Ask Peter: The yakon
I planted a Yakon plant last spring, sourced from the Kelmarna Gardens, which is now healthily flowering and over 2 metres tall. I’m expecting to be harvesting the tubers within the next month as the plant dies down with cooler temperatures. And with that in mind, I went searching and I can’t see any recipes that include Yakon on your website. Can we have some suggestions on using or some recipes please. I’m sure a lot of your readers would be interested in this easy to grow tuber and it must be reasonably available as I have purchased it previously at a Fruitworld Auckland.
I have a suspicion we’ll see more and more of the yacón/yakon over the years. It’s an interesting tuber for all sorts of reasons, but one that’ll no doubt interest food scientists and commercial folk is that although it’s very sweet, the type of sugars it contains (inulin) aren’t easily digested by the human body, so you don’t really put on any weight eating them. You get the benefit of sweetness but none of the bad association.
I’ve seen yacón syrup for sale in the USA and it’s used a little like mild maple syrup or agave syrup on cereals, fruit salads, cocktails and the likes. I used to think these vegetables from the Andes were related to jicama (or yam bean) which I’m a fan of and feature in my latest book Savour. But it turns out they’re not even distant relations. In fact yacón’s closest edible relative that most people would know is the Jerusalem artichoke – which in turn is the cousin of the sunflower.
What does it look like?
For those who don’t know what a yacón even looks like, they are round tubers of anywhere between 300g – 1 kg. They look like a smooth fat squat cassava. The crisp inside flesh however is glossy white and shiny, and the texture when eaten raw is rather like a jicama or water chestnut, but with a mildly slimy texture. If that hasn’t sold it to you, then I apologise, as it’s quite a funky vegetable. Mostly you eat them raw, as you would a water chestnut or jicama, but you can cook them if only briefly.
Ways to use it
To use, wash any dirt from the skin and then peel them. Have a bowl of slightly acidulated cold water to hand (1 litre water and 3 tablespoons lemon juice or 1½ of white vinegar).
Cut the white flesh into thin rings (a mandolin is good for this) or into matchstick shapes and add immediately to the water to prevent it discolouring. These can then be used in salads or added to a stir-fry. If using in a stir-fry then add right at the end, as it really doesn’t need any cooking.
- You can toss the thin slices, drained and patted dry, into a salad with other crisp veggies or fruit – pineapple, apples, celery, pomegranate, pears etc. Toss with whichever dressing you have at hand and serve straight away.
- You can also mix it with thinly sliced smoked chicken and toasted macadamias and toss with a wasabi mayonnaise.
- You can peel one then grate it along with a carrot or two and mix with lots of picked whole tarragon leaves and thinly sliced spring onions, add something like cooked quinoa and crumbled feta, or soaked bulgur wheat and halved cherry tomatoes. Use whichever sharp dressing you have (maybe add some finely chopped lemongrass) and serve with grilled meat or fish.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.