The Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) plant is a distant relative of the sunflower. It produces tuberous roots that are edible and quite sweet. The leaves of this plant are edible as well. The plant grows four to eight feet tall and has leaves that resemble those of the sunflower. The Yacon plant was first domesticated centuries ago by communities belonging to the Pre Incan cultures. In these times, it was a subsistence crop or was used in religious celebrations, or sold in local fairs, but nowadays Yacon is receiving a lot of attention because of the discovery of numerous natural health properties attributed to both its root. Yacon (pronounced ya-kon) is commonly grown in regions of South America from Venezuela down through Argentina and Chile at elevations of three to seven thousand feet. Yacon grows at altitudes less than 9,300 feet high, in climates that are warmer and more humid than those in which other tubers usually grow. Although mountainous forests in Central Peru and North Bolivia are evergreen forests supplied with abundant rain water during most of the year, they are subjected to a relative dry winter season of between 2 and 4 months of duration. This dryer and slightly cooler interval could have played a crucial role on the evolution of Smallanthus sonchifolius by generating conditions by which a plant species with big tuberous roots could have an adaptive advantage.
Fresh Yacon tubers are crisp and juicy with a delicate flavor reminiscent of apple or melon and a surprising sweetness that increases in storage. They can be eaten raw, (fresh or dried) steamed, baked, roasted, or juiced. The somewhat bitter skin can be scrubbed off with a stiff brush, peeled with a vegetable peeler, or removed after baking. One of our favorite recipes is to simply chop the peeled tubers into bite-size pieces and sauté them in a little butter until the sugar begins to caramelize. Serve with mashed potatoes topped with fresh parsley. South Americans eat it as a fruit; they also use the huge leaves to wrap foods during cooking, in the same way cabbage leaves are used in Germany, grape leaves in the Mideast and banana leaves in the tropics. Only recently – thanks to some adventurous green thumbs – have North Americans begun to see Yacon in produce markets. Yacon is noted for its high fiber and low calorie content. The tubers and leaves contain high levels of inulin, a form of sugar humans cannot easily break down, making it low in calories. Inulin also aids digestion and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestine, while inhibiting toxic bacteria. Recent research also has found that Yacon tubers and leaves are a good source of antioxidants. Like green banana, Yacon discolor when they are peeled- to avoid this, peel and cut them last and put them immediately in water.
1 lb of Chilean Sea Bass (or other white fish)
½ lb of fresh Yacon, peeled and cut in half
½ stick of unsalted butter at room temperature
10 leaves of basil
2 cloves of garlic
1 small onion, cut into quarters
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Coriander
1 teaspoon Cumin
1 tablespoon papikra
1/4 to 1/2 fresh, small jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1 tbs olive oil
In a food processor, chop the basil, parsley and garlic. Cut up the butter in 3 to 4 pieces and place in the processor, pulse until combined with the herbs. In a large skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Add coriander, cumin, jalapeno pepper, paprika and stir for thirty seconds. Add onion and Yacon, stirring frequently until onion becomes fragrant and then add the herb mix. Bring to a simmer, turn heat to low and cook covered until Yacon are tender about 15 minutes.
Preheat the grill to medium-low heat. Rub the sea bass with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on the grill and cook for about 6-10 minutes per side, depending on thickness. The fish should be firm, but still a little moist in the center. Serve immediately with the warm hot sauce. Tuck in a sprig of dill.
Matchstick Sweet and Savory Salad
1 package soybean sprouts
1 large Asian pear
2 medium sized yacón root
1/2 medium kohlrabi
1 large dangam/fuju persimmon
Mustard powder, enough to make 1 tsp mustard
4 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
Wash all fruits and vegetables. Pick the head and tail off of all the soybean sprouts. Cook the sprouts by placing in boiling water in a second and removing to an ice water bath. Julienne the asian pear, yacón root, kohlrabi, and persimmon. Set aside about 1/8th of the julienned pears aside. Fill a large bowl with water and 1 tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt. Put all the julienned/matchstick ingredients, except the 1/8th julienned pears, into the water. The sugar and salt will bring the sweet flavors out of the fruits and vegetables and prevent discoloration.
Meanwhile, make the mustard sauce by combining the mustard powder and some water together. Follow the instructions of the label. Mix 1 teaspoon mustard paste, 4 tablespoons vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar, and the julienned pears that were set aside into a blender, and blend together. Drain the matchstick ingredients. When ready to eat, mix the sauce and matchstick ingredients together. Serve immediately.