You say sweet potato, I say sweet potata

I was just sitting here, procrastinating, and eating some left over roast veggies, when I began to contemplate the meaning of life.  I also began contemplating the various roast tuber bits I was eating, and why people in different countries called things by different names, and what it all meant.

So, after some serious investigating, and lots of confusion, I have figured out what is what in the world of tubers.  I will present my results in a handy table.

Picture & Tasting Notes
N. American name New Zealand name
This is an orange fleshed sweet potato, the kind most commonly eaten in North American when one says “sweet potato”.  It’s flesh can be firm or soft, depending on the variety, and sweet.  According to Wikipedia, at some point growers decided to start marketing soft-fleshed orange sweet potatoes as “yams” to differentiate them from the firmer-fleshed kinds.  However, sometime recently it was decided that any product marketed as “yams” in North America must also have the words “sweet potato” on them somewhere.  In New Zealand, the firm orange fleshed, soft orange fleshed, or white fleshed sweet potato will simply be called a kumara.The dish commonly served on holidays known as “candied yams” is basically sweet potato mash with maple syrup or marshmallows on top!  YUM! Sweet Potato or Yam Kumara
I have never actually seen this variety of sweet potato in N. America, but this is the most common variety found here in New Zealand.  According to the Sweet Potato growers of North Carolina it is called a “murasakio” sweet potato, or kumara in New Zealand.  It’s flesh is firmer than that of an orange sweet potato, and though sweet, has a different texture.  It’s almost a bit creamier.  I think I may actually prefer this to orange sweet potatoes!  Also… makes excellent sweet potato fries. “Murasakio” sweet potato Kumara
My flatmate came home one day and said “I brought you something that all Americans love – yams!”  I looked in the bag and said “ I have no idea what these are.”  Apparently what kiwis call “yams” are actually a South American tuber called “oca”.  Ocas (or Kiwi yams) are small, more like a root vegetable than a tuber. The consistency is more like that of a carrot, but the flavour is more like a potato but a bit sweetish.  Quite nice!  Another added bonus – no peeling or chopping necessary!  Just roast them and eat them whole! Oca Yam
So, what I would actually just call a “yam”, should probably be called an “African yam”, just to avoid any confusion.  Yams are very different from sweet potatoes or what people call yams in New Zealand.  First of all – they are huge.  They can grow up to 1.5 meters long, and weigh up to 70 kgs or something.  They have white flesh.  They are not very sweet and have a very slight bitter flavour.  I have eaten deep fried yam chips, and boiled yam chunks in soup, but by far the best way to prepare yams is the traditional West African “fufu” – or pounded yams, with a groundnut soup.  It’s delicious, trust me.  I haven’t seen African yams in any shops in NZ, though I have seen them in speciality African or Caribbean shops in North America. African Yam African Yam
Taro is a purple-fleshed tuber common in Polynesia and used in some Asian dessert dishes.  I think it has kind of a knobby, waxy texture outside.  If I saw it in a shop I might think it was an African yam.  Or a Jicama.  I have never actually cooked or prepared taro, but I have had Taro ice cream which is quite lovely. Taro Taro

I hope this helps to clear up any confusion about the delicious world of tubers.  Perhaps in the future I can include things like Jicama and other mysterious root-like things sold at the Mexican grocery stores in Pilsen.

Discovering and exploring the wide-world of produce can often be an overwhelming and bewildering process, as many things have alternate or local names that make things complicated.  I’ve only recently really began to truly understand the differences between a turnip and a parsnip, and greens are a whole different story!  Kale, chard, silverbeet, morning glory, collard, sorrel… the list goes on, and some of them are the same thing!

Squash, pumpkin, rocket, argula, oh my!

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Laap Pa – Lao Fish Salad

One of my consistently top-ranked posts on my personal blog is my account of “Cooking in Laos”, where I describe how to make Fish Laap.  This dish is known by a number of names:

  • Laap Pa
  • Larb Pa
  • Fish Laap
  • Fish Larb
  • Laotian Fish Salad
  • etc. etc. etc.

The ladies I worked with at the National University of Laos’s Central Library called it “Laap Pa”, and when they wrote it in English, spelled it with a P.  In the Lao language there really isn’t an “R” sound, though there is in Thai.  Apparently there used to be an “R” (though this could be total hearsay), but then the government made “R” illegal, and now recently they have decided to re-introduce it to the Lao language.  Anyway, you can just call it “Lao Fish/Beef/Chicken/Tofu Salad”, depending on what protein you use.

After my trip to the fish-boat a few weeks ago, I made some Fish Laap for my flatmates.

Step 1

Make sticky rice and sticky rice powder

Sticky rice, or “glutinous rice”, is a different variety of rice than the regular long/short grain deal.  It must be soaked for 5 hours, before being steamed.  Traditionally it’s steamed in a wicker basket, but I don’t have one here in NZ.  I used a metal colander.

I posted a detailed description of how to make stick rice on my personal blog here:

How to make Sticky Rice/Glutinous Rice/Khao Niao

To make sticky rice powder, dry roast some sticky rice in a frying pan.

Once it’s cool, put it in a blender or food processor and try to grind it up into the finest powder you can.

Step 2

Preparing the laap

Take your fish.

As I mentioned in my last post, I used Terakihi.  This is a salt-water fish available in NZ.  In other countries, I’d recommend using Tilapia.  I had the fish man clean it (scaled, innards removed), but not filleted.  If you’re afraid of fish heads, you could get it fillets, but that’s really wasteful… in my opinion.

Cut it up into pieces.

Throw it in a pot of soiling, salted water.  Boil it until it’s cooked… however long that should take.

Remove the fish from the water, and then let it cool.  Once it’s cool enough to handle, remove the flesh from the bones and eyeballs and fins and whatnot.

Now, prepare the rest of your ingredients.

Cilantro (Coriander) – 1 bunch, coarsely chopped.

Mint – a lot!  Coarsely chopped.  This is actually not enough.  You should have twice this amount.

Lemon (or lime) juice (1 or 2 lemons)

Thai Chilies, finely chopped

Ginger & Green Onion

Ginger grated, 2 tbs

Onion finely sliced.

Not pictured:

  • 1 stalk fresh lemon grass, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch fresh Thai basil, coarsely chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 tbs fish sauce
  • 2 tbs sticky rice powder

Mix it all together… and eat with sticky rice – no silverware required!

Substituting chicken, beef, pork, or tofu for the fish is certainly acceptable.  The dish should be served fresh – and at room temperature.

Sustainable pescertarianism, an Oxymoron?

This past Sunday, at the Wellington Harbourside Market, I paid a visit to the floating fish shop.

As I watched the customers calling out their orders for snapper, flounder, salmon and tuna, cleaned and filleted to order by the boat’s crew, I couldn’t help but wonder – how can I eat fish responsibly?

We all (should) know by now that most commercial fishing practices are pretty terrible, environmentally speaking.  The oceans are in serious trouble, and will eventually be devoid of fish if we keep stuffing our faces with seafood at every possible opportunity.  Farmed fish… especially salmon, are also problematic, as they can affect wild populations health and safety.

So, how to be a sustainable fish-eater?  I don’t know.

Greenpeace maintains a list of the most vulnerable fish species in New Zealand, those that should be avoided at all costs.  I witnessed many of them being snapped up by eager shoppers on Sunday.

But what about fish not on this list?

In New Zealand, Tarakihi are one of your best bets.  I’m not sure why, but a reliable information source told me that.  I guess it would be good to know why, but I can’t be bothered to try and do that research right now.  I have a stack of books and articles to wade though.

So, on Sunday, I asked the fish man for 2 Tarakihis, cleaned, but not filleted, which I plan to make Laap Pa with tomorrow evening.  That’s Laotian Fish Laap for those of you who don’t speak Lao!

Sustainable pescetarianism, an oxymoron?

This past Sunday, at the Wellington Harbourside Market, I paid a visit to the floating fish shop.

As I watched the customers calling out their orders for snapper, flounder, salmon and tuna, cleaned and filleted to order by the boat’s crew, I couldn’t help but wonder – how can I eat fish responsibly?

We all (should) know by now that most commercial fishing practices are pretty terrible, environmentally speaking.  The oceans are in serious trouble, and will eventually be devoid of fish if we keep stuffing our faces with seafood at every possible opportunity.  Farmed fish… especially salmon, are also problematic, as they can affect wild populations health and safety.

So, how to be a sustainable fish-eater?  I don’t know.

Greenpeace maintains a list of the most vulnerable fish species in New Zealand, those that should be avoided at all costs.  I witnessed many of them being snapped up by eager shoppers on Sunday.

But what about fish not on this list?

In New Zealand, Tarakihi are one of your best bets.  I’m not sure why, but a reliable information source told me that.  I guess it would be good to know why, but I can’t be bothered to try and do that research right now.  I have a stack of books and articles to wade though.

So, on Sunday, I asked the fish man for 2 Tarakihis, cleaned, but not filleted, which I plan to make Laap Pa with tomorrow evening.  That’s Laotian Fish Herb Salad for those of you who don’t speak Lao!

(PS – I accidentally posted this here, instead of on my personal blog, as I originally intended, but it has something to do with cooking, so I’m double-posting!)