Yuca, The Unexpected Root
Yuca, cassava or manioc is one of those foods that when you check out at whole foods, the cashier is like, ‘what is that?’ Susanna and I first had yuca when we were studying abroad in Peru for a tropical ecology trip, and we haven’t looked back since. It’s sort of like a potato, in that it’s a startchy root, but the texture is more creamy and it has nutty, complex flavor.
My go-to yuca dish is simply wedges fried in some oil on a skillet and dipped in aioli sauce, but we’ve had them in curry, casserole and tacos. You can mash them or fry them, and use them in place of Russet potatoes in most potato applications and more. They prep differently than potatoes, but if you follow these directions you have nothing to be afraid of!
First, yuca seems intimidating because they are sold as 1.5′ long roots with a tough skin and a thick layer of wax. Whole Foods carries them regularly and some other grocery stores are doing so as well (I know the Safeway nearby carries them with their ethnic produce, along with dried chilies, star fruit, etc). Pick yuca that is firm and smooth all around (side roots and kinks make peeling a pain).
Next, I chop it into roughly 5″ sections for easy handling. Stand each section upright and use a knife to slice off the waxy skin.
Yuca root can’t be eaten raw. Primarily because it contains toxic levels of cyanide which must be boiled off, but also it’s like eating a raw potato (ew). To make the yuca safe to eat, boil the peeled sections in a large pot of water until easily pierced by a fork (about 30 minutes).
Once cooked, drain and let them cool enough to handle. The second caveat to yuca is a tough, fibrous center. It’s easy to remove. Simply cut the section lengthwise and you will be able to pull it right out of the center.
Congratulations, you have successfully prepped yuca. You can now mash it, fry it or do whatever else you’d like with it. Veganomicon has delicious Jamacian sweet potato casserole topped with mashed yuca (below), but I usually can’t help but deep fry it like thick potato wedge french fries with garlic-cilantro aioli.