Thursday, April 19, 2012

VEGETABLES OF BRAZIL - Cará

The starchy edible tuber known in Brazil as cará (pronounced ca-RAH) is a member of the yam family and is one of the oldest of all cultivated foods in the American tropics. It's a member of the Dioscorea genus, and the only species in the genus (Dioscorea trifida) to have originated in the New World. Its Old World cousins, including the Philippine purple yam and the large African yam, have made their way to Brazil and are an important part of the Brazilian diet, but it's the native cará that is still the most important member of the family.

In pre-Columbian times, over most of the territory of modern-day Brazil, the staples of the native Amerindian diet were manioc, peanuts, sweet potato and yam (the cará). One of the very earliest Portuguese observers of native culture in Brazil, Padre José de Anchieta, mentioned the cará by name in his writings, praising its nutritional value and its flavor. It is a highly energetic food and contains high levels of various B vitamins.

Brazilians eat this versatile tuber in a variety of ways. It can be served simply boiled or mashed, just as if it were a potato. Another popular way to serve it is insoup - usually some sort of thickened puree. Cará is also an ingredient in a number of breads and cakes, some savory and some sweetened.

In the next few posts on this blog, we'll highlight some typical Brazilian uses of cará. In any recipe for this tuber, you can substitute other members of the yam family. Just don't try to use sweet potato, as sweet potatoes and yams are entirely distinct families of vegetables, a distinction that's often lost on supermarket grocers in the USA and Canada.

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