All that Glitters is Arracacha

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The arracacha is a yellow-white root. It’s flavour is a cross between a turnip, a parsnip and a potato, with a hint of celery seed. I normally walk right past the dirt covered pile of arracacha in my local fruit and veggie store, as I head for the avocados and the limes. But this week, I was inspired to put a few in my basket after a recent visit to the MAMBO.

What I didn’t mention in my previous post is that the exhibit in the bottom floor helps to balance out the exploration of violence on the top. Instead of detailed maps and drawings of dead bodies and sites of massacres, this exhibit is a examination of the possibilities that exist when a community, in this case Cajamarca, says no to mega-mining. If the top floor is a celebration of death, the bottom floor is an exuberant celebration of life. It is worth remembering that both are contained in the same country: together, both reveal parts of the complex story of Colombia.

“If mining is the engine that drives this country, we are going to do our job to ensure that the tracks are safe, the routes go through the right places, and that everyone has a voice in deciding where and how that train runs,” said María Victoria Calle, the former president of Colombia’s Constitutional Court during a summit I attended in February, in Bogota. One of the mechanisms that Colombian law provides  to do just that are popular consultations. Municipalities have the right to vote on whether they would like to permit extraction in their areas. Despite pressure from the national government  to continue to open the country to foreign investment, with a focus on the “mining engine,” there are legal alternatives.

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Cajamarca leads Colombia’s production of arracacha. Besides being an economic staple, the arracacha is culturally important. The municipality holds an annual festival celebrating the root, including a beauty pageant. Especially after 2016’s plebiscite on the peace accords, however, no one was quite sure what to expect when Cajamarca held their own consultation about an possible AngloGold Ashanti mine, projected to be the largest open pit gold mine in the world, valued at around $35 billion.

IMG_9480 The results were astounding.  6,165 people voted “No” to all mining exploration and extraction. Only 76 people marked ‘Yes’. The community voted that the ability to have clean water and soil to continue to grow arracacha was, quite literally, worth its weight in gold. 

This is largely due to years of community organizing, on a very local level. Churches, unions, the mayor’s office, farmers, among many others, worked together on a very successful education and awareness raising campaign before the vote. Currently, Cajamarca continues to push for alternative development projects, such as agriculture with a focus on food sovereignty and eco-tourism.

Part of the MAMBO exhibit are four beautiful Pedro Ruiz paintings of arracacha leaves pressed in gold. Alongside the Ruiz paintings, part of  ORO Espíritu y naturaleza de un territorio, are other drawing, made by members of Cajamarca depicting the Oro Vital or Vital Gold that already exists in their community: water, food production, social ties, land, wildlife.  

In an era of climate change and environmental degradation, Cajamarca sets an important precedent. In saying no, it is possible to say yes to so many other things.  So I made a galette, to celebrate the golden flavours of arracacha and all it represents. You probably won’t be able to find arracacha where you live,  but that’s a good thing. It belongs here, rooted in Colombian soil and tradition. Feel free to substitute butternut squash or carrot. This recipe is adapted from a Smitten Kitchen favourite

Ingredients:

An unbaked pie crust (I recommend this recipe, cut in half).

1/2 kilo of arracacha, washed, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced in half-moons
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
3/4 cup Gruyere cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces), grated or cut into small bits
1/4 cup of cream

Instructions 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Toss arracacha pieces with olive oil and 1/2 tsp of salt and roast until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.

While arracacha is roasting, melt butter in a skillet and cook onion over low heat with the remaining half-teaspoon of salt and pinch of sugar, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden brown, about 20 minutes. Stir in cayenne.

Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Mix arracacha, caramelized onions, cheese and cream together in a bowl.

On a floured surface, roll pie crust out into a 12-inch round. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet. Spread the arracacha mixture over the dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Fold the border over the mixture, pleating the edge to make it fit, leaving the centre open.

Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.  Enjoy!

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