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Oca

Oca is one of the traditional tubers of the Andes and together with ullucu (Ullucus tuberosus), mashwa (Tropaeolum tuberosum) and native potatoes (Solanum spp.) is an important source of dietary energy in this region.  Oca does well at the higher latitudes as it requires a long growing season, and forms tubers when the day length shortens in the fall. However, in areas with harsh winter climates, the cold weather that accompanies shorter days may kill the plant before tubers have a chance to form.

Where it is found

The likely origin and centre of diversity for oca is in the highlands of the Andes, from Colombia to Argentina, and especially important in Peru and Bolivia. Its many wild relatives are also found in this region. In addition to being found commonly across South America and Mexico, it is also being widely grown in New Zealand, where it is known as the New Zealand yam.

How to eat it

Stir-fried spicy oca and potato 

Ingredients: 500 g oca; 500 g small firm potatoes, cut in halves or quarters; 2 red onions; sliced; 2 cloves crushed garlic; 2 sweet red pepper, sliced; fresh coriander leaves; grated rind of lemon; dried chilli flakes; crushed pink peppercorns; vegetable oil for frying.

Preparation: Wash and clean the oca thoroughly. Leave the tubers whole. Pop the oca into hot water to blanch for a few minutes; this also helps to take out the bitterness. Don’t boil or leave the tubers in the water for too long, as they are a starchy vegetable and you don’t want to turn them into mush. Dry the oca and place on a baking tray. Wash and cut the small potatoes and add them to the tray. Chop the red pepper, but don’t cut them too small or they will disintegrate, and add to the tray. Add oil and sprinkle with pink peppercorns then place in an oven heated to 180 ºC for around 20 minutes. Shortly before the oca is taken out of the oven, fry the onion on a low heat to allow it to caramelize. When the oca is ready, transfer to a serving bowl and mix in the grated lemon peel, fried red onion, fresh coriander and dried chilli flakes to taste. (4 servings)

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