The Legend of Taro – The Versatile, Part 1

I was watching Izakaya Nobu (the anime) a couple of days back. The Izakaya is visited by a Fox goddess in one of the episodes, and I started craving Taro by just watching her eat it with some salt after grilling it! I had never had “Taro” before. As I have mentioned in this my blog before, I only started cooking 5 years back, and I was never allowed in the kitchen when I was in school (after a disastrous cake episode)! Until a few years ago, I didn’t know how most vegetables that were native to the tropics even looked. I recently started discovering my home flavors. So, I considered Taro to be an unfamiliar vegetable until yesterday, or so I thought.

Anyway, with my imaginary craving in mind, I went to my grocery store, and got Taro yesterday with the sole intention to boil it and have it with some salt. I didn’t want to bake it in the oven, because Taro has a long cook time, and I wasn’t patient enough 😂😂 Lo, and behold! I took a bite, and I was instantly transported to the lunches that my mom used to make for me during monsoon season when I was in school. This was a flavor that was close to my heart – the nuttiness, the earthiness, and the mellow texture. I have known this vegetable all my life, only by a different name.

Taro was Seppankizhangu (சேப்பங்கிழங்கு, zha is pronounced as la), a corm that is hugely prevalent in the Southern parts of India, where I grew up. My mother used to fry them up with some spices (which most South Indian kids/adults will be familiar with) or stew them with some aromatics, vegetables, and Tamarind juice. I obviously got curious on how other tropical regions made use of this vegetable, since I have seen it getting grilled or simmered (Thank you Midnight Diner) in Japanese shows/anime. I started off with Hawaii as my grocery store’s Taro was from the island state. I found out about Poi and Kulolo, and further research taught me how Taro could be used as a thickener. We can basically use any cooking method known to man to cook Taro! Taro is my new potato, but with more nutrients and just better taste!! Here is just a simple infographic that I put together for myself to start experimenting with Taro:

The Legend of Taro
The title was inspired by the fact that the Legend of Zorro theme song was running in the back of my head during my A-Ha! moment with Taro yesterday 🤣🤣

I need no swords,
Just Calcium Oxalate.
I am a masked hero
Veiled with different names.
You can fry ‘em, bake ‘em,
Stick ‘em in a stew,
And go beyond,
What a mere potato can do.
(I am looking at you Samwise Gamgee)

Part 1 of the experiment

For the first part of the experiment, I tried to explore two of the (dare I say) contrasting forms of cooking – Frying and Simmering. I think frying amplifies a certain flavor or texture component of an element while also adding explosive elements to the dish. Whereas, simmering imparts external flavors to elevate a dish and is mostly very mellow.

Before you start off with frying or simmer, please do the following to prep Taro. This prep would help remove the skin and some of the toxins from Taro. A general rule for Taro is to overcook it rather than undercook it, because properly cooking it would destroy the Calcium Oxalate.

The Prep

  1. Clean the taro roots under water and scrub as you would with potatoes. Please use gloves while cleaning if you have sensitive skin, or are just not used to Taro
  2. In a heavy bottomed pan, add the taro and cover all of it with water
  3. Take the taro out and start boiling the water
  4. As soon as the water starts boiling add the Taro
  5. Cook until the Taro is 50% done (about 40 minutes for medium sized Taro, in my case). As I mentioned before, if you are unsure, just overcook it and then you can figure out the timings next time. Taro’s taste is very forgiving and is very appropriate for boiling for a long time
  6. Put the Taro in cold water, rinse and remove the skin, so that you can use it for further cooking

1. Fried Taro

Fried Taro is a delicious treat. There are many methods of making fried taro. You can mix it with some spices or just add some soy sauce and mirin and then fry it. This is my version of Indian Style Fried Taro, which I made as a homage to my mother’s ever so amazing சேப்பங்கிழங்கு roast (I can’t make it as good as hers). Usually, fried food is great when you have it hot. But I found out that my Indian Fried Taro tastes better when it has cooled down for at least 5 – 10 minutes, to a pleasantly warm temperature.

Ingredients

  • 200 grams – Prepped Taro, sliced into (1/4″ – 1/2″) slices
  • 14 mL – Sesame Oil
  • 10 grams – Minced Garlic
  • 5 grams – Grated Ginger
  • 5 grams – Turmeric Powder (adjust according to taste)
  • 5 grams – Chilli Powder (adjust according to taste)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp – Ghee or Clarified Butter (optional)

Method

  1. Heat a 10″ fry pan in medium heat, and add oil, garlic, ginger, and (optional) ghee
  2. Fry until you can no longer smell the rawness of the garlic, and then add the spices
  3. Fry the spices for 30 seconds, and then added the sliced taro in one layer
  4. Fry one side on medium-high for at least 3-4 minutes (or until golden brown), and then flip it and do the same on the other side
  5. Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick or chopstick. It should go in very smoothly and the Taro should be somewhat crumbly on the inside, and crispy on the outside
  6. Garnish with some Cilantro or Basil, and serve!
Indian Style Fried Taro

2. Simmered Taro

This was the simmered Taro that gave me the Ah-Ha! moment. It is prepped Taro simmered in fish-broth (Dashi) with Soy Sauce and Mirin. I added Kielbasa to my dish, because my roommate got a bunch of it as a gift from his workplace, and I wanted to use it. It was delicious!!

Ingredients

  • 200 grams – Prepped Taro, sliced into (1/4″ – 1/2″) slices
  • 500 mL – Dashi stock (see tips below)
  • 10 mL – Soy Sauce (I prefer this one. It is overpriced on Amazon, so please get it from your local Asian grocery store)
  • 20 mL – Mirin (I like mine a bit sweet)
  • 20 grams – Kielbasa, diagonally sliced (optional)
  • Scallion for garnish

Tips

Dashi Stock (replace with one stock tea bag)

  • Broth Ingredient (replace with two stock tea bags for faster cooking)
    • 1 Dried Anchovies with guts removed
    • 1 Kelp (4″x4″)
    • 2 Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
  1. Soak the broth ingredients in the 500 mL water for 20 minutes
  2. Boil it for 5 minutes, and use just the dashi

You can replace the broth ingredients with stock tea bag like this one. I personally loved the 디포리 국물 용팩 containing Anchovy 35%, Dipori 25%, Shrimp 20%, Kelp 20%. I found this at my local Korean Store (HMart), and I’ve included a picture below, since I wasn’t able to find it online. You can use any broth tea bag with Anchovy and it should give you a nice and light broth.

My favorite dried seafood tea bag!

Method

  1. Add the dashi, soy sauce, and mirin, and heat the simmering liquid
  2. As soon as it starts boiling, add the prepped taro to the liquid
  3. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let the taro simmer for at least 40 minutes
  4. After 40 minutes, add the Kielbasa (or your favorite meat), and let it simmer for an additional 10 minutes
  5. Serve hot, and garnish with Scallion!

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