Sweet Potato Dreams
At our last gringo get-together, Cotacachi organic gardener Nancy Showalter shared with me that her garden and orchard are thriving. She is especially happy to have found some sweet potatoes to plant that are like those in the U.S. This was exciting news to me and I’ll be visiting her soon to see her new potato vines.
Bill Mahon, former Cotacachi condo owner, also told me that he has lots of potatoes this year, a bumper crop, on his farm in Arkansas. Both his sweet potatoes and white potatoes are growing prolifically. When he mentioned sweet potatoes my mouth began to water for the nutrient-packed vegetable of my North American childhood that I miss so much in Ecuador.
Bill promised to bring me some sweet potato slips when he comes to Ecuador next month so I can grow the U.S. sweet potatoes I am craving from my Louisiana upbringing. I have never seen them in Ecuador and have had to settle for the local variety.
My mother would whip up sweet potato pies with perfect flaky crust. They were every bit as good as pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving. Topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream there’s nothing better.
Every Christmas dinner included a gooey, sweet potato casserole spiced with cinnamon and topped with marshmallows. And the yams!
The yams of my childhood were dark orange. My mother would take them piping hot from the oven and break one open, dripping natural yam sugars. We’d slather on lots of butter and brown sugar and dig in.
The sweet potatoes in Ecuador are called camote. They seem to be very similar to the purple kumara of Peru and New Zealand. They are white inside with a thick, very hard-to-peel exterior. The peeling has a 1/8 inch inner lining that is purple but the flesh itself is white with purple veins. In addition, when I peel them, the skin oozes a substance that sticks to my fingers and has to be scrubbed off with soap.
While the local sweet potatoes in Ecuador are fine when boiled in soups and stews, I’ve found that no amount of butter, milk or cream will overcome their innate dryness when I bake them. So I can’t wait to grow my own succulent yams and sweet potatoes.
White potatoes present other challenges. They develop a green skin that is said to be toxic. Friends of ours say their research shows that the reason for this is that the potato has developed a defense against predators. The toxic skin keeps them from being eaten when they are dug out of the ground.
Others say that the green skin results from exposure to sunlight. Regardless of the reason, we always cover ours after we buy them and also peel any green ones before we cook them.
There are so many different kinds of potatoes in Ecuador and even one small potato-looking tuber that is not a potato at all, but is a vegetable that is sticky when cooked. It’s good in soups and is a favorite of Ecuadorians. I’m beginning to learn the differences and know which ones are good for baking or for mashed potatoes.
Terra Chips, a U.S. brand of exotic vegetable chips, makes my favorite chips. Slices of taro, also known as malanga or dasheen; yuca, or cassava; several kinds of sweet potatoes and parsnips are flavored with sea salt, tamari, Worcestershire, organic cane sugar juice and beet juice. They are one of the things I always made a bee-line for when I’m back in the U.S.
Now I’ve found something similar in Ecuador—Kiwa vegetable chips, made from yuca, camote (sweet potato) white carrots, beets (remolacha) and green banana (platano verde).
I can’t wait to slice up a bunch of my own exotic veggies and try my hand at making home-make vegetable chips. I’ll either dehydrate them or bake them. Then I’ll be eating something not only exotic, but extremely tasty and healthy. Perhaps they’ll satisfy my yen for yams and sweet potatoes until my own plants start bearing.