Taro root is a vegetable that is commonly used in Lebanon, especially during Lent. It is cultivated locally and known as kolkass; I know from my Egyptian friend Phoebe that the Egyptians love it too; in fact, when I stopped by the Palestinian grocer I found bags of Taro root in the freezer imported from Egypt, all cut up with a spice packet included for a paltry $1.40.
According to Wikipedia, it is one of the oldest vegetable known to man; judging by its gnarled and downright repulsive aspect, I have no problem believing that cave-man AKA Fred Flintstone, used to eat it for a snack. Don’t let appearances fool you, however; this is a “good for you” veggie, recommended by all the higher authorities on health. It is sold everywhere, I found it at Target, Asian and Latino markets, mid-eastern grocers, even plain old American supermarkets and health food stores.
Taro is prepared in several ways in Lebanon; its texture is similar to potatoes, but it has a very pleasant and distinct flavor: so, as I was saying, it is cooked with lentils, or lamb shanks or even with a tahini and Seville orange sauce. You can substitute it with turnips, rutabagas, or potatoes.
Today, I decided to be lazy all the way, using what is in the kitchen already. I am making a stew with taro, spinach, cilantro pesto and serving it over rice. I made the cilantro pesto fresh, but if you have some stashed away in the freezer, now is the time to dump it into the stew.
- 1 bag of frozen cut up Taro root (or one pound of fresh taro, peeled, cut in cubes and dipped in a bowl of water with a squirt of lemon)
- 1 small bag of chopped frozen spinach (about 10 ounces); substitute any greens like swiss chard.
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 can of chick peas, rinsed thoroughly.
- 1 rib of celery.
- 1/4 cup (or more) of cilantro pesto (recipe follows)
- 1 small cube of vegetable bouillon diluted in 6 cups of water (optional)
- quartered lemons to squeeze over the stew (optional)
If using fresh taro root, I would recommend using gloves and after peeling it, you should dump it into a bowl filled with water and a squirt of a lemon.
For the vermicelli rice: Optional you can eat it as is! (no rice)
This is the traditional side dish with a stew in Lebanon; you can forego the rice and use bread or any other grain of your choice.
- 1 1/2 cups of Basmati rice
- 1 cup of cut Vermicelli noodles AKAfideos
- 2 tablespoons of oil or butter, a dash of salt
Instructions on making rice: Please refer to the post on lamb shanks with peas & carrots.
METHOD: Make the cilantro pesto:
- Grab a bunch of cilantro, wash and dry it and chop off the stems. Chop the cilantro as fine as possible and set aside.
- Mash the garlic with a dash of salt.
- Heat some olive oil, add the cilantro and garlicand fry the mixture for one minute or so. Set aside.
Make the taro stew:
- Heat two tablespoons of olive oil and add the chopped onions. Cover the pan for 5 minutes until the onions are translucent and then uncover the pan and let the onions get some golden color.
- Add the taro to the pan (frozen or fresh), stir fry for a couple of minutes. Add 6 cups of water (to which a cube of veggie bouillon has been added),the rib of celery, cover the pan and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the spinach, the chick peas, the cilantro pesto and uncover the pan to simmer 10 minutes more until the water has evaporated and the stew has gotten more compact.
- Season to taste, serve as is or with rice or bread.
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