Taro is a Polynesian word. "Dasheen" is possibly a corruption of the French "chou de Chine" (China cabbage).
A rhizomatous food plant with large peltate leaves attached to long petioles, grown for its starchy edible tuber which can grow to 70 by 60 cm.
Known throughout recorded history, this tuberous vegetable has been a staple food for many peoples. It was first cultivated in tropical America, and spread to Africa in the mid 1800s. They are especially popular in Cuba (malanga) and Puerto Rico (yautia). In Asia, especially China, travellers carried dried or smoked taro with them in their baggage, as did Polynesian sailors.
Taro is often oval but can appear in various shapes. White, pink or mauve, it is covered with a dark skin which hides a pearly-white flesh whose taste is somewhere between a potato and a chestnut. The large "elephant ear" leaves are used to wrap foods before roasting or steaming.
Nutritional values per 100 g
Calories: 95. Rich in protein, carotene, fibre, potassium and phosphorus.
It should be firm and feel heavy. Small round taro is originally from Asia. When it is larger and longer it is called West Indian dasheen.
Keep in a cool dark place. It will keep more than a week in the refrigerator crisper.
Freeze after first blanching for 5 minutes.
Taro has more flavor than most other starchy tropical tubers; its taste is earthy, and has been described as more like nuts than potatoes.
Taro must always be eaten cooked. It is toxic when raw. The flesh turns yellow, purply-red or grey while cooking. Wash, brush and peel the tuber. Use gloves or oil your hands since the skin contains an irritant.
Cooking: boil, bake, roast, use in purées or as French fries. Any potato recipe can be adapted for use with taro, but always serve it hot since cold changes its texture.
It goes well with rich sauces.
To give it an exotic taste, purée taro with coconut milk.
Fried - Purée boiled taro with a very small amount of milk and butter. Add parsley, chives, a beaten egg, salt and pepper. Let cool. Make into small balls. Roll in bread crumbs and fry in oil.
The Chinese love to slice taro into thin strips to imitate swallows' nests. It is usually served as part of a wedding banquet.
Pakistan - Boil taro in its skin. Drain, peel and squeeze out the flesh. Grate and mix with mint, cumin, an egg and some firm mango. Make into little cakes and fry in oil.
Hawaiian taro and Poi Making
Hawaiian taro is the lehua variety. Traditionaly, the root is cooked and pounded into poi.
Poi is a thick, purple-colored paste made by pounding taro. It can be bought fresh or "day-old," which allows a sour flavor to develop. Poi is labeled "one-finger," "two-finger" or "three-finger" to describe its consistency - the thicker the poi, the fewer fingers needed to scoop it up. It is used in many Hawaiian recipes or served as a side dish.
Taro chips - Blanch the taro for a few minutes in salted water. Drain and refrigerate for a few hours. Cut into very thin slices on a mandolin. Fry in oil. Salt.
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