How to cook with kumara

New Zealand Italian: Jamie Hemara, left, and head chef Michael Felsted with Kumara Gnocchi.
New Zealand Italian: Jamie Hemara, left, and head chef Michael Felsted with Kumara Gnocchi.

In most countries they are called sweet potatoes, but in New Zealand they are known by their Maori name kumara. Available in red, gold or orange, each variety has a deliciously different colour and taste.

Red kumara has a creamy white flesh, firm texture and tastes delightfully mellow. Gold has a soft texture and is slightly sweeter. The orange variety is firm and tastes the sweetest.

Brought here by Maori settlers more than 1000 years ago, kumara has a long history of cultivation in New Zealand.

The Maori managed kumara growing with great horticultural skill, making use of the ideal growing climate of the semi-tropical North Island.

Pre-European Maori grew several varieties of bush kumara. Compared to the varieties we eat today, the bush kumara were small no bigger than a person's finger.

The kumara we eat today evolved from a larger American variety that grows on a creeping vine. It was imported in the early 1850s and was quickly adopted by the Maori for its superior size and taste.

Kumara are one of the most popular vegetables in New Zealand and one of the healthiest you can eat.

They are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, are virtually fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium.

Kumara have more fibre than oatmeal and provide many essential nutrients, including vitamin B6, calcium and iron.

They are also a good source of beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A, which is said to help in the prevention of cancer.

When you buy kumara, be sure to choose ones that are firm and smooth with an even skin colour. For the most nutritional value, always select kumara with a deep skin colour.

Handle them carefully to prevent bruising and store them in a cool dry place - not in the refrigerator, as this can cause them to develop a hard core.

Kumara are great for many meals and snacks. All varieties cook the same and make attractive, mouth-watering dishes on their own or as part of a recipe. Before cooking, scrub the skin and trim off any bruised or woody portions.

Kumara are most nutritious if cooked with their skins on and can be fried, boiled, barbecued, or grilled. Cooked kumara can also be frozen just wrap them unpeeled in foil or freezer wrap.

To french fry, boil for 10 minutes, peel and cut into strips. Heat oil and cook until golden. Drain on paper towel. Sprinkle with brown sugar, salt, or nutmeg.

To toast, cut into 1cm thick slices. Brush each side lightly with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Place the slices on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes.

Turn the chips until both sides are lightly toasted.

To mash, place whole unpeeled kumara in boiling water and cook 35-45 minutes. Drain, peel and mash.

To stir fry, in a shallow pan, heat vegetable oil and add kumara strips. Saute for 5 minutes or until brown and tender. Remove from hot oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt or powdered sugar.

To barbeque, wrap medium-size kumara individually in heavy-duty aluminium foil. Place on the grill and cook for about 45 minutes or until tender. To hasten, boil 10 minutes before wrapping in foil. Or wrap medium-size kumara in heavy foil and place in the coals for about 45 minutes or until tender.

Serves 4

3 large kumara
1 tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
2 whole eggs & 2 yolks, beaten
40g freshly grated parmesan
2 cups flour
5 litres water
2 tsp salt


1. Boil whole kumara in salted water until just tender. Drain and allow to semi-cool on sink, allowing steam to escape. Peel and mash.

2. Combine kumara, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, eggs and cheese in a large bowl and mix well. Gradually add flour, mixing well after each addition until a soft dough forms. Use remaining flour to dust a bench and roll dough as needed.

3. Divide dough into four equal portions and roll into a thick rope. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces and indent each piece lightly with a fork to form ribs.

4. Bring water and 2 teaspoons of salt to the boil in a large saucepan. Drop in gnocchi dumplings and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until pieces float to top. Drain well.

5. Top dumplings with your favourite pasta sauce. Pesto, cream, tomato, or gorgonzola sauces are excellent.

6. Finish with freshly grated parmesan and serve.

Serves 4

50ml oil
500g diced kumara
1 onion, sliced
1 tsp brown sugar
20g red curry paste
10g fresh ginger, grated
10g fresh garlic
200ml coconut cream
200ml chicken stock
10g fresh coriander
10g Thai basil
1/2 lime of juice


1. Heat oil in pan.

2. Add curry paste, onion, garlic, ginger and saute for approx 3 minutes.

3. Add kumara to pan and cook until golden.

4. Add coconut cream and chicken stock and continue to simmer.

5. Add remaining ingredients and serve with steamed rice.

Taranaki Daily News