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Sunday Night Special: Steamed Taro with Chopped Salted Chiles


My Hunan salted chiles from a few weeks ago were good and fermented (I’m not sure why fermented food seems desirable but liquids not so much. This very second, I’m 1/3 of a way through my first ever bottle of kombucha and I’m not sure if it’s likeable or putrid. I’m having a very tough time not letting the floaties get to me. A friend was raving about it, but then I reminded myself that in college she used to drink apple cider vinegar like it was soda) so I needed a recipe. I still don’t feel like it’s root vegetable weather but steamed taro didn’t sound like a bad idea.

VegetaBut I didn’t end up buying taro, even though it’s not too hard to find disguised as malanga in Caribbean-oriented grocery stores. I saw it at Western Beef Sunday, where I picked up this adorable Croatian packet of seasoning that uses a semi-chopstick-like font.

Recently I picked up a frozen bag of something called ratalu at Patel Brothers. As I’ve stated before, I love all things Swad brand (their microwavable vegetable dishes in a box are only 99-cents–aren't Trader Joe's like $2.99?), so these magenta cubes drew me in. I figured they were taro and I could save all the cleaning and chopping (taro contains irritants—if you recall the Top Chef season two finale, Ilan got taken to task for not cooking his taro leaves long enough).

RataluBut according to web searches it seems that ratalu is a purple yam. I’m not convinced that it’s the same as Filipino ube yet. That was a strange find because just yesterday I decided that I would use my newish ice cream maker to create ube ice cream for a halo-halo experiment and had been wondering how hard it might be to find frozen (fresh is out of the question). Who knew I had in the house already?

I love it when someone else has already typed a recipe out for me. Steamed Taro with Chopped Salted Chile Peppers was posted on Serious Eats back in February when Fuchsia Dunlop's Hunan cookbook came out.

The one thing I’m not clear on is how the taro chunks are supposed to hold up or if they’re even supposed to. I’ve had taro in Chinese casseroles and it stays in squares. This mystery root turned to mush and I ended up just mashing it into a violet paste that tasted much better than it looked. You have to admit that it’s still prettier than poi.

It sounds silly, but the ratalu, whatever it was, tastes lavender. The flesh was barely sweet, more potato than yam and almost perfumey without being sickening like rose water (a personal aversion). The saltiness and mild heat of the chiles and black beans played off this hard to describe mauve flavor and created a dish that would almost go better with grilled meat than white rice. But I’m not one for double starches.

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