This week let's look at a vegetable that could well be called one of our national treasures.
Kumara, also known as sweet potato, has been grown and eaten in New Zealand since the Maori first came here, brought into the country by Kupe in about the 10th century from Hawaiki.
The early variety was a bush with tubers much smaller than the kumara we know today. Later the bigger variety better known internationally as sweet potato was introduced which has become known as the kumara. In New Zealand the majority of kumara is grown in Northland where the soil type and climatic conditions suit kumara perfectly.
The kumara was also grown before western exploration throughout Polynesia, in fact, it has been radiocarbon-dated in the Cook Islands to 1000AD with the current thinking that it was bought to Central Polynesia around 700AD, possibly by Polynesians who had travelled to South America and back and spread it throughout Polynesia to Hawaii and then on to New Zealand.
It is also possible that South Americans brought it to the Pacific region although this is unlikely as it was the Polynesians who had a strong maritime tradition, far more so than the native South Americans.
The plant itself is an herbaceous perennial vine with the edible tuberous root long and tapered. Generally with a smooth skin with colours that range from yellow, orange, red, brown and purple and beige. Its flesh ranges from beige through white, red, pink, violet, yellow, orange and purple, where generally the white or pale yellow flesh are less sweet but more moist than those with red, pink or orange flesh. Kumara is a valuable source of vitamin C, iron, potassium and calcium, with the flesh and skin holding an array of phytochemicals beneficial to the body. Like potatoes, kumara should be stored in a cool, dark place which is well ventilated. Do not refrigerate as they do not enjoy cold temperatures.
Kumara can be prepared in exactly the same way as potatoes. And like potatoes it is not always necessary to peel them. If possible scrub them and leave the skin on.
Some ideas for cooking kumara
This week let's make some delicious kumara and banana muffins which are gluten, dairy and sugar free.
KUMARA AND BANANA MUFFINS (makes 12)
| 1 large kumara
| 3 bananas
| 2 eggs
|2 tbsp honey|
|1 tbsp coconut oil|
|1 tsp baking soda|
|1 tsp baking powder|
|cup ground almonds|
|1 cup coconut flour|
1. Preheat your oven to 200'C.
2. Peel the kumara, chop and steam until just cooked.
3. Mash the cooked kumara and the bananas together until smooth.
4. Add the vanilla, eggs, coconut oil and honey and combine well.
5. Add all other ingredients and mix until just combined.
6. Spoon mix into prepared muffins tins or cases about full and place in the oven for around 25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean and they are golden on top.
Graham Hawkes operates Paddington Arms at the Queens Dr/Bainfield Rd roundabout.
The Southland Times