Ingredient Focus: Yuca

Yuca collage 2

This is part of a series where we discuss a special ingredient and how it can be used in the kitchen.

I think that if my sister were to have a spirit vegetable, it would be a yam. When she’s sick or doesn’t feel like cooking dinner, she doesn’t make soup or ramen like a normal person; she eats a boiled yam instead. I, on the other hand, am just not a tuber kind of lady. My problem with potatoes and yams is that I inevitably end up eating a bowl of rice after dinner to stave off hunger, even if I just devoured a heaping plate of mashed potatoes.

Yuca, however, is a tuber that I can get behind. The first time I tried yuca, I only had a few pieces before I felt full, and those yuca pieces stuck to my belly all evening (in a good way). Yuca, or cassava, is a tuberous root that has twice the carbs as a regular potato. It’s dense, starchy, and slightly sweet, which makes it a pretty versatile ingredient. It’s used as a thickening agent in pies, eaten as a starchy dough called fufu in Ghana, used to make tapioca pearls in Taiwan, and eaten with a garlic mojo in Cuba. It’s often referred to as the “bread of the tropics,” not because of its texture, but because it’s as essential to many equatorial countries as bread is to the European diet.

Like most root vegetables, yuca is high in sugar, but also contains high amounts of calcium and vitamin C. However what really distinguishes it from other tubers is that it absolutely must be cooked or fermented before eaten because of its high cyanide content (although trust me- raw yuca probably doesn’t taste very good anyway). Both sweet and bitter varieties of raw yuca are toxic, but sweet yuca only requires a thorough boiling to remove the toxins, whereas bitter varieties must be soaked or fermented for days.

At first glance, you may not see the resemblance between yuca and other tubers because yuca literally looks like a root, tree bark and all. Yuca is around a foot in length and 3-4 inches in diameter with a hard, brown, skin that is often waxed to preserve its freshness. Once the tough skin is removed, the starchy interior is closer in appearance to a potato. Although yuca is pretty hardy when in the ground, once it’s been harvested it has a short shelf-life. If it’s your first time buying yuca, remember to avoid moldy pieces (although a little bit of wax is normal) and cook it within five days – it definitely isn’t something that you can store in your pantry for weeks on end.

If you’ve always been curious about this tropical tuber, but have been too intimidated to try cooking with it, our recipe for curry yuca fries with a cilantro yogurt sauce is simple to make and brings out the creamy, starchy goodness of yuca. A cold beer or hamburger would make a nice accompaniment (just remember to save some room in your belly for the crispy yuca fries!).

IMG_20151018_103722378 FINAL 1

Curry Yuca Fries with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce(Yield: 5 servings)

Ingredients:
For yuca fries:
3 sweet yuca
2 tablespoons salt
4 tablespoons hot madras curry
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Oil for frying
For cilantro yogurt sauce:
1 cup yogurt
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon mint, chopped
1 ½ tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1.  Peel the hard skin from the yuca. The easiest method I’ve found is to cut the ends off of the yuca, then cut the yuca in half (If your knife can’t cut through the yuca, cut around its perimeter as deep as you can, then just snap the yuca along the incision). Hold the yuca up vertically on a cutting board and cut the skin off using downward strokes. Once the skin is removed, cut each yuca piece in half again so that you have pieces that are 3-4 inches in length (see photo above).
  2. Cut the yuca pieces into 1 inch strips. If your knife can’t cut through the pieces, skip this step and cut them after boiling (although if you cut the yuca before, it makes for a crispier fry!).
  3. Boil on medium-high heat for 25-30 minutes. The pieces should be slightly transparent and soft enough to be pierced by a fork, but not falling apart.
  4. Rinse the yuca with cold water and allow to cool.
  5. While the yuca is cooling, mix together the salt, curry, paprika, chili powder, and garlic powder in a small bowl.
  6. Heat oil to 375 degrees in a wok. When the yuca is completely cool and dry, fry it in batches until the fries are crispy (around 10 minutes). Make sure to flip them so that both sides are cooked evenly. Remove when golden brown and immediately drain the yuca on a paper towel and sprinkle with curry seasoning.
  7. Mix together the yogurt, lime juice, salt, cilantro, and mint in a small bowl. Serve with hot yuca fries.
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