Ask Peter: How to use taro
I was given a lot of peeled taro but I do not know how to keep it as we cannot eat it all. Your help would be greatly appreciated. Shirley
When you say a lot of peeled taro, I’m not sure whether to think of a bag full, a bucket’s worth, or a wheelbarrow of it. If the latter, then I’d suggest you should head to your local marae and offer it up to the feast.
I’m also not sure why you’d have been given it peeled, as it obviously keeps much longer if unpeeled — just like potatoes. What I find fascinating about taro is that it didn’t originate in the Pacific as I’d been told as a child, but it actually comes from Southeast Asia and Southern India.
I was talking with some Italian foodies recently and I was fascinated to hear that the Romans used to cook with it, just as they did potatoes. It seems that taro came to Europe through trading with North Africa, as in those days the Romans controlled Egypt.
It’s eaten in Cyprus in a chicken and tomato stew, simmered with silverbeet and fresh coriander in Egypt, and in East Africa it’s simply the main starch in a meal in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania.
I’ve eaten it in the Canary Islands— much like I’ve had it in New Zealand — peeled and thinly sliced then deep-fried like potato chips and served with guacamole and their delicious red mojo sauce. In India I remember eating a delicious dish that turned out to be taro cooked simply with tamarind water and a variety of spices, and I’ve eaten it in Keralan restaurants steamed and sliced, then topped with a green chilli salsa packed full of sliced shallots, tamarind and lots of salt. Delicious.
It seems that sourness is considered a really good partner to taro in India, yet in the Pacific we seem to like to serve it with rich coconut milk. I was served the leaves of taro in Tonga steamed and mixed with coconut milk, onions and minced chicken. The leaves contain a lot of oxalic acid so they do need to be treated before cooking — and the younger the leaves, the better the flavour.
This treatment is generally achieved by bringing them to the boil once or twice before cooking them. The water breaks down the calcium oxalate — and I’ve often read that eating dairy products at the same time helps prevent the build-up of kidney stones that this can cause.
However, interesting as this is, it doesn’t really help you with your abundance of peeled taro.
I guess one of the easiest things to do would be to cut into slices around 2cm thick then steam or boil it until just cooked. Cool it completely and then wrap it up in airtight bags and freeze them. You could bring out pieces as and when needed.
Cut into smaller pieces and add to soups or stews for the last 10 minutes of cooking. You could also add chunks to a roast while still in the roasting dish, mix it into a Thai-style coconut curry or a spicy sour Indian-type curry. In fact, as I write this I’m wondering why I don’t use more taro myself. I think we’d best get it on to the menu at The Sugar Club.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to [email protected] and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.