This plant grows up to six feet tall, with heart shaped leaves, and tastes like spinach. Welcome to the wonderful world of taro! Its native to southeast Asia, is widely used in African, Asian and Oceanic cuisines, and (some say) its the oldest cultivated plant on earth. Why is it so good?
First, this plant is always in season so it makes it an easy choice when you're thinking of something to cook. Second, its an incredibly healthy plant to eat and its leaves are a terrific source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, protein, and folic acid. Third, since its one of the oldest cultivated plants, its a part of many cuisines. Let's look at a few:
Remember raw taro leaves are slightly poisonous so pre boil in salt and rinse thoroughly before combining with other ingredients.
1. Calalu (West Africa)
Here's a meal for the whole family. For the West African Calalu you combine many ingredients into a large pot, simmer until ready, and serve over rice...sorta like Gumbo.
2 to 3 lbs. of meat, cut into bite-sized pieces (any meat you like)
2 to 3 lbs. of taro leaves
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup dried shrimp or prawns
okra, chopped (optional)
onion, chopped (optional)
garlic, minced (optional)
hot chile pepper, cleaned and chopped (optional)
salt, pepper, red pepper or cayenne pepper (to taste)
1. In a large pot, heat oil. Then throw in your onion and meat. Cook until meat is brown.
2. Throw in everything else with enough water to partially cover everything in your pot. Simmer for two hours. Serve over rice.
2. Laulau (Hawaii)
These feasts are named after this plant. In Hawaii taro leaves are called luau and this is the traditional meal cooked for these feasts. This meal also combines ti leaves.
30 taro leaves, washed and peeled from root
6 large ti leaves, washed and peeled from root
6 chicken thighs (boneless)
1 lb boneless pork chops, cut into 6 pieces
1/4 lb salted butterfish, cut into 6 pieces (if butterfish is not available, salmon, halibut and steelhead trout works just as well)
1 1/2 teaspoons Hawaiin sea salt
1. Lay out 6 taro leaves, then make piles of five. You should have 6 piles of 5 leaves. Place each pork piece on top of each pile. Then chicken, then fish. Sprinkle with salt and wrap into a bundle.
2. Wrap each bundle into a ti leave and roll tightly and secure with toothpick. Repeat.
3. In a steamer, boil water. Place wraps (laulau) into the steamer, lower to a simmer and cook for 6 hours. Serves six.
3. Poulet Fafa (Tahiti)
This recipe is traditionally prepared for a Tahitian ahim'ma, or pit barbeque.
1 1/2 lbs Taro leaves , chopped
2-3 tablespoons cooking oil
1 1/2 lbs chicken thighs
2 onions, finely chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch piece ginger, minced
1 1/2 cups water
salt and pepper, to taste
2-3 teaspoons arrowroot or cornstarch
1 cup coconut milk
1. In a large pot, heat oil then cook chicken until brown. Set aside.
2. In the same pot, sauté onions, ginger and garlic until onion is translucent. Throw the chicken back in, pour in that water and some salt and pepper. Reduce heat bringing this all to a simmer for about 20 minutes. Now add in your taro leaves. Cook for another 15 minutes.
3. Mix the arrowroot (or cornstarch) into 2-3 tablespoons of cold water. Stir this into your big pot and mix everything.
4. Serve over rice immediately.
Of course the classic Pinoy dish Laing also features taro leaves. Pick your favorite and get cookin'.