Do you know how to cook yuca? Working with yuca for the first time can be intimidating. Its waxy brown skin and oblong shape make this tropical root vegetable, also known as cassava, seem impenetrable.
In Puerto Rico (where my family hails from) there are two main ways of cooking yuca and you'll find them below. However, keep in mind that this delicious root vegetable is as versatile as potatoes, so it is cooked in many other ways across Latin America. It is Brazil’s main staple, resulting in a proliferation of recipes and forms for preparation, such as farofa, tapiacoas, and the crunchy, cheese-filled spheres of pao de queijo. Next door in the Bolivian lowlands, a popular street snack is sonso de yuca, which are skewers of mashed yuca mixed with cheese and grilled until crispy. Yuca’s repertoire is endless, which is not surprising as it is the third-largest source of carbohydrates people’s diets worldwide.
Here are some tips to get you started:
HOW TO PEEL YUCA
The best way to tackle yuca's tough skin is with a knife and not a vegetable peeler. Start by washing and drying the yuca then cut into pieces that are three to four inches long. Lay each piece of yuca cut side down on a cutting board then gently slice off the skin. Cut each portion in half lengthwise or in quarters, depending on the thickness of the vegetable. This step is key, because yuca actually contains the poison cyanide to protect it from insects. The cyanide can be removed by peeling, combined with boiling, cooking, or fermenting, after which it’s perfectly edible.
HOW TO COOK YUCA
Treat yuca the same way you would potatoes. Simply put the vegetable in a pot and cover with cold water, season with salt, bring to a boil then simmer for about 20 minutes until tender. Then drain and you are ready to eat.
Do note that yuca has a fibrous stem running through its centre (pictured above). It should be removed before eating and can be pulled off with your fingers or a fork.
Boiled yuca is delicious drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. You can also sauté onions in a generous amount of oil and pour over the cassava. This makes a delicious side dish that can be served warm or cold.
Another popular way to cook yuca is to fry it. Boil the yuca, pat dry and fry at 350F until golden. This makes a crispy snack best enjoyed with a quick dipping sauce made with minced garlic and extra virgin olive oil or a creamy aioli. You can also savour fried yuca with virtually any condiment you would pair with regular potato fries.
Try this tempting recipe for yuca fries from Sweet y Salado:
Did you know you can use yuca to make dessert? Cassava cake is a Filipino speciality that is gluten-free and laced with coconut. The coconut milk, condensed milk, and custard on top make it moist and succulent, and special additions like pineapple chunks can add flavourful accents. Simply delicious.
You'll need grated cassava, which is sold in the frozen foods section of larger grocery stores. This cassava is traditionally mixed with the different kinds of milks and other ingredients and poured into a pan lined with banana leaves. Here is the full recipe from SimplyBaking:
Still hungry? If you are curious to try more Latin vegetables, why not learn how to peel plantains?