Also known as mandioquinha, arracacha or apio criollo, it's one of those foods on my "I'm-scared-to-buy-you-because-I-don't-know-how-to-cook-you" list. I've been seeing "batata baroa puree" on fancy restaurants' menus for a while, but as I don't actually eat at such places, I never had the opportunity for a taste test. In the stores, it sits in bins by the potatoes, and rather looks like a scrawny, long-legged and pasty-white teenager variety of potato. Until last week, I'd never bothered to experiment with them, but finally, curiosity got the better of me.
And then strep throat did, which meant the three little potato wannabes spent a couple days sitting neglected in the produce drawer of the refrigerator.
Tonight, realizing I'm going to have to empty said refrigerator in 2 days time, I decided to go ahead and make mashed potatoes. Mashed batata baroa, anyhow. I assumed it would be all potato-like...until I began peeling them. They gave off this faint nutty floral aroma, almost as if I'd stuck a bunch of dandelions and chestnuts in the oven to roast. Pleasant. A sort of warm, peachy brown smell with overtones of spring and dirt and just a patch of blue sky. And this just in the raw stage! They were pretty tough for such tiny things and took more time than I expected to cook to a mashable stage. But they just fell apart when I went at them with the fork. A touch of butter, milk and salt didn't overpower the flavor, which had only deepened during cooking, and made the puree extremely smooth and rich.
I keep tasting it as I type, trying to identify the unique aftertaste that's bringing back such interesting sensorial memories. I think if I were to narrow it down to one word, I'd say this "potato" tastes like...Peru. Or maybe, more specifically, my host mother's dirt floor kitchen in Lima, where I spent the good part of 3 months, gained 15 pounds and fell in love with Peruvian cusine. Which features, not surprisingly, some 2,800 varieties of potato. (Don't believe it? Fact check the BBC.)
This might sound crazy. And perhaps I'm having sensory overload from the strep-killing antibiotics. I can't explain it. All that from a forkful of a previously unknown vegetable? But I don't care. This bowl of mashed deliciousness is quite fantastic.