Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Andean Potatoes

It's been a while since I had a proper kitchen but still have so many good memories of food in Salta.
I love markets and used to love the Salta Mercado Central for getting all manner of vegetables and tasty local goats cheese. So many lovely fresh things all laid out to select. It's also a place where you still see the seasonality of produce.

From our first few days in Salta I was drawn to all the unusually shaped potatoes we found at the market. There are said to be over 200 varieties of potatoes found in the Andes between Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina. This is the origin of what is now a global staple, carried back to Europe by the spanish conquistadors. It was usual to find at least 5 or six different types at the market in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. Each have their own taste. The long finger like ones and the dark purple ones are sweet while the speckled ones are distinctly earthy.

The Asado is Tom's domain. The masculine art of fire and meat was one of his particular passions during our stay in Salta, learning from the masters like Mavi's dad Hector and Dr Roffo, as well as devoted practice on our balcony:

I am allowed to help with sides though and it was always hard to resist some sort of potato dish.
Simply rapped in foil and placed in the coals below the grill for 40 mins gives them a slight smokey flavour and brings out their natural sweetness.

Roasted and then dressed with lemon juice, wholegrain mustard and green shallots while warm is also good for a change.

The andean potatoes can also be used in place of regular potatoes in soups, stews and empanadas, or simply roasted or boiled as a side dish. We like to leave the skins on for the pretty colours but most restaurants (andean potatoes are a real fashion in hip Salta restaurants) peel them.
The andean potatoes aren't found at the regular supermarket in Salta so some of my workmates had never tried them before. Up in the mountains they are often the only potatoes available.

Chuños are a traditional way of long term storage of potatoes that is seen in the mountains of Salta and Jujuy and also very common in Bolivia, where you can even get them at the super market. With the cold nights of the altiplano the potatoes are naturally "freeze dried" sometimes after having excess starch leached out in a running stream. Thus treated they can last for centuries. Dry they look like strange shrivelled up pale versions of potatoes. Once rehydrated chuños are used in soups stews or shallow fried with seasonings. They have a slightly spongy texture similar to eggplant and take on surrounding flavours well.


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