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I was still basking in the highs from the Nigerian PepperSoup I made last week, when I walked into Jelmoli FoodMarket on Thursday and encountered a super pleasant surprise. I squealed in delight as my eyes beheld the long forgotten vegetable that was staring me in the face. Mind you, I squealed so loudly that the store assistant jumped in surprise. When he was sufficiently recovered a few seconds later, he walked over to ask if I was alright.
I was alright…I was just staring at a basket-full of Cocoyams in the heart of Zürich and I couldn’t believe my luck. Now, if you haven’t been to the FoodMarket at Jelmoli, it is certainly worth a visit when in Zürich. It boasts of delicacies from all around the world, and I have to add that the quality and freshness of the food is top notch! Living in Europe, your best bet in finding “ethnic” food would usually involve taking a trip to an “ethnic food store” but Jelmoli is changing that. The vast array of “exotic” foods in the FoodMarket is orgasmic for a tropical health-nut foodie like me. But don’t just take my word for it. You should see it for yourself.
Cocoyams, also known as Taro Roots are is a traditional staple root crop in many developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. The German name is Taro Würzel, and you can also find it listed as Eddos. In West and Central Africa, Cocoyam is usually cultivated by subsistence farmers who are mainly women from low-income groups and so Cocoyams (Taro Roots) are considered a “poor man’s crop”, or a “woman’s crop”.
From a nutritional perspective, Cocoyam has better nutritional qualities than other root and tuber crops such as cassava or yam, with higher protein, vitamin and mineral content. In addition, Cocoyams (Taro Roots) contain high levels of dietary fibre which aid digestion, and aid in the prevention of diabetes because of its role in regulating the production of Insulin. The high levels of antioxidants (Vitamin A and C) contained in Cocoyams (Taro Roots) help in cancer prevention, boosts immune system and is an excellent resource for skin and eye health.
According to the RTB, these benefits, along with the wide adaptability of the crop and its role in the economy and livelihood of millions of rural poor, have been under-estimated, under-reported, and unfortunately, those who depend heavily on the crop for survival in Africa – those who happen to be the most vulnerable group neither have the resources nor the voice to influence the future of the crop.
Back home, Cocoyams are traditionally prepared by peeling and grating them and then wrapping them in leaves (in most cases Cocoyam leaves), and stewing them with palm oil, fish and/or meat.In terms of flavour, you’ve got to hand it to Cocoyam. It’s flavour is something of a cross between a chestnut and a potato – a bit starchy, a bit sweet and a bit nutty. Move over Potato – Cocoyam is so much more interestingly flavoursome. Cocoyams (Taro Roots) also are very good at soaking up flavours, and the smaller Cocoyams known also as Eddoes are soft and custardy in texture, and when grated, are a little bit slimy.
Cocoyams (Taro Roots) contains crystals of calcium oxalate just beneath its peel. This substance is sticky, bitter, and irritating to the throat, when eaten and skin, when handled. Fortunately, this is easily neutralised when Cocoyam is thoroughly cooked. When peeling Cocoyam, exercise care to avoid any contact with your skin and ensure that you wash your hands immediately after contact with peeled Cocoyam. Growing up in Africa, it was always easy to spot the “Cocoyam Virgins” as they mindlessly touched their skin with unwashed hands, which had just been in contact with peeled Cocoyams. Having experienced this myself, I can tell you, it is not very pleasant because the affected area itches like crazy! In short, handle Taro Roots with CARE.
Whatever cooking method you choose, be prepared to cook it for a long time – preferably 45 minutes or more for large tubers, until soft. This will neutralise the calcium oxalate and prevent any itchiness in the throat.In this recipe, I have paired Cocoyam with marinated pastured chicken cooked in a Teriyaki sauce base. I think this recipe works very well because the Cocoyam soaked up all the flavours of the marinade and the Teriyaki sauce, while thickening the sauce at the same time.If you are in Zürich, head to Jelmöli and pick up some Eddoes or Taro Würzel, try out this recipe and let me know what you think!
Step 1 - Marinate the chickenMix all the marinate ingredients in a bowl. Add the mix to the chicken, rubbing it in with your fingers to ensure the chicken is completely covered with the dry rub. Cover with clignfilm and set aside for up to 30 minutes in refrigerator before cooking.
Step 2 - Prepare the CocoyamsPeel the Cocoyams and remove any black spots or discolouration on the flesh. Rinse Cocoyams (they will feel slimy when rinsed), and then chop into chunky cubes. Place the cubed Cocoyams in a pot and add enough water to cover the Cocoyams. Add salt to taste. Bring to boil over medium to high heat, and then reduce heat to medium and let cook until soft. For chunky cubes such as in the picture above, the Cocoyams should be soft in 15 - 20 minutes. Take off the heat, drain and set aside.
Step 3 - Prepare the Teriyaki SauceWhile Cocoyams are boiling, combine all the ingredients for the Teriyaki sauce in a pan and heat on medium to high setting. When the mixture reaches a simmer, bring the heat down to low and allow to reduce for 10 minutes. Take off heat and allow to cool. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.
Step 4 - Bring it all togetherAdd 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil to a pan and heat. When hot, add the marinated chicken and fry for about 2 -3 minutes per side. Repeat on other side until chicken is browned all over.Add the boiled Cocoyams to the pan and fry for 2 - 4 minutes. Try to avoid stirring or turning the cocoyams too frequently while frying as they do tend to get mushy and may crumble into a mash.Add the sauce to the pan, and the chopped spring onions.
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Teriyaki Chicken and Cocoyam (Taro Root) Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 400Calories from Fat 108
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 12g18%
Saturated Fat 3g15%
Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 6g
Total Carbohydrates 41g14%
Dietary Fiber 5g20%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.