In Praise of Yuca (aka Cassava, Tapioca)

I’m often asked, “Why eat yuca?  It’s all empty calories.”  Well, yuca serves its purpose well.

Yuca often goes by names such as cassava, tapioca, manioc and mogo, depending on what country you’re from.  It is a staple root vegetable in Central and South America, also in the Caribbean, Africa and parts of Southeast Asia.  I’ll refer to it as “yuca” throughout, however, since the package I buy identify it so (though subtitled “cassava”).

5 lbs. of frozen yuca slices

Peeling yuca can be a time-consuming affair.  A simple potato peeler won’t do.  You’ll need a sharp butcher knife to have a go at its tough, waxy exterior.  Before discovering that Goya sells frozen yuca, I spent countless hours peeling and swearing that I would never buy yuca again.

Let the professionals at Goya do the peeling

Even with a Ginsu knife, it’s just too time consuming.  What you need is a hunting knife with a good handle, since the rough skin requires twisting the blade at different angles; it is very easy to pop the blade off of your flimsy Ginsu knife.  That’s why Goya’s packaged frozen yuca is a godsend.  Out of a bag, the frozen yuca slices look bleached white:

Frozen yuca slices about to be boiled for an hour.

I’ve experimented with different ways of cooking yuca.  Microwaving it zaps the moisture right out and the yuca resembles a flatbread or pizza crust.  If you like the dry, hard flatbread taste and texture, then use your microwave oven.  But my favorite method is to boil for a long time, usually about an hour.

Yuca slices showing fine ridges and texture after the boiling.

Boiling yuca preserves the moisture, making it somewhat creamy and more appetizing.  After tasting a properly-boiled yuca slice, I can’t believe how anyone can go back to eating potatoes; it’s a richer and tastier version of white potatoes.

As time passes, the yuca slices slowly dehydrate and the fibrous texture begins to separate (see above).  They’re still perfectly edible and I enjoy tasting them at different stages of dehydration.  When completely dry, they become quite hard.  At this point, you can microwave them to soften them up.  I keep the yuca slices at room temperature for about a week, helping myself to them occasionally for munching between meals and to complement my main dishes.

I eat my yuca with just a simple condiment:  Kosher salt.  The small and grainy salt particles are ideal for yuca (unlike Himalayan or crystal salt which dissolve in liquid).  I suppose olive oil and coconut oil might go well with yuca also, especially when served as a side dish to steak or pork.  Here’s one such combination:  pieces of chorizo and beef steak with yuca, boiled red cabbage and steamed broccoli.

How about for breakfast, along with bacon and eggs?  Any meat entrée traditionally eaten with a starchy complement could use a yuca side dish.

Keeping a steady supply of this Spanish root vegetable means going through a 5-lb. bag every ten days or so.  Once it becomes your staple starch, it’s very hard to eat anything else.  In my next post, I’ll explain why yuca isn’t really nutritionally deficient.  Yuca, indeed, compares favorably with other starchy tubers like yams, sweet potatoes, and potatoes when it comes to nutrition.


How Instant Coffee Replaced Filter Coffee

I have made a complete switch to drinking instant coffee.  This after drinking filter coffee for more than 20 years.  Why the switch?  Well, I used to hop over to either Dunkin Donuts or Au Bon Pain to get my coffee.  When I was in Canada, it would be Tim Horton’s or Second Cup.  That was my morning routine:  getting a fresh cup of filter coffee with half & half and 2 packs of Domino sugar.

Then I had my epiphany and realized that sugar is evil and dairy may be allergenic, if not carcinogenic.  So I started drinking from the communal coffee pot at work, using either stevia or Splenda for sweetness and coconut milk in lieu of cream.  This was good for a while but I began to mightily miss heavy cream in my coffee.

Through a series of experiments, I came to realize that if I drank stronger coffee, I could cut down on the overall volume drank and do without the cream.  With stronger coffee, I need to drink only once in the morning and evening — no mug full of weak and lukewarm coffee to sip for an entire day.

Stronger coffee cuts down on overall caffeine intake.

Besides, you can increase the dose with instant coffee and mix other ingredients which improve the taste.  For example, I add a teaspoon of instant espresso to boost the flavor.  The concentrated espresso flavor can be jarring if you’re not used to drinking espresso.  My favorite is Ferrara but the other two aren’t bad either.

I also sprinkle cinnamon powder and add some extra virgin coconut oil.  Then I add a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa.   Either Hershey’s or Nestle’s unsweetened cocoa gives my coffeee the rich, mocha taste that I’ve come to like.

Then comes coconut milk.  There isn’t a brand that I haven’t tried.  I find these two brands to be acceptable.  Naive Forest is a bit thicker and creamier than Thai Kitchen but it tends to crust after a few days.  One tablespoon from either source is plenty for me.

As for instant coffee, my favorite brand is Savarin.  Works perfectly well when mixed with instant espresso.  Cheaper does not mean inferior.  I’ve tried most other brands (Folger’s, Maxwell, Nescafe) and I simply prefer Savarin.  Two heaping teaspoons for an 8-oz. coffee cup.

What results is not just coffee.  It really is a coffee-flavored energy drink packing quite a punch.  In an 8 oz. serving, the drink resembles a stronger version of Caffè Americano or long black mixed with mocha.  The coconut milk gives it the softer, creamier taste but not quite as creamy as espresso mixed with hot milk.

Back in my student days, my staple coffee drink used to be cappucino and au lait.  When I started working, I drank Au Bon Pain’s house coffee mixed with cream.  When drinking coffee as strong as this, however, you don’t quite miss the taste of steamed milk and foam, nor pasteurized heavy cream.  Even when you drink twice a day.