Sunday, 1 June 2014

Mauka: Three Cheers for The Marvel of Peru

Mauka Man Mirabilis expansa
Mauka Man, hero.
We've eaten Mauka Man, the root I harvested a while ago. It had to happen; I'm glad it happened. According to Lost Crops of The Incas, mauka (Mirabilis expansa) is usually allowed to sit in the sun for a while before consumption. Previously I've only ever eaten it straight out of the ground. While tasty, there is usually a slight residual irritation at the back of the throat; this stops the experience from being the sensual delight it could be.

Half the battle with novel foods is figuring out how to prepare them. As we normally harvest root crops in the winter, sitting roots out in grey, wan light isn't likely to effect much positive change. Sunshine in May (when we get it) is much more intense. Clearing out the mauka bed in the spring has therefore given me the ideal opportunity to follow the preparation method favoured in mauka's Andean homeland. Not that I planned it that way. Let's just call it a fortuitous failure.

Mauka root (Mirabilis expansa)
400g of prime mauka flesh
Dismembering and preparing the poor fellow wasn't easy as the roots were twisted and as I understand it, mauka is always eaten peeled. While I was laboriously flaying the severed limbs, I noticed that beneath the skin, there was a reddish hue - a reaction to all that intense Cornish sunshine no doubt. More surprising still, was the observation that, like some Andean zombie, this root was undead: I could see some tiny adventitious shoots breaking forth on the cut surface. My previous experience indicates that pieces like this can be replanted and will go on to develop into new plants. Useful.
Pink flesh Mauka root (Mirabilis expansa)
Pink below the skin


Mauka (Mirabilis expansa) adventitious buds
Not dead yet - adventitious bud appearing
Despite the efforts I was forced to expend in the peeling process, the three year old root flesh was, generally speaking, surprisingly free of fibres and woodiness, at least in its raw state. As per usual, I chopped the flesh into chunks and deposited the whole lot in a pan of water.

As I was boiling the chunks, I remembered something from Lost Crops of the Incas about the cooking water being used as a drink. After I'd fished out the cooked pieces, I allowed the cloudy liquid to cool. I tried it (gingerly at first) and can reveal to the world that this beverage is nothing like potato water in terms of palatability. Contrary to my expectations, it was sweet and pleasant, with none of the gritty starchiness I had expected. It seems that this is a nice drink in its own right and could probably be fermented into something interesting too. Or maybe the liquid could be used as a base for soups. Could quaffing mauka-ade become some sort of liquid sacrament to the ritual of mauka flesh preparation? Stick in a few songs and a bit of inebriation and Mauka Man would make a  perfect successor to John Barleycorn.

Mauka Meal (Mirabilis expansa)
Tasty enough, but less than the sum of its parts



I hastily cooked some vegetables from the rack and plonked the mauka chunks on top.  To be honest, the firm texture of the mauka did not combine particularly well with the vegetable mush I created, although it was all very palatable. Slightly chastened, I kept some of the cooked mauka chunks back and the following  evening I fried them quickly with a little bit of oil, some herbs from the garden and a pinch of salt.




As we took in a DVD (Hunger Games, as it happens) and ate our mauka chunks, I rather lost concentration on the film; savouring the delightful finger food that pan-fried mauka proved to be was a major distraction. Still, any bow-toting heroine who is named after Sagittaria latifolia gets my approval by default.

To one whose palate has been corrupted by a lifelong diet of Angel Delight, pot noodles and fish fingers, I consider this to be excellent fare. In fact, of all the Lost Crops roots I have tried, this is my favourite. With its firm flesh and sweet taste, it is a pleasure to chew. I bet it would make great chips. If my rudimentary preparation methods are anything to go by, cannier cooks than I will easily come up with numerous ingenious ways to incorporate it into the western diet.

Mauka (Mirabilis expansa) drink mauka-ade
A glass of mauka-ade proved unexpectedly potable
So Mauka Man got eaten. It had to happen and I'm very glad it did.  And I'm happy to raise a glass of mauka-ade to salute his passing. Three cheers: hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!

4 comments:

orflo said...

Owen,
glad you liked them..They can be fried without cooking as well, and do make very good tasty chips. I tried to ground them into powder, but that was a bit tasteless, but the root I used had not been sun-cured for a long time. Maybe the taste of the powder will also improve with some decent curing?
I also have the impression that they are, yacon-wise, sweetening during storage (although they never reach the sweetness stage of yacon). Now we still have to find those Ecuadorian varieties which seem to be less astringent...

mims said...

sounds delish, I think the fermented drink has distinct possibilites. gotta gwo some first.

theroadtoserendipity said...

NO idea where I would source this magnificent root from here in Northern Tasmania but it certainly looks amazing. Cheers for sharing this quality information with the rest of the world. We need to be learning about all of the peripheral perennial veggies for our future :)

Chris said...

When searching for Mauka your blog comes up tops. Can't seem to be able to buy it anywhere though. Any clues? Or do you ship seeds?

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