A very unusual vegetable from the kitchen garden at Thyme
At the moment, there isn't much in the kitchen garden at Thyme - only the sturdiest of vegetables can withstand the frost. The menu at The Swan and the cookery school are dictated by the produce, so the few vegetables that survive are treasured, the yacón is one of those select few.
The yacón, also known as the Peruvian ground apple, and meaning 'water root' in the Inca language, is a wonderfully surprising vegetable. When first unearthed, it looks like a very grubby baking spud - roundish and knobbly, thoroughly caked in rich black dirt. After a rinse and a fierce scrub, a thin magenta pink skin is revealed.
Having never used the yacón before, Matt (head chef at The Swan) experimented. First, he tried roasting the yacón like a Jerusalem artichoke ... It didn't taste right. He found the key was to keep it raw - it doesn't need to be peeled and can be used in all kind of salads. The taste is somewhere between a crunchy cox apple and a slightly under-ripe pear with a subtle grassy flavour; a fresh, crisp contrast to the stodgy (albeit completely delicious) root veg that makes up so much of our diet come winter.
The yacón is a member of the sunflower family and a relative of the Jerusalem artichoke. Indigenous to South America, it's prized for its tuberous roots, but the leaves can also be eaten and used in herbal teas. The sweet taste of the yacón comes from fructooligosaccharide (or FOS), a complex sugar molecule that is indigestible - it has no calories - this makes the yacón a healthy option for diabetics. The sugars from the yacón also nourish the good bacteria in the gut, which benefits our general wellbeing, digestive and immune systems.
Daryll's simple winter salad (see below) works as both a quick midweek supper or as a starter for a dinner party. If you can't get hold of yacón, pears or Jerusalem artichokes are suitable substitutes.
Alternatively, visit The Swan, the yacón is currently being served in a salad with hand picked Cornish crab, blood oranges and winter leaves.