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Leona potatoes are small in size and have a round and irregular, lopsided shape. The semi-rough skin is dark purple, almost black, but it is typically covered in soil sometimes giving it a brown appearance. The surface of the tuber also bears many deep-set eyes, which provides the tuber with an irregular shape. Underneath the firm skin, the flesh is dense with a medium starch content and is characterized by its unusual, purple and ivory marbled center surrounded by an ivory ring just below the skin. When cooked, Leona potatoes have a floury, soft texture with an earthy, slightly nutty taste.
Leona potatoes are available year-round.
Leona potatoes, botanically classified as Solanum tuberosum subsp. Andigena, are edible, underground tubers that are native to Peru and belong to the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Translating from Spanish to mean “lioness,” Leona potatoes are cultivated in the Andes mountains between altitudes of 3,800 and 4,000 meters and are often hand harvested and carried by foot to the markets for sale. Leona potatoes used to be one of the most popular varieties in Peruvian markets for its distinct marbled flesh and high nutritional properties, but today it has become one of the lesser known varieties, overshadowed by newer tubers such as the Amachi.
Leona potatoes are an excellent source of antioxidants, vitamin C, and iron.
Leona potatoes are incredibly versatile and are utilized in cooked applications such as parboiling, baking, and mashing. When boiled, Leona potatoes develop a soft and light texture that makes them suitable for mashing or pureeing and served as a creamy side dish. The tubers can also be stuffed with cheeses, meats, or other fillings and roasted, or they can be thinly sliced and baked into colorful chips. In Peru, Leona potatoes are commonly roasted, coated in fresh herbs, and served as a simple side dish, or they are boiled, cubed, and tossed into potato salad. Leona potatoes pair well with garlic, cilantro, parmesan, hardboiled eggs, avocado, carrots, corn, and beans. The tubers will keep 2-4 weeks when stored in a cool, dry, and dark place.
Peru is becoming known as a gastronomic hub in South America with innovative chefs using traditional dishes to inspire new fusion recipes. With many of the ancient dishes utilizing potatoes, chefs are breathing new life into Peruvian recipes such as ajiaco and lomo saltado by combining them with soups, greens, or new spices to create high-end dishes. This fusion of flavors and the image of “old meets new” is also encouraging an increased amount of gastronomic tourism into many of the cities in Peru to see how these dishes are created. With locally sourced ingredients, visitors can spend days touring ancient ruins where potatoes are grown to visiting markets where hundreds of produce items are displayed in large, colorful piles. Though the Leona potato has somewhat decreased in popularity as a fresh market variety, many chefs have grown up using the tuber and are featuring the purple-hued potato in their dishes as a nod to their traditional roots.
Leona potatoes are native to Peru and potatoes, in general, have been cultivated in regions across the country for over eight thousand years. Since ancient times, many of these native tubers were cross-bred to create new and improved varieties, leading Peru to have over three-thousand different kinds of potatoes today. Leona potatoes can be found in select regions of Peru, cultivated on a small scale and sold at fresh local markets, and are also found in Ecuador and Colombia.
Recipes that include Leona Potatoes. One is easiest, three is harder.