cassava, manioc, and tapioca
What is it?
Yuca is a starchy tuber. In Brazil and Paraguay, yuca has been cultivated for thousands of years, and it spread through Latin America in pre-Columbian times. A perennial, it can tolerate droughts and poor soil and does well in tropical conditions. Its tenacity and high carbohydrate content make yuca an important source of calories in areas where food is scarce. Seeing its benefits, Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought yuca to Africa, and then cultivation began in Asia. Now yuca is fundamental worldwide, and yuca flour–also known as tapioca flour–is a common ingredient.
Yuca can be used in place of potatoes in many dishes. It’s often cut into large chunks and boiled, after which the root’s woody core can be easily removed. Serve boiled yuca fried, roasted, added to soups and stews, or simply with butter and salt or a garlicky sauce. Use puréed boiled yuca to thicken soup or make fritters. Raw yuca can be sliced and fried into chips, shredded and baked into cakes, or ground into a paste to form dough for dumplings. Yuca must be cooked to neutralize any residual cyanide.
The fiber structure of yuca absorbs flavors exceptionally well. Common pairings are garlic, onion, and citrus flavors. Yuca’s subtle sweetness works well with bold flavors like cilantro and peppers, and with warm flavors like cumin, or on the sweet side, cinnamon, nutmeg, and coconut.
How to choose:
Look for fresh yuca that’s uniformly firm with no blemishes or soft or shriveled spots. When cut into, the flesh should be bright white with no black lines running through it.
How to prep:
The skin, which is coated in wax to keep moisture in, has a small amount of cyanide in it. Before cooking, use a peeler to remove the skin and the thin layer of purple flesh below it. You can find fresh yuca in some grocery stores as well as in Asian or Latin markets. Many stores also carry frozen yuca, which comes peeled and cut into chunks.
How to store:
Whole fresh yuca has a fairly short shelf life; kept in a cool, dark place, it lasts for about a week. It can be peeled and stored in cold water in the refrigerator for two or three weeks, with the water changed regularly, or peeled and frozen for up to three months.
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