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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Earth gems: a magnificent winter vegetable

I just love my new find of the winter: "earth gems" 
also known as ulluco.
They come from South America & are said to be one 
of the lost foods of the Incas.
They are so tasty & refreshingly colourful arriving 
just in time to revitalize the winter menu.
The "Halfords" of Feilding grow them here in New zealand &
I have been buying them through the season from 
Bellatino's out in Havelock North. 
They are very easy to prepare as they are prewashed 
& there is no peeling required.
Just gently boil for around 10 mins until tender.
Some colourful vegetables lose their lovely hues when
 cooked but the earth gem seems to do pretty well ...
..the colours running right through the tuber.
Here they are served with a little butter, good salt & lots of ground
black pepper. With the texture of a waxy new potato & the flavour
 a little, of beetroot & perhaps yam. They make a tidy, colourful 
& splendid addition to a winter meal. 
The thing is that they are a winter vege so in dreaming up what to
do with them I had to consider what might go with them best &
be seasonal too. There are already plenty of roasting vegetables 
so they would probably be lost on that count.
My first mix included deep red & orange kumara
with a sprinkling of violets
   with the addition of really good olive oil
($60 for 4 litres)
or fabulous Grove avocado oil,
lemon juice, flat leaf parsley, salt,
 ground black pepper
& tomatoes. There are some very 
tasty vine NZ grown vine tomatoes 
available at the moment.
No not seasonal I know but hey!

My favourite way to use them at the moment:

 cooked earth gems..cold & cut in half
firm vine ripened tomatoes cubed
chopped coriander
a preserved lemon finally sliced
a slosh of great olive or avocado oil
good salt, freshly ground black pepper 
& a squeeze of lemon juice...divine!!

this salad is just as good the next day too!
avocado also works well with them as do prawns
or shrimp & the sango sprouts that I get at 
Countdown are sooo fabulous & very handy along 
with the best salad macro/micro mix from Clyde Potter 
at Epicurean tasty & very innovative.
Around Christmas time I still had some earth gems tucked in the back fridge, just staring to sprout, but most were still fine to use. Soon, I planted the rest of the now happily sprouting tubers
 in to a large pot with plenty of compost.
It wasn't long before they looked like this:
I have since discovered that the leaves are edible too..just use & cook like spinach.
I have continued picking the leaves all through the summer. Haven't had any problem with bugs either.
A nutritious, versatile & easily grown vegetable that has excellent keeping qualities, both the tubers & the leaves.
I'll update further soon & tell you what I ended up with in my pot when the leaves die down. 

Catherine x


  1. I've not seen or heard of earth gems before. What do they taste like? They look very colourful and that's always a bonus I think.

  2. Thanks for this article - it was very informative. I just bought my first Ulluco today and had them for dinner - kind of like a mild potato, but moister.

    Thanks to this article, I'm going to try growing them, and will try the leaves too!

    Cheers, Jamie.

  3. I'm going to ask around the local plant stores and veggie shops about earth gems - your salad looked amazing and growing them sounds delicious too!

  4. Just tryed them today. Very nice will be having them more often.


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