Tubers, Taters & Tastiness

boniato-empanadasAmerican cuisine has some instant-hit classics – corn bread, macaroni and cheese, bison burgers – but compared to other cuisines, we really don’t do much with tubers. Potatoes are pretty much the extent of our tuber dabbling. And who doesn’t like potatoes? Stands to reason other tubers would be tasty, too. If you hang around in ethnic markets or well-stocked grocery stores that serve immigrant populations, you’ll start seeing all kinds of oddly shaped, vaguely potato-ish dwellers in the tuber section. Yuca (also called manioc and cassava), edo root (also called taro), ñame root (a.k.a. true yams), boniato (or Cuban sweet potatoes)…they’re there in all their knobby, bumpy glory. Although they can be prepared the same way potatoes can, most of these tropical tubers have a much stickier texture and a more pronounced flavor – some are sweet, some are nutty, some are creamy-tasting.

The fact that these oddball-to-us tubers are particularly sticky means that they’re particularly useful in dishes that have a bready, doughy element that needs to stick together. (Especially when you’re making a gluten-free version and can’t rely on the elasticity of gluten.) Most ethnic traditions include a “packaged” dish involving a filling and an outer layer: Latin empanadas, Indian samosas, Polish pierogi, Chinese gyoza. Sticky tubers can provide you with a dough that’s sticky enough to be pressed into place around a filling and then baked.  For these empanadas, I used boniato. It was the first time I’d ever cooked with boniato, actually, and I was happy to discover that simmered boniato is fluffy, sticky, smooth-textured, and has a pleasantly sweetish flavor. Bet they would make great chips if you sliced them thinly and sautéed them in a bit of coconut oil!

Boniato Empanadas

For the boniato dough:
About 2 lb. boniato (sizes vary tremendously from one tuber to another!) or yuca or taro or ñame
2 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
1/2 cup corn flour
1 tsp. sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil

For the filling:
2 medium carrots, minced
2 banana peppers or 1 medium bell pepper, minced
4 green onions, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup black beans, drained
1 T. chili powder
Handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 375F and cover two baking sheets with parchment paper. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil so that you can simmer the boniato as soon as it’s cut. (It will start to brown immediately!)

To prep the boniato, cut it in half and then trim away the outer skin, putting it flat side down on the cutting board to make them trimming the rounded surfaces easier. Cut the inner flesh into rough cubes and simmer for 10 minutes, reducing heat to medium or even medium-low if they’re boiling too furiously. Drain.

While the boniato is simmering, make the filling. Start by sautéeing the carrots and pepper in a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat for about 3 minutes or until the carrots have begun to soften. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, for another 2 minutes. Stir in the beans, chili powder, and cilantro and reduce heat to low. Let cook very gently for another minute or two, then remove from heat.

Place the cooked boniato in a large bowl and mash well. Stir in eggs, flour, and salt. You want a dough with a medium consistency: not too loose (it needs to be thick enough to easily stick to your hand) and not too dry (you don’t want a sandy, pebbly dough that won’t hold together). Add a little water if it seems too dry or a little more flour if it seems too wet.

Scoop the dough out in spoonfuls and place on the prepared baking sheets, patting/flattening each scoop into a small disk and spacing them an inch apart. (You may need to flour your fingers to keep them from sticking to the dough.) Place a spoonful of filling onto half of the disks, being careful not to take the filling too far out to the edges – it shouldn’t touch them. Working with one already-topped disk at a time, slide a spatula under an untopped disk and lay it on top of one of the filled ones, creating a top layer of dough. Gently press the edges of the top layer into the edges of the bottom layer to seal it. Repeat until you’ve used all the dough.

Gently brush each one of the empanadas with extra-virgin olive oil. Bake for 35 minutes or until the edges of the empanadas are golden brown. Let cool a few minutes before serving. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. (Note: they make delicious breakfasts and snacks!)


Courtesy of Cultured Cook.

You may also like:

Finding Your True Yam

The Fat Diaries: I’ll Miss My Food Pyramid

The Dukan Diet: Unhealthy Fad Diet or Way to Lose Pounds?

© Copyright 2011  Allison Stuart Kaplan LLC

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