My first experience with a South American root veggie called melloco was at a family style Ecuadorian restaurant here in town. The restaurant atmosphere is quaint and homelike. It’s traditionally decorated but has such a classy feel at the same time. Let me just say, you feel special going there. The server brings you a big piping hot, family sized serving of the main dish along with all kinds of fun salads and sides to accompany it and the delectable sauce it’s served in. Not only that, he actually serves each individual portion of the main dish directly to your plate. As for the sides, well, those are randomly scattered around the table and meant to be passed. Keep in mind this is a family style restaurant and the food is DEEEEE-licious! So while on the outside you are politely accepting what the person to your left has just passed you and politely dishing out just a small little portion of whatever it is to your plate, on the inside your heart has started to skip beats while your eyes follow your favorite side sloooowly make it’s way from person to person all the way down at the other side of table. Feeling desperate you try doing some quick math in your head. If the next 4 people only take one spoonful I think that couscous salad will make it! You just want to plead, “save some for me”, but since this is not your actual family, that’s not going to happen.
One of the sides turned out to be a melloco salad. And when it got to me for the first time, low and behold, it wasn’t picked over like everything else. I had never seen this, what I thought to be, teeny tiny little potato before but I will definitely give it a try! I was met with something very new to me. Melloco has a simple earthy taste but it’s uniqueness really comes from it’s texture. It’s creamy but crisp at the same time. Even when these little tubers are cooked and cooled down to room temperature they retain a little snap that brings something different to the plate. I have to say, I was an instant fan of melloco! But it seems that not everyone feels the same way (must be a texture thing). While the other sides seem to win out in popularity at the table, these speckled little fingers of earthiness delight me every time!
Melloco is traditionally known for being a frugal and nutritious addition to the family shopping list. And can I just add, gorgeous?! They are like beautiful little salad-topping gems! I mean, who wouldn’t want to add a pop of magenta to a green salad? I love that color. For that reason, I slice them before cooking them. That way the cooking time is reduced and they retain that lovely speckle or bold majenta. I do realize that melloco is probably not found at your neighborhood grocery. If looking for a replacement, I would suggest using a very new red potato and increasing the cook time a bit. If you’re not living in a South American country and you have found melloco, please tell us where. If you are living here, I’d also love to hear your experience with melloco! Is it for you? How do you cook with it?
In this recipe, I’ve added melloco to a vibrant salad that can be layered on top of slices of hard-boiled eggs and served on toasted crusty bread. The crispness of the melloco constrasts against the silkiness of the avocado in a wonderful way! And the eggs are thanks to a fond childhood “food memory” of Marcelo’s.
1 cup melloco, sliced into 1/4 inch discs
1/4 purpled onion, finely minced
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
a handful of cilantro
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 large avocado, cubed
extra virgin olive oil
Add sliced melloco to a small sauce pan of salted boiling water. Boil for 7-10 minutes. Test the melloco around 7 minutes and remove from heat when they are cooked through but still firm. Strain and set aside to cool. Add minced onion, garlic and lemon juice to a mixing bowl. Grab a handful of cilantro and start snipping small bits with kitchen shears, about half or a little more, into the bowl. Toss everything together with a couple of healthy pinches of sea salt. Layer in the cherry tomatoes then the cooled melloco and finally the cubed avocado. Gently toss everything together. Take a final taste and add more sea salt to your liking. Drizzle slices of toasted crusty bread with a bit of olive oil and top with sliced hard-boiled eggs and melloco salad.
Makes about 3 cups of melloco salad.