James Wong's - Homegrown Revolution

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New Zealand Yams

NEW ZEALAND YAM HARVEST

Posted on: January 30th, 2013 by James Wong 5 Comments

Tired of watching your spuds getting clobbered by blight? Well fear not. Introducing New Zealand Yams, the delicious & super easy-to-grow spud substitutes that come complete with an iron-clad blight resistance. Hooray!

WHAT ARE NEW ZEALAND YAMS? Oxalis tuberosum

Despite their (rather confusing) common name, New Zealand yams actually hail from the highlands of South America where they have been cultivated since Incan times & held in roughly equal esteem to the common spud.

In fact it’s really only historical fluke that has seen potatoes (also originally domesticated by the Inca) become a global staple, while these delicious little yams remain a well kept foodie secret. If the right conquistador had picked these guys up, fish & chips could look very different indeed. :)

NEW ZEALAND YAMS IN A WELLINGTON SUPERMARKET 

(Click the pic to check out the link.)

As far back as the Irish potato famine these tasty, multicoloured tubers were tested out as a disease resistant alternative to spuds in an age when it seemed that the potato’s ridiculous susceptibility to blight in our mild, soggy climate would soon make it commercially extinct. Tried growing spuds over the last 2 summers? Sound familiar?

So, why the name New Zealand yams? Well those kiwis are known for being far more excited and adventurous about alternative crops than us Brits and in the last 30 years they have risen quickly to become a standard supermarket vegetable Down Under – as the picture  above proves (Check out the sprouts in the top left corner).

Click the pic to find out more info from the great ‘Grab Your Fork’ blog.

HOW TO GROW NEW ZEALAND YAMS

Extremely closely related to wood sorrel (a common UK garden weed) New Zealand yams are a cinch to grow even in our less than idyllic climate. You see the Inca were rather genius agriculturalists, with many of their prized crops domesticated from pernicious weed species – thereby creating super-vigorous, low-maintanence veg that would thrive through pretty much anything that is thrown at them.

In fact, they are already being cultivated on a commercial scale in Norfolk by my twitter buddy Jonathan Pearson @Freshfromthefen. The only thing they they really dislike is excessive and prolonged hot weather. Not sure that is going to be a problem any time soon…..

Unlike spuds, there is no need for dodgy chemical spraying or laborious earthing up & they even have tasty Bramely-flavoured, shamrock-shaped leaves – meaning two harvests from the same plant. Neat huh?

PLANT NEW ZEALAND YAMS UNDER TALLER STUFF LIKE TOMATOES OR SWEETCORN TO GIVE YOU 2 CROPS FROM THE SAME TINY PLOT.

(Click the pic to find out more)

There are only two golden rules to bear in mind. Firstly much like regular potatoes, New Zealand yams benefit from being tricked into growth early indoors (i.e. what plant geeks call ‘chitting’). I like to do this buy potting them up in a seed compost on a sunny windowsill in late March or early April, then planting established plants out after all risk of frost has past in May.

Secondly, it is important to leave these little guys in the ground for as long as possible – until a good 2 weeks after the first hard frosts cuts down their foliage. This is because the plants only begin to kick out tubers rather late in the year, so the longer you leave them the better your yields will be. If you are keen on growing these in the far North or a freakishly early frost is forecast a simple tip to up your yields is to pop a couple of cloches over your plants as the nights begin to draw in in Autumn.

Want more tips on growing New Zealand Yams? Check out page 151-153 of my book ‘Homegrown Revolution’ & this fantastic blog http://oca-testbed.blogspot.co.uk

WHERE CAN I BUY NEW ZEALAND YAMS?

Slowly but surely New Zealand Yams are becoming available through a range of suppliers, who normally sell them under their indigenous Peruvian name ‘oca’.

By far the best selection (and quality) for me has been the company Real Seeds, who I buy mine from through their mail order website. www.realseeds.co.uk

HOW TO COOK NEW ZEALAND YAMS

Way more versatile than the humble spud, New Zealand yams are delicious both raw and cooked – roasted, chipped, mashed, boiled & baked in all the same ways as a really good new potato. Raw they have a crisp apple-like texture and tart Bramley flavour which makes them used much like a fruit in salads & coleslaws.

Once cooked however, their sharpness transforms into a mild tanginess that is off set by a rich, waxy classic Jersey Royal flavour & texture. Being such a unique ingredients, I don’t like to mess around with them too much, serving them in super simple, fuss-free dishes like these paprika & mint wedges. Yum!

NEW ZEALAND YAM WEDGES WITH PAPRIKA & MINT

The ultimate comfort food in the dark days of winter, these surprisingly healthy wedges as as delicious as they are easy-to-make.

STEP 1. Kick off the proceedings by preheating your oven to 200C. Then give 1kg of yams (about 1-2 plants worth) a really good scrub & slice them in half.

 STEP 2. Scatter the sliced yams into a roasting dish, cut sides facing up. Then sprinkle over some really good quality smoked paprika, drizzle over a little over oil and season well with salt & pepper. Pop in then oven for 20-30 minutes or so until the yams are golden and cooked right the way through.

