Sunday, February 12, 2012

Arrowhead- a belated homage to Chinese New Year

Tubers of Arrowhead (Sagittaria sagittifolia) a close relative of our Wapato (Sagittaria laitoflia)

Arrowhead being cultivated in China
Every year I look forward to the Chinese New Year with a little more anticipation than our Gregorian Calendar based celebration of New Year’s Eve.  While some of our traditions resonate with me (kissing, resolutions, and singing about friendship), I find the drunken debauchery and fireworks unappealing.  I also sense that most people have forsaken traditional feasting on New Year’s Day for chips and television.   The Chinese tradition of bringing the New Year in with cultivated native foods and feasting is what attracts me to their version of the Holiday.  Cured duck, fish, preserved fruits, and wintertime vegetables are featured during family feasts, and a close relative of my favorite wild root vegetable—Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia)—is imported to Chinatowns across America for the occasion.  Called Chi Gu (“benevolent mushroom") in Chinese, and Arrowhead (Sagittaria sagittifolia) in English, the tubers are grown by the Chinese in shallow ponds.  When I was in China in 2009, I saw a few small Arrowhead patches.

Garnished with a benevolent mushroom
Last week in Seattle I was lucky enough to find a grocer in Chinatown that still had some Arrowhead in stock.  I purchased as much as I could carry and Katrina and I prepared a dish featuring the mashed starchy tubers for a potluck.  We peeled about a dozen tubers and boiled them for 10 minutes.  Then we mashed them with a tablespoon of olive oil, and a half cup of coconut milk, and seasoned them with sea salt, cracked black pepper, and diced chives.  For garnish we placed an unpeeled tuber on our mountain of mashed Arrowhead.

Both Arrowhead and Wapato have a flavor that is starchy, sweet, and mildly fruity.  Their texture is very similar to Potatoes, perhaps a little drier and grainier.  I often compare their flavor to a mixture of sweet corn and Potatoes with a hint of grapefruit.
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