.
The most common root vegetables are of course potatoes, onions, carrots, sweet potatoes and parsnips. Less common are rutabagas, kohlrabi, celery root, daikon radishes and ginger. But Jerry chose to talk about three root vegetables that are way out there, but deserve our attention: taro root, lotus root, and Jerusalem artichoke.
Taro root is a tropical plant, quite similar to yams, that may be one of the oldest cultivated foods in the world. Purplish in color, the taro corms are usually peeled, then eaten raw or roasted, baked or boiled. The sweet nutty flavor is appealing and the plant is easily digestible. It is the source of the Oceanic staple poi.
In the US, we most frequently encounter taro in the form of taro chips. It also is milled to produce a high quality flour.
The lotus root, which is the rhizome of the plant and grows under water, is roughly potato shaped. But you'll recognize it when it is sliced: the root looks like little wagon wheels in cross-section. These attractive slices show up in Chinese cuisine. They are often used in soups and stews or are stir-fried. When thinly sliced, they can be added raw to salads.
The Jerusalem artichoke (also called sunchokes) is actually related to the sunflower and the roots are the edible bit. Although considered an "introduced" plant, it has been in North and South America so long that it is virtually native. The roots range in size and shape from carrot-like to small potato shaped. The skin is tender and need not be peeled.
Here are some recipes that Jerry has prepared for these uncommon root vegetables.
4 medium-sized taro roots, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce if not gluten-free)
1 tablespoon mirin (or sub 1 teaspoon any other sweetener)
Salt + pepper, to taste
Few tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
Boil or steam the taro for 10-15 minutes until soft enough to easily pierce with a fork
Drain away the cooking water and add soy sauce, mirin and salt + pepper
Mash with a fork until smooth
Sprinkle the cornstarch onto a plate
Form the mash into small patties and evenly coat each of them with the cornstarch
Heat up the oil in a frying pan and add the cornstarch-coated patties once hot
Fry on a medium heat for around 10 minutes, turning over halfway through, until both sides are crispy and golden brown
Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper and enjoy immediately
These are delicious on their own but taste even better dipped in a mixture of soy sauce and sweet chilli sauce
1-pound lotus roots
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
2 tablespoons corn syrup
Cut the tough ends of the lotus root and peel the skin with a potato peeler. Thinly slice the lotus root, about 1/4-inch thick. Add the lotus root slices to a medium size pot with enough water to cover them and a tablespoon of vinegar. Bring it to a boil and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Drain, and rinse with cold water.
Return them to the pot. Add 1 cup of water and the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, and oil. Bring it to a boil. Continue to boil, uncovered, over medium high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 3 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to rotate the lotus root slices. Add the corn syrup and sesame oil, and stir well until the liquid is almost gone, 3 to 4 minutes. Keep your eyes on the pot to avoid burning the lotus root. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds to serve.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onion
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds sunchokes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 quart chicken stock (use vegetable stock for vegetarian option, and gluten-free stock if cooking gluten-free)
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 Sauté the onions, celery, then garlic: Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium-high heat and cook the onions and celery until soft, about 5 minutes. Do not brown them. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Sprinkle with salt.
2 Add sunchokes and stock: Add the sunchokes and the chicken stock to the pot and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, until the sunchokes begin to break down, 45 minutes to an hour.
3 Purée the soup: Using an immersion blender or upright blender, purée the soup. If using an upright blender, fill the blender bowl up only to a third of capacity at a time, if the soup is hot, and hold down the lid while blending. Alternately, you can push the soup through the finest grate on a food mill or push it through a sturdy sieve. Add salt to taste.
Sprinkle with freshly grated black pepper to serve.