 STEP 3. Scatter over a few torn mint leaves & tuck in! Lovely as a substitute for spuds with a Sunday roast or just as they are, dunked in a herby sour cream dip. God bless carbs!

 

For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat New Zealand Yams check out pg 151-153 of my new book Homegrown Revolution!

 

Dahlia yams

EATING DAHLIA ‘YAMS’

Posted on: January 14th, 2013 by James Wong 7 Comments

Believe it or not these blowsy garden flowers were first introduced to our shores not as an ornamental, but as a tasty root veg. Skeptical? Here’s my rookie’s guide to growing, cooking & eating Dahlia ‘yams’.

THEY SURE LOOK NICER THAN A ROW OF SPUDS DON’T THEY? CLICK THE PIC TO GET TO A GREAT TELEGRAPH ARTICLE ON HOW TO GROW THEM.

WHY DAHLIA ‘YAMS’ MAKE GOOD EATING

Before you instantly dismiss the idea of eating Dahlia roots as some kind of hippy-food, bush-tucker gimmick consider this: runner beans were first introduced to the UK for their ornamental flowers, while Dahlias were originally introduced as a promising root veg. It looks like we simply got our horticultural wires crossed!

First domesticated by the Aztecs for their tasty, sweet potato-like roots, Dahlia ‘yams’ were once a staple food as important as the avocados, tomatoes and sweetcorn that they were eaten alongside. Yet being 100% resistant to the dreaded potato blight, super easy to grow & offering up a summer-long display of dazzling flowers to boot, I believe they beat the humble spud hands down for the urban foodie grower that also wants a pretty garden and an easy life from their tiny space.

IT’S THE GIANT ‘CACTUS’ FLOWERED VARIETIES THAT PRODUCE THE BIGGEST CROPS.

PICKING THE RIGHT VARIETY (THE CRUCIAL BIT)

Sadly, as they have been bred from hundreds of years exclusively for the size and colour of their flowers the flavour of Dahlia ‘yams’ is rather variable, spanning from amazingly sweet and waxy – like a Jersey Royal spud – to perfectly edible but a little watery. On one hand this makes growing Dahlia ‘yams’ a bit of a foodie Russian roulette, but on the other, who knows you may yet discover the world’s tastiest kind in your own back yard!

In my tiny back garden trials – helped immensely by the kind advice of the National Collection of Dahlias – I have discovered that the big ‘Cactus’ flowered types tend to produce the largest, juicest roots with the yellow and red types generally firmer and nuttier than the rest (which I find the most tasty). But there may well be even better strains out there! Give my recipe below a go in the autumn and get back to me on your results. I’d love to hear your views!

EATING DAHLIAS

Related to Jerusalem artichokes, Dahlia roots have a crisp, refreshing apple-like texture and mild carrot/celery flavour when raw and work great in salads and stir fries. Try them as a substitute for water chestnuts for example or grated in a coleslaw. Their juicy crunch and sweetness means they even work in fruit salads, especially when paired with similar textures like apples.

However my favourite way to eat them is cooked, much like a potato, in soups, stews & rosti. The key here is to slice or grate the roots, then squeeze out some of the excess water to concentrate their lovely nutty flavour and give them a firmer bite.

DAHLIA & RED ONION ROSTI

Crisp, sweet and with a hazelnut-like richness, Dahlia ‘yams’ knock the socks of any old spud in these Eastern European-inspired rosti.

STEP 1 - Dig up your Dahlias when the first hard frosts blacken all their leaves – usually in early November where I live – and give them a good scrub.

For this recipe you will need about 1kg of fresh roots, which roughly equates to those of 1 good sized plant. (You can grow up to 4 per square metre)

N.B. Never eat dry roots straight from a garden centre as they will be chemically treated (not to mention rock hard and dried up). After a season of ‘detoxing’ in the garden, they will be fresh, crisp and perfectly safe to eat.

STEP 2 – Peel the ‘yams’. Unless you are going to cook them straight away, it would be a good idea to dunk them in a bowl of water – just like you would potatoes – to stop them going brown in contact with the air.

 STEP 3- Roughly grate the ‘yams’ with 1 small onion & squeeze over the juice of half a lemon. Then wrap all the shavings in a clean tea towel and twist it to squeeze out as much excess water as possible. This concentrates their flavour and gives them a firmer, meatier texture.

STEP 4 – Combine the Dahlia & onion mixture in a bowl with 2 eggs, 6tbsp of flour & a grating of nutmeg.

 STEP 5 - Season well with salt and pepper and give the whole lot a good mix to combine. You should end up with a thick, chunky ‘dough’ as pictured below.

STEP 6 – Grab small handfuls of the mix and squeeze them between your palms to create little patties – about 10cm in diameter and 1cm thick. Fry them in olive oil over a medium heat in a large frying pan until golden brown.

STEP 7 – Serve with a dollop of cream fraiche, a few slivers of smoked salmon, a wedge of lime and a scattering of dill. Winter blues? What winter blues!