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Restaurant Review - Get yer yampies out

A regular Joe's search for ethnic edibles

To look at one, you wouldn't know if you should eat it, wield it as a weapon, or smoke it, and I suppose the craftiest among us could do all three in a pinch. I decide to take my chances and cook it.

I'm in the International Farmer's Market on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, a place justifiably renowned for the variety of its products. And like all visitors, I'm greeted at the door by an agreeably unrefined melange of sounds and hard-to-place scents. Is that bread I smell? Indeed it is. Fish? Sure. Pig snouts? Chicken feet? You better believe it. While there's not much you can't find in the international market, since I'm on a quest for the exotic — and edible — I've made a beeline for the produce stalls.

I'm fully aware that "exotic" is a relative term. For many in this famously diverse county, the food on offer is about as exotic as a peach is to a Georgian. The market's fruit and vegetable section may not be as chaotic as a street bazaar in Fez, but you can find just about as much. There are greens, herbs, roots, tubers and seasonal edibles, both local and from afar. One helluva good Monty Python sketch could be forged from the quantities of dangerous fruit in the aisles: sharp and pointy fruits, rough and dirty fruits, naughty fruits, the whole spectrum.

Summer produce can still be found at local markets, but thanks to the mightily tumescent tentacles of the global food distribution hegemon, 'tis always the season to sample the wide variety of exotica that Atlanta's ethnic markets pack onto their shelves day after day. (Take that, you anti-globalization sissies!) In the end, though, the emphasis on Latin American and tropical crops leads me to bag a few of the aforementioned weapon-like items and a mess of small green things that look like cucumbers. These turn out to be yampi and tindora.

The yampi — also known as cush-cush — is a clay-pipe-shaped yam that's cultivated in parts of Central America and the Caribbean. The small, green, smooth-skinned tindora, meanwhile, are vegetables that are supposedly a cross between a cucumber and a gourd. While this may be true, they look more like miniature cukes than anything else. They're grown in many parts of the world, and are used in some South Asian cuisines.

Back at home base with my new friends in hand, the task is pretty simple: How to marry South Asia to the American tropics and come up with an offspring we can all be proud of? The answer, it seems obvious to me, is curry, and plenty of it.

Taking hints from a friend's recipe for napalm-hot Thai curried sweet potatoes, then, I take to the stove. First I saute some onions, garlic, ginger, serrano peppers and green bell peppers in oil. After these are suitably caramelized, I add coriander, cumin, turmeric, a bit of fennel, and enough water to make a sauce. Then I toss the yampi — peeled and sliced like potatoes — into the mix, followed a few minutes later by the tindora.

Tindora are small enough to be added whole, but cook better when sliced lengthwise. Yampi, meanwhile, are a tad slimy after you peel them, but they cut just like potatoes and yams. I let the whole thing simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, and finally add some salt and lime juice to taste. I then serve it over basmati rice and dig in.

The result? Though I may have gone one toke over the line, sweet Jesus, with the serrano peppers, the yampi and tindora mix is a kick in the pants in all the right ways. The yampi seem a tad sweeter than conventional tubers, and the tindora serve as a nice green counterpart to the starch of the yampi and rice. Proof positive that a bit of coriander and some tender loving care can doll up even the ungainliest of veggies.

All in all, a successful journey into the culinary unknown.


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