03 June 2013

Batata Baroa

the divine batata baroa
If I were a complainer I could easily complain about not being able to find a real thick-skinned Idaho baking potato here in Brazil. Sometimes a person wants comfort food, and a baked stuffed potato on a chilly, windy night fits the bill. So when the mood strikes, we have to substitute what’s called batata inglesa (English potato), which is close, but no cigar. And if I were a complainer I could also complain about not being able to find real honest-to-goodness sweet potatoes, or yams. Oh, there is something called batata doce here, and that does literally mean sweet potato, but I’ve learned not to be fooled by the translation. Batata doce isn’t even a distant cousin to an American sweet potato, and it makes a lousy sweet potato pie. But I’m not a complainer. I have happily foresworn Idahos and given up yams because Brazil has something else, something so special, so delicious, so different, that a person just swoons when the aroma starts wafting from the kitchen. Brazil has batata baroa.

Batata baroa [ba-TA-ta ba-ROW-a] came rolling down the Andes, originally known by its Quechuan language name of arracacha, and took root all around South America under as many different names as there are ways to prepare it. It’s called Creole celery in Venezuela and Ecuador, Peruvian parsnip in Peru, and mandioquinha or batata baroa in Brazil. It’s sometimes referred to as "white carrot" in English, and pomme-de-terre céleri in French. But whatever it’s called, it’s got an extraordinary and distinct flavor. My first taste came many years ago via a spoonful of batata baroa soup on a cold, rainy night. I nearly fell off my chair. Wikipedia describes the flavor as "a delicate blend of celery, cabbage and roast chestnuts." I don’t think that does it justice, though it does hint at the nuttiness. To me it’s elegant, it’s subtle, it’s to die for.

You can roast batata baroa, or boil it, mash it or purée it. You can reduce it to a flour. You can make dumplings, gnocchi, soup, pastries, biscuits. You can make batata baroa chips. You could probably make a batata baroa knish, because anything you can do with a potato, you can do with a batata baroa. Here are our preferred preparations:

batata baroa soup, with leek and bacon

batata baroa gnocchi, with gorgonzola sauce

***QUESTION TO READERS*** As best I can tell, batata baroa is unavailable in the States. If I’m wrong, please let me know?

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