|Jaramagos: A free alternative to watercress in Canarian potaje|
While we take tropical fruit like mangos, pineapples and papaya for granted in the Canary Islands, it’s the weird and wonderful veggies that make life in the Canarian kitchen interesting.
Today we visited San Mateo market to buy the ingredients for a traditional Canarian potaje soup. It struck me that while potaje is as Canarian as mojo sauce, its ingredients are a whole lot more cosmopolitan. The delicious soup bubbling away on our hob has something in it from every continent.
As well as corn, sweet potato, marrow, potato, onions and garlic, we made our potaje using exotic ingredients that, while on sale in every Canarian market, are rarely found anywhere else:
|Ñame or taro root|
Ñame is the local name for taro root, a tropical root vegetable completely unknown in the rest of Europe It’s originally from Malaysia and Australia but is now a common crop across the warm bits of the world. Ñame roots have brown skins and white, starchy flesh. It is sold in slices about an inch thick: One is enough for a good batch of potaje.
While ñame is an essential ingredient of the authentic Canarian potaje you have to take care with it. The raw tuber is full of Calcium oxalate crystals that set your mouth on fire. It needs to be cooked well before eating and adds a slight spiciness that is essential to a good Canarian potaje.
Jaramago (Diplotaxis or wall rocket) is an annual plant native to North Africa and the Mediterranean that pops up here after the rains. It carpets old fields and roadsides with yellow flowers in the late spring, attracting clouds of white butterflies.
Young jaramago leaves are collected in the Cumbres and used in potaje as a free alternative to watercress. Raw jaramagos taste slightly sour and mustardy but have rough leaves. Cooked they soften and taste like spinach but with a peppery edge. You find them in local markets (especially in San Mateo) about a month after the first rains. I’ve never heard of them being eaten anywhere else.
|Judias pintas or pinto beans|
Judias pintas (pinto beans) are a common ingredient in Central American and Mexican food. You can buy them dried or tinned in most countries but in the Canary Islands they are used fresh from the pod. They are probably the prettiest of the beans with cream pods marbled with pink containing pink and white beans. The pods are inedible but the fresh beans hold their shape in potaje and add a bit of texture when everything else goes soft.
Also known as the pear squash, the chayote is a wrinkly, green vegetable about the size and shape of an avocado. It can be smooth or covered in soft spikes or hairs. The chayote is native to Brazil and is has become popular in Gran Canaria thanks to the recent wave of immigration from South America. We chucked a couple into our potaje as they taste like courgette but keep their shape better.
Azafrán del pais
While a small amount of genuine saffron is grown in Lanzarote in Haría, it is too expensive to chuck in soup so we used azafrán del país. Thisis a different thing entirely and come not from a crocus but from a thistle with orange/yellow flowers called Cathamus tinctorius. It grows all over the Canary Islands as a roadside weed.
After a couple of hours of simmering our exotic but local potaje was ready. With a few bits of queso tierno (soft, fresh cheese) added at the last minute, it is the perfect meal on an autumn day. With the temperature only 22 degrees Celsius, we need something to warm us up!
Like this Canary Island food post? Here are a couple more from the Sunshine Guide:
A Great Canarian Potaje Recipe
The Top Ten Canarian Foods
Gofio: Canary Island Soul Food