Before I dive into these balls, I'm going to start off on a serious note for a minute. It seems like the Bay Area is falling apart. You've probably seen it covered over the news, but wine country is being devastated by wildfires right now. It's pretty heartbreaking to see so many homes and buildings completely destroyed. And the fires are still burning. I'm not really sure what to do. Do we donate money? Do we physically drive up there and jump in to help out? I also found out this morning that one of my mentors/favorite person from my last job had a giant tree crash into their home in the Oakland hills last night. Gosh, Mother Nature, will you let up a little?! How terrifying though. A huge tree crashing in on your bedroom while you're sleeping?! Thank heavens he and his wife are okay. So glad. I want to help. But what is the best way to help and not get in the way during situations like this? If you have any suggestions I would really love to hear them. For some reason I really want to make everyone a warm tray of lasagna, but I'm not sure if that's the best action plan. Okay, back to the story...
I was introduced to these balls about three years ago. Every year, Reuben's office participates in this sandcastle building competition at Ocean Beach, where they partner up with some little kids and create really insane sand art creations. Part of participating in the competition includes fundraising for the little kiddies. To be honest, collaborating with an opinionated child that I did not give birth to on an art project sounds incredibly stressful to me. BUT. Every year they have a bake sale and auction full of fancy prizes. I love me a bake sale! And it's usually paired with alcohol, making it a dream come true. Among the trays of homemade cupcakes, sugar cookies, and the occasional skillet cookie cake, are always Sandy's Balls. They are so amazing. Oh, right... context. Reuben works with a lovely woman named Sandy. Every year for the annual BCJ bake sale she makes these taro fritters. They are also know as taro balls, Sandy's balls, or Sandy Balls.
Sandy is from the teeny tiny country of Mauritius. Have you heard of this place before? I literally never heard of this country before I met her. It is a little island off the coast of Madagascar! How cool! When I met her I gained my first friend from Mauritius and I gained about 5 pounds from eating all the taro fritters, which are a common street snack in Mauritius.
If you've never had taro before, it is a super tasty root vegetable! I think it is technically toxic (or something) if you eat it raw... but we are not going to do that. The flavor of taro is really hard to explain. It's slightly sweet, which makes it easy for it to toggle between sweet and savory recipes. My grandma roasts them whole to eat during the Mid-Autumn festival. Taro is my absolute favorite bubble tea flavor. When my family goes out for a large Chinese family dinners the dessert is typically this taro tapioca coconut pudding soup thing. It sounds slightly gross and it looks a little grey... but it's delicious! Trust me. Then there is the classic fried taro dumplings you get at dim sum - my grandpa's favorite! Taro is great. You're going to love taro if you haven't had it yet.
I'm adding these taro fritters to my long list of preferred ways to eat taro. They are super crispy on the outside, chewy and soft on the inside. The ginger adds a little heat and zing. Do you like tater tots? Of course you do. These pretty much like the best Asian tater tots you've ever had. I don't fry things that much (trying to be healthy here) but sometimes you deserve to bring out the big bottle of vegetable oil in the back of your cabinet and fry yourself up some balls! It's fine, just eat a ton of fruit afterwards and it will counteract the fact you ate a whole tray of taro fritters. That's how health works, right?
It turns out that the castle building competition is this weekend... I volunteered two years ago and I had to run up and down the beach carrying large buckets of ocean water for 4 hours. My body has never been so sore in my life. I'm going to try and snag a passive position on the lunch crew instead this year. Seems more like my style, don't you think?
Taro Fritters ( Gateau Arouille )
makes about 16 balls
3 medium baby taro roots
1 tbsp grated ginger
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt + more for seasoning
1. Peel the taro root. I prefer to use a paring knife because the root exterior can be a little hairy and gets stuck in the peeler. With a damp paper towel, wipe away any dirt off the peeled taro root. Shred the taro with a metal grater and place in a vessel. You can thinly cup of the nubs of the remaining taro.
2. Add grated ginger, cornstarch, sugar, and salt into the bowl of shredded taro. Mix to combine. It should get pasty and thick.
3. Grab about 1 tbsp of the taro mixture and gently press it together in your palms to form a ball. You really shouldn't have to press it too hard for it keep it's ball shape. If the taro mixture is a little loose, add some more cornstarch. Line a platter with formed taro balls.
4. Fill a skillet for enough oil so that it is about 3/4" deep. I like to use a small but deep skillet so I don't have to use so much oil and just work in batches. Heat the oil over a medium heat. You want it hot enough so that it starts to sizzle immediately, but not too hot that it burns the exterior of the fritters before the interior is cooked. Gently add the taro balls into the oil and fry for about 7 to 8 minutes, turning occasionally, until they have an even deeply golden brown color.
5. Remove the balls from the oil and place on a paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle with salt immediately and allow to cool for a few minutes. Enjoy with a side of sweet and sour sauce!
*** IMPORTANT NOTE : Handling taro can cause skin irritation, only after you have peeled the hairy outer layer off. You can opt to wear rubber gloves if you want. However, the key is to not get the peeled taro root super wet. So don't wash it. My instructions say to use a damp paper towel to wipe away any extra dirt. I personally, did not get any skin irrigation, but just be careful while making your balls!