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”).
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.
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:
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.
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.