A knobbly Peruvian root veg
“One of the things we like to do is stock varieties of fruit and vegetables our customers may not be familiar with and encourage people to try them. This can be heritage varieties that have been forgotten and we should be eating more of to stop them disappearing, or interesting new products we come across,” says Charlie at Turnips, as he points towards one of the most exotic-looking vegetables ever to find its way on to a Borough Market stall. “Oca is one of those that will be new to most people.”
Charlie remembers first seeing this bright pink, knobbly, Peruvian root vegetable while with his father (and owner of the stall) Fred, walking through Rungis wholesale market in Paris. “I asked what it was and my dad, being the encyclopaedia of fruit and veg, knew what it was at once. I suggested trying it out on the stall, and as that is just the kind of thing he likes to do, we got some in. That was five years ago. We knew that we probably wouldn’t sell huge amounts, but it would give people a chance to see it and the opportunity to try something new.”
One of the great things about oca is it’s very simple to use. Our greengrocer explains that as it is essentially a tuber, you can use (and store) it in the same way you would a potato, ideal served hot or cold with salads, or simply with butter and parsley.
Roasting and baking
“They are very versatile—great for roasting and baking, and you don’t need to peel them before cooking. Just give a thorough wash and they are ready,” Charlie explains. “I suggest just roasting it with the skin on the first time you cook them and keep a close eye on them, as they are quite small and you don’t want to dry them out. Cooking them this way, you get to really experience its unique taste.”
Ocas can also be boiled or steamed, but be aware that when you do this—especially boiling them—the oca can lose some of its amazing colour.
“It has a nutty flavour and some people also detect a slight citrus edge,” says Charlie. “The flesh is firm but juicy and remains crisp when lightly cooked, perfect for adding a hint of a lemony zest to salads.” When fully cooked, they become starchier, like potatoes, making them an excellent addition to winter soups and stews. ”So not only does it look unusual, it also brings a new flavour to your dishes.”
Starting to arrive
The oca season lasts for about three to four months, starting towards the end of January and running through to around the end of May. “It is only just starting to arrive and we will try to keep selling it through the season. The nice thing is that a few of the chefs we supply are starting to use it, so that helps us to keep it on the stall while our customers discover it,” he continues.
“It means that the more adventurous shoppers we get here at Borough Market have a chance to see what the chefs are using and give it a try for themselves.”