Jackie and I are both double immigrants. I immigrated to the U.S. from Finland, and Jackie immigrated from Japan. And of course, we both immigrated to Ecuador from the U.S.
Before moving here, we were aware that some of the foods or ingredients we were used to would be difficult or impossible to find here (think chili powder, red curry, cayenne pepper, sourdough bread, white miso), just like our culinary shopping experiences after our initial immigration to the U.S. so long ago (think Lutefisk, shredded cuttlefish, pulla, germinated sushi rice). On the other hand, we were looking forward to discovering new ingredients, and amending (Jackie calls it bastardizing) old recipes to include these ingredients in new ways.
One thing that immediately intrigued us at the mercados was those pretty little fingerling potato-like things with pink spots. What are they really, and how can they be used? After researching the matter a bit, we were surprised to learn that they are not even potatoes.
Behold . . . the local melloco, which has no English name or equivalent. Botanically, they are Ullucustuberosus. They have many different names in different countries, but the Latin name comes from the Quichua ullucu. It is best known as mellocothroughout Ecuador.
Melloco have a fairly narrow growing range, almost exclusively in the Andes mountains. It is intolerant of heat above 80 degrees, and efforts to grow it elsewhere have met with mixed success.
Melloco have a number of health benefits. They are high in the good cholesterol, calcium, and vitamins A and C. It has twice the Vitamin C as in potatoes, with 20 percent fewer calories. It is purported to have benefits to memory, prostate and stomach ailments.
So, what do you do with them? They can be used in many ways like small red potatoes. They have a very thin peel, so it is not necessary to peel them. They don’t lend themselves to mashing, but are commonly boiled until al dente, or fried. Their flavor is much like crisp potatoes, with perhaps a hint of beet-like earthiness in some varieties.
Jackie recently bastardizedher staple central Asian recipe, using melloco. We call it Sario’sMelloco, Rice and Lentil Stew. The ingredients are simple and very readily available, to include, not surprisingly, melloco, rice, lentils, some other veggies and various spices. The result is a thick, delicious and hearty stew made with all local ingredients. The recipe follows.
Sario’sMelloco, Rice and Lentil Stew
3 Tbsp oil
3 Cups water or stock
¾ lb Melloco, cleaned and cut into bite sized pieces
2 Cups coarsely chopped onions
2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 bunch chard, stems removed and chopped, leaves chopped and set aside
1 lb ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp of more chili pepper flakes
2 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp or more granulated garlic
1 Cup lentils
2 ½ Cups cooked rice
Chopped green onions and cilantro
½ lb or more meat of your choice, cut into small cubes (optional)
Boil the water or stock and add Melloco. Lower the heat to simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes. Strain out the Melloco and reserve the water or stock. Set both aside.
In a large heavy pot, heat the oil until very hot. Add the onions, lower the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden. If using meat, add at this time. Cook until the meat is just done. Add the Melloco, carrots, and chard stems and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, then add the cumin, chili, salt, pepper, and garlic and stir well. Add the reserved water or stock and bring to a boil. Let boil for several minutes, then stir in the chard leaves and lentils. Once the mixture has again returned to the boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the lentils are tender, maybe 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Add more hot water or stock if necessary. When the lentils are done, stir in the cooked rice. The mixture should be moist.
Serve in bowls topped with chopped green onions and cilantro.
Garlic naan is wonderful with this dish if you can find it.