Sunday, April 24, 2011
by kale daikon
I think I may have found a dark leafy green better than kale. My world has been turned upside down, as half of my identity is bound up in kale being my #1 vegetable. But I took home these gigantic yet delicate leaves from the organic market in my neighborhood (Glória, Rio de Janeiro), rolled them up cigar style, chopped them into a thin chiffonade (ribbons) like I do kale, sauteed them with garlic, and WOW! The taste was deep like kale but more tender, lighter. There is something elegant about these greens; they lack kale's bluntness yet maintain a certain iron insistence in their slightly bitter taste that recalls kale. They are called taioba here (tie-yoh-bah) and are known as tannia in English. The plant is similar to taro; the former is Xanthasoma sagittifolium and the latter is Colocasia esculenta, though both are from the same family, Araceae. While the taro's root (technically a corm, though I'll never get used to that word) is the most eaten part, it is the taioba's leaves that are the most used here in Brazil. The crop is grown in more temperate mountainous regions, like Minas Gerais state in Brazil (these came from the Japanese Brazilian Sítio Ohara in Seropédica, west of Rio on the way to Minas Gerais.)
While running a background check on taioba, I stumbled upon the Slow Food Brasil site ("There's a Slow Food Brazil? Yes, of course, though I never thought of it." That's me talking to myself, not me making assumptions about your reaction) and an article about how this wonderful green, so rich in vitamin A, is disappearing from Brazilian dinner tables because people here don't really know it anymore. I'm not in any position to confirm or deny this claim, but I will say I've only noticed it at the organic market. Some informative sites in English are the World Crops site documenting the successful cultivation of these crops at the University of Massachusetts and this Flavors of Brazil blog that I'm probably going to start overlapping with as I continue to post about Brazilian vegetables. More in-depth botanical enthusiast information on taioba/tannia is here.
But I'm going to throw out an S.O.S. to the weird vegetable community here and say that I am very confused as to the exact nature of inhame. It's hairy, striated, and lavender on the inside like tarot, yet identified as a yam. The word "taro" exists in Portuguese, though I haven't seen any "taro" side by side with inhame at the market. However, taro is also referred to as "inhame de Açores," a kind of inhame from the Azores, so there is some overlap. All very confusing. I wish inhame was just taro, so I wouldn't have to painfully reshape my brain in adjusting my original ideas about it. Any clarification on this would help.
But, look! I suddenly veered the conversation away from the lovely taioba, the supposed topic of this post. Perhaps I'm still a little uneasy acknowledging that I may have found something closer to my heart's palate than kale but that I won't be able to find so easily back in San Francisco...
UPDATE: Crap! Another unreliable wikipedia moment on Weird Vegetables. I accidentally inserted a photo of couve or Brazilian kale that I tried to pass off as taioba--the very last photo. So I guess my unconscious still loves kale the best. Thanks to reader Debdeb of the WV uh-oh patrol for pointing out my mistake. (Note how couve is heavier and more crinkly than taioba)