I grew taro this year pretty much by accident.
Here’s how it happened. This spring I gave a talk on root vegetables to a lovely group of seniors. For this talk, I like to buy a bunch of widely assorted root vegetables to hand around as props (my audience was especially impressed by the scary long burdock roots). And then I cook them at home afterwards. But this time I got a little carried away at various supermarkets and bought more than I could prepare before they went bad. I decided to try to sprout the couple of taro corms. It was too early to plant them outdoors, so I put them in pots and kept them watered. Weeks later, no growth – oh well, into the compost they go.
You guessed it. When the weather warmed and I was stirring up my compost pile, there were two little taro plants growing out of what I’d tried to throw away.
I planted them in a new berm that my son had made from soil dug out from other projects. Not great soil – a lot of clay and gravel, but at least on the loose side. And the spot was pretty shady. Nevertheless, they grew – you can see how well in the photo above. If you just want to add some impressive elephant ears to your garden, without even caring what you might harvest from underneath, don’t bother buying the expensive tubers from garden centers or catalogs; just go to your local international grocery and buy anything labeled taro, eddo, dasheen, yutou, wu tao, or probably other names too, and plant them after the risk of frost.
And the fantastically large leaves were really all I expected to get from the project. But when that cold snap finally came in mid-November and my elephant ears collapsed to the ground, I dug around underneath and found some recognizable roots clustered at the base of the plants.
Here’s where I should break off and refer to authority, because I wouldn’t know anything about growing or cooking taro without my sources. The books I got my information from are The Chinese Kitchen Garden by Wendy Kiang-Spray and Roots by Diane Morgan. Reading these useful references told me that taro must always be cooked because of the high oxalic acid content in the raw vegetable, and that in fact some people are sensitive to handling it and need to wear gloves while peeling it. I also learned that taro is high in dietary fiber and contains good things like antioxidants and vitamins – so it’s not all starchy carbs! Apparently the leaves are also edible, though I didn’t know that in time (and they do need to be cooked for ages, so I think I’ll just enjoy them in the garden).
I am also reliably informed by Wendy’s book that we can’t produce taro in this climate because the growing season isn’t long enough. But we had a long warm fall, which gave me enough for one side dish out of two plants. No one will be starting taro farms in Maryland soon – but it’s worth trying to see what you get from planting a few dollars’ worth from the grocery store! At the very least your neighbors will be impressed by your tropical display.
Here’s the recipe I made, adapted from the Roots cookbook. It was delicious!
Sautéed Taro with Sesame, Garlic, and Honey Glaze
- 1 lb taro roots, trimmed, peeled, rinsed, and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp oil (canola or other neutral flavor)
- 1 tbsp Asian sesame oil
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
Put the taro and 1 tsp salt into a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for about 5 minutes until taro is almost tender. Drain in a colander.
Heat the oils in a large pan. Sauté the taro over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown all over, 5-10 minutes. Add the honey, vinegar, garlic, and 1 tsp salt. Stir and cook about 1 minute longer. Serve warm, garnished with cilantro and sesame seeds.
By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener