Saturday, 29 March 2008

The humble kolokasi

Kolokasi is a specialty in Cypriot cuisine. It is a root vegetable, which is usually stewed in a tomato sauce. Since Cypriots don’t really consider a meal a meal unless it has meat in it, pork is often added to the stew (see here for traditional recipe). Apparently, kolokasi was brought to Cyprus by the Romans who would cook it in sauce of pepper, cumin, rue, vinegar, oil and liquamen and to whom the root vegetable was known, as it is known now scientifically, as colocasia.

Now, I have to admit, I've never liked kolokasi and only ever ate it under protest and, more recently, as I've developed mentally and morally, to avoid conflict. Nevertheless, it has weighed heavily on me, this dislike of kolokasi, this repudiation of my Cypriot heritage.

Recently, however, I was told – by my aunt, who is English – that kolokasi is in fact Jerusalem artichoke. Interesting. Then I read an article in the newspapers last week about popular TV chef Gordon Ramsay's exclusive new restaurant in Paris, at which Jerusalem artichoke soup – a French specialty, apparently – is on the menu.

I tracked down Gordon Ramsay's recipe, which looked straightforward: Jerusalem artichoke, leek, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and double cream. I omitted the bacon – since it's Lent and I'm not eating meat; the bouquet garni – since I had no idea what this is; the floury potato – since I wasn't sure what 'floury' meant in this context; and instead of chives used parsley. Otherwise I closely followed Gordon's recipe. And guess what? It was delicious. I felt proud of myself. I was a good cook and a good Cypriot. I liked kolokasi.

With this new-found enthusiasm for the humble kolokasi, I decided to do more research into it – I googled it – and discovered that… I was misinformed. Kolokasi and the Jerusalem artichoke are not one and the same. Kolokasi is actually taro – which I'd never heard of before – and that what I'd made wasn't Jerusalem artichoke soup, but taro soup. And taro soup like it's never been made before. I, in fact, amid all this confusion, had invented a recipe, a good recipe too. Can I now have my own TV show?

*Go here, for traditional kolokasi recipe.


Anonymous said...

From the BBC Food website:
A bouquet garni is a bundle of herbs that is added to casseroles, stocks, sauces and soups. It traditionally comprises parsley (or parsley stalks, which have lots of flavour), a few sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf. These herbs may be bundled into a strip of leek or a piece of celery stalk, or tied in a muslin bag or with string, to keep them together during cooking and allow easy removal before serving.

Anonymous said...

Was Googling Taro/Kolokasi and found your post. =) So funny. Will try to cook it as your soup recipe. Only had my mother in law make it for me and it is not my favorite, but not too bad. Thanks for the read! xo

Eugenia said...

Kolokasi is NOT the Jerusalem Artichoke. It's "Taro", which is another tuber, of Asian origin.

Jerusalem Artichoke came to Europe after the Americas were discovered, so the Romans could not have possibly bring it to Cyprus. Taro on the other hand, which was cultivated in East Asia, it is possible to have come from there.

Seeing your picture, that's definitely a Taro, not a Jerusalem Artichoke btw.

Valentina said...

This is the best kolokasi story ever!!! And I will try your soup, since I bought a really nice one this morning in the market. I am into roasted winter vegetables these days and making hearty soups with the leftovers. Perfect for our cooler Nicosia evenings. So your discovery comes at the right time! :)
Thanks again, John!

Souzie Holmes said...

Hey John,

Thoroughly enjoyed your reading your experiences with kolokasi!

I bought some a few weeks ago and wasn't sure how to cook them..... so i washed and dried them as well as i could because the skin is rough, and cooked them in the microwave until they were soft! I then halved them added a little salt and butter and scooped it out like an avocado! it's really delicious and effortless!!

Souzie Holmes

John Akritas said...

Hello Suzie
I'm not at all sure of your method for making kolokasi – in the microwave! – but I guess it's no more unusual than my attempt to make a soup out of it.

Anonymous said...

Hello guys, kolokasi in latinamerica is called Niame (ñame)and we looove it.

Nick Philippou said...

Hey John,
it's not just you mate. I too, grew up thinking that kolokassi was Jerusalem Artichoke..because that's what my parents told me. Unlike yourself, it was my favourite Greek dish, always made with chunks of pork, by my mother. Though she's English, she no doubt learnt from her Cypriot in-laws...and my father. The family originares from Kyrenua. Would be interesting to know where your 'roots' stem from? Perhaps it was a local misconception/myth. My English wife made some last good as ever....after I stumbled across some Taro in The East End the day before, in a Bangladeshi supermarket. Intriguingly, it was labelled up as Koli Kachi (roughly)

John Akritas said...

Good to hear from you, Nick. There are a number of ways to cook kolokassi, the most traditional one being the tomato sauce and pork way. My favourite way, however, is 'kapama' – which is with red wine and crushed coriander seeds. It's pretty much the same way as afelia is cooked, except rather than pork, kolokassi is used. I should really put up the recipe.