One of my favorite parts of visiting a farmers market is coming across a fruit or vegetable I’ve never seen before. Or one that I’ve always wanted to try.
My local Thursday market at Florin Road has a distinctive Asian flair. In season, it’s the best place for Thai basil, lemongrass, and several types of Thai eggplant that really perk up an authentic curry. The eggplants were gone by a recent visit, though, so I picked up a couple other unfamiliar items: taro root and a specialty pumpkin.
What could I make with them?
A few years ago, I visited what was then the Napa Culinary Center (unfortunately now defunct). They demonstrated a potato-salad type recipe using yuca root, commonly known as cassava. The tuber root is used extensively in tropical climates. Its delicate, starchy flesh is a good substitute for potatoes.
Why not try a salad with taro and yuca, along with my pumpkin, I thought?
After some trial, I found my specialty pumpkin too stringy and lacking flavor, so substituted kabocha squash. (You could also use butternut squash.) Its dense, slightly sweet flavor complements the taro and yuca quite well. Although my intention was to determine which of the roots worked better, the combination of both was such a winner I kept them all.
The result — a tangy vinegar-and-oil-dressed salad — is a hearty side that stores well in the refrigerator. I can’t wait to try it on a hot summer day.
Taro, Cassava and Squash Salad
2 cups cooked, peeled and cubed taro root
2 cups cooked, peeled and cubed cassava (yuca root)
2 cups peeled, cubed and cooked kabocha squash
½ to ¾ teaspoon salt (to taste)
1/3 cup chopped red onion
1 ½ cups sliced celery
2/3 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 head ornamental kale
Halve squash and scoop out seeds. Place squash face down on a cutting board and slice off rind, cutting away from yourself. (Normally I would cook squash with the rind on, but because we want well-defined cubes we must wrangle with the tough rind while it’s raw.) Slice the squash and cut into cubes. Measure out 2 cups and boil about 5 minutes until slightly tender. Do not overcook!
Scrub taro root bulbs thoroughly to remove dirt. Do not peel. Cut cassava root into 2-inch slices. Place all roots into a large pot and cover with water. Boil about 15 minutes, or until flesh is tender when poked with a knife. Again, do not overcook the roots.
Peel the taro roots cube the flesh. Measure out 2 cups of cubed root into a large mixing bowl.
Peel the cassava slices. Slice through one side of the rind and it will peel cleanly off. Cut or break apart and remove the hard woody core. Cut root into cubes. Measure out 2 cups and add to mixing bowl with the taro.
Add cooked squash to mixing bowl with root vegetables. Add chopped onion, celery, parsley and salt. Mix thoroughly.
Mix the dressing: Whisk together oil (use a lightly flavored oil like grapeseed instead of virgin olive oil, which has too heavy a flavor for this salad), sugar, and rice vinegar.
Pour dressing over vegetables and toss to coat evenly. Squeeze lime juice over salad just before serving.
Serve over leaves of ornamental kale. Garnish with wasabi peas